Want some real riding action? Head to Palisade
By Scott Winans
Special Ride Contributer
Palisade has been the fruit and wine nexus of the Grand Valley for years now, with the well deserved reputation as a gorgeous place to road ride and enjoy the views.
Growing over the past several years, however, has been a network of mountain bike trails that add a new region to our local riding treasure trove. The traffic is low, the routes serene, and there are trails to knock your socks off.
Try it for yourself.
Palisade sits close against the bluff face of the Bookcliffs as well as the rugged west flank of the Grand Mesa. This location provides the perfect opportunity for both long and short routes, taking advantage of terrain that varies from flat desert trail to extended or steep (or both.) climbs up the adjacent benches and drainages.
There are three general trail areas; the Bookcliffs north of town, the Mesa flank areas including Rapid and Cottonwood Creek drainages and Palisade Rim, and the Horse Mountain and lower desert area.
Starting to the North, the Bookcliff section includes a gentle grade climb up the Coal Canyon drainage from the Cameo area. This takes riders near the Wild Horse area that is closed to bikes, but does offer the opportunity to see the wild horse herds if you’re fortunate — they’re fun to see.
When the Coal Canyon double track approaches the face of the Bookcliffs you can link into the Stagecoach Trail, one of the oldest routes in the area. This trail brings you to the sheer face of the Bookcliffs overlooking the valley, and offers a rolling and grin-inducing line along the range with views of Grand Mesa.
Further exploring along the Coal Canyon road to the west is also available, but please honor the areas closed to bikes.
To the east, Rapid and Cottonwood Creeks offer access to higher elevations and cooler temperatures. Bridging between the upper reaches of these drainages creates a nice double track loop that is a challenging but non-technical climb that offers a great opportunity to see wildlife. This route is also a portion of a local mountain bike race called the Grand Mesa Grind.
The Grind takes you high up on the flanks of the Mesa to eventually drop into the desert South of Horse Mountain — a challenging route with awesome views. The recent prime addition in the area is the Palisade Rim Trail on the lower benches of Grand Mesa. This original route, a social trail used for years by locals, was in serious need of work to make a sustainable trail. So a new line was conceived by local riders and the plan was laid for a new and greatly expanded trail.
In cooperative effort between volunteers, the Bureau of Land Management, and supported by the town of Palisade, the first stage was completed last year. This four-mile loop begins with a challenging climb to the first bench, winding through pinon and juniper rock gardens and skirts the valley edge with stunning views and exposure.
A sunlit rock face with ancient petroglyphs marks the current high point and begins a techy and groovy descent return to the river. Construction on the second loop of this network begins as soon as spring allows, and will ultimately yield a roughly 11-mile stacked loop system to rival any trail in the region.
South of Palisade is the Horse Mountain area with extensive double track and desert singletrack. The best access to the Horse Mountain area is via the E-Road entrance. A climb up and over the top of Horse Mountain is deceptive — this hill is as high as the Palisade Rim and the face of the Bookcliffs. Singletrack crosses Horse Mountain in a north-south line in a central valley, creating several loop options on the mountain itself.
Double track nearly circles the entire mountain, and also provides access to the singletrack routes to the south. The southern singletrack meanders along the subtle rolls of the desert — not highly technical, but rolling and fun. The Grand Mesa Grind bike racecourse enters the far southern reaches of the desert in this area, blazes up this singletrack, and finishes with a climb over Horse Mountain and a sprint into town.
Palisade is also the jumping off point to many trails in the Grand Mesa area. Some routes are seldom used due to their remote location, but they offer unique riding opportunities. Flowing Park trail and the Mesa Top Trail at the high reaches of Grand Mesa start at near 10,000 feet elevation. Rides such as Indian Point, Kannah Creek, Coal Creek Basin, Whitewater Creek and others are remote and killer rides for the adventurers in the group. Further trail development efforts continue on the Palisade end of the valley. Long-term plans include an extensive network to tie Grand Mesa top to the Grand Valley floor in Palisade.
Ending a huge ride with a relaxing meal and a drink at one of Palisade’s fine establishments is a great way to spend a weekend. Along with mountain biking, cruiser touring of the vineyards, orchards, and wineries is a mellow and fun way to see and feel what makes Palisade special.
For trail information and ride beta for the Palisade and Mesa areas, visit Rapid Creek Cycles on Main Street in Palisade, or online at http://www.Rapidcreekcycles.com.
Take the time to explore some new routes — Ride Palisade.