By Jennifer Broome
This aptly named fruit-producing region is an outdoors haven. Fruita is a Western Slope paradise for mountain bikers and hikers wanting desert and canyon landscapes without the crowds, and it’s great for anyone wanting a small-town getaway.
Arriving late-afternoon, I headed up the switchbacks of Rim Rock Drive in Colorado National Monument, and I was delighted when I saw several bighorn sheep precariously perched on one of the sheer-walled, red rock canyon cliffs. Once I reached the top of the mesa, I hiked the 1-mile roundtrip Canyon Rim Trail along the cliff edge from the Saddlehorn Visitor Center and had it all to myself. Walking among the pinyon pines and junipers 2,000 feet above the Grand Valley of the Colorado River, you certainly get the best view of “one of the grandest landscapes of the American West.”
For this trip to the Western Slope, I stayed at the AAA-approved Comfort Inn and Suites where I used my AAA discount, and could walk to the family-owned, AAA-approved Fiesta Guadalajara Mexican Restaurant for dinner. It’s my go-to for enchiladas and a margarita in Fruita.
The next morning, I got up pre-dawn and drove back up to Colorado National Monument’s Canyon Rim Trail for sunrise. Watching the warm glow light up the towering sandstone monoliths and canyon walls in hues of pink, orange, and purple is breathtaking.
The scenic, 23-mile stretch of Rim Rock Drive is a bucket list ride if you’re road cyclist. For drivers, like me, there are plenty of pull-offs to admire the scenery. The Otto’s Trail offers a 1-mile roundtrip hike for the best view of Independence Monument. You might even see rock climbers scaling it. Grand View is worth a stop along with the colorful Artists Point. From the Upper Ute Canyon Overlook, give a shout out to yourself, literally, and listen to the echo bounce off the curved canyon walls.
Needing to refuel, I headed back to town to Camilla’s Kaffe, another AAA-approved restaurant. Good thing I was hungry because the portions are huge. I ordered the rellenos and eggs, but the cowboy skillet is also good for a food coma-worthy breakfast. Needing to walk it off, I headed down Aspen Avenue to Civic Center Memorial Park to take an Instagram-worthy photo sitting on the giant bike sculpture.
Fruita is part of the Dinosaur Diamond Scenic and Historic Byway in Colorado and Utah. For dinosaur enthusiasts, there are more than 15,000 fossils in the Museums of Western Colorado’s Dinosaur Journey. I recommend seeing the 10 points of interest on the easy and free trek at Dinosaur Hill, and the 1.5-mile Trail Through Time in Rabbit Valley is also free and features dinosaur fossils along the interpretive loops.
Considered one of the premier mountain biking destinations in the country, Fruita offers some epic singletracks, such as the Lunch Loops Trails or the Kokopelli Biking Trails. Being more of a hiker than a mountain biker, I opted for another hike in Colorado National Monument. A park ranger suggested doing Wedding Canyon Trail and Lower Monument Trail for about a 5-mile hike. Wedding Canyon is not maintained, so it allows you to experience the canyon’s true ruggedness. I stood in awe at the base of Independence Monument soaring high above me, then enjoyed the hike descending Lower Monument Canyon Trail where, at times, the stacked rocks reminded me of pancakes.
Later that afternoon, I did one of my other favorite things—shopping. I checked out the historic buildings and unique shops in downtown Fruita. The Vintage Common, filled with local artisans’ wares, was my favorite find. For dinner, I chowed down on “The Noni” pizza at the AAA-approved Hot Tomato, an East coast-style pizzeria.
The next morning, I went to my favorite Fruita coffee shop for a latte and burrito. Aspen Street Coffee is housed in an old bank—one of the 16 historic buildings downtown.
Before heading home to Denver, I tackled Mount Garfield, just off I-70 This high point in the Book Cliffs overlooks Palisade. The 2000-foot vertical climb in two miles makes this a quad-burning, heart-pounding kind of hike. Afterward, I wandered through the Sunday Farmers Market getting Palisade peaches and other produce. I popped into the local favorite, Slice O Life Bakery, for a sandwich and fresh bread to take home. If you’re up for an afternoon of wine tasting, Maison la Belle Vie is my favorite. Rent a bike and go on a wine tour. My final stop was at Sage Creations Organic Farm to pick some lavender. I enjoyed its aromatic fragrance on the drive home.
I can’t wait to get back to Fruita to cross a few rafting trips through Ruby, Horsethief , and Westwater Canyons off my bucket list, hike Rattlesnake Arches in McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, and spend more time in Colorado National Monument.
Jennifer Broome is a frequent contributor to EnCompass, and a freelance television personality, speaker, travel journalist, and blogger. She has traveled to all 50 states and 37 countries. She’s an avid hiker, skier, and adventurer. Follow her on Instagram @jenniferbroometv.