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Right in our Back Yard!

There is so much to see & do in the North Fork Valley – and within a reasonable drive – that we thought instead of suggesting one-size-fits-all itinerary ideas that we would instead provide a menu of ideas to choose from, with recommended time commitments.  Choose from the below and make a REAL vacation of your stay in the North Fork Valley!
 

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park - North Rim (Spend 2 hours +).  

​The park is a picturesque 13 mile drive southwest of Crawford, with the last six miles of the drive on well-maintained gravel.  If you are going primarily to take in several of the major overlooks but aren’t contemplating doing much else, then 2-3 hours may be enough time.  If you plan to hike some of the trails (or heaven forbid, hike to the bottom of the canyon), then you could easily spend a full day or longer.  The North Rim ranger station is closed more often than not, although Park materials are available at the ranger station’s outdoor brochure racks. If you are looking for the official Visitor Center, that is located on the South Rim.  By visiting the North Rim you have chosen the lesser visited Rim of the Canyon and the solitude is worth the price of admission – not to mention the indescribable views!  Be aware that, unlike the South Rim, the North Rim road closes for winter, so if you are planning visit between November and mid-April you will want to contact the Park to confirm that the road is open.  Check out the Park website by clicking here.  Or to read a very useful travel writer's account, with great photos, click here!

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park - South Rim  (Spend 3 hours +).  

The drive south on State Highway 92 along the Black Canyon towards Gunnison, then west on Highway 50 is the more scenic, but is a longer drive.  Please be aware that a road building project is taking place on this southern route on the Highway 50 portion.  For details, click here.  The South Rim of the Canyon is where 9/10 visitors to the Black Canyon arrive and so you won't have the intimate experience available on the North Rim.  Advantages of taking time to see the South Rim is that the official Visitor Center is located there and Ranger programs are available.   Check out National Park information by clicking here

Marrow Point Boat Tour  (Spend a half day or more).  

If you want to see the Black Canyon from the bottom, the safest option is to join the Marrow Point Boat Tour.  To be clear, this is a pleasure cruise and not a white water adventure, as the cruise is on the Marrow Point reservoir rather than the rough water of the National Park.  To get to the parking area for the tour, drive south on Highway 92 to the intersection of Highway 50, travel a very short distance west on Highway 50 to mile marker 130 and find the Pine Creek parking area.  From the Pine Creek trail parking area, walk down 232 stairs and enjoy an easy one mile scenic walk along the old railroad bed to reach the boat dock. Leave the parking lot no later than 45 minutes prior to the tour, and allow more time for a slower pace. Meet the ranger at the boat dock.  Pre-boarding begins 15 minutes prior to the scheduled departure time; tours begin promptly.  Tours run at 10 am and 1 pm every day except Tuesday, and usually from mid-June to mid-September.  Be aware that reservations are a must.  For details and to reserve your spot click here.

Grand Mesa National Forest (Spend a half to full day).  

The Grand Mesa is sometimes said to be the world’s largest flat top mountain.  With its 300+ lakes and endless acres of forest, it’s an outdoor paradise – and a good place to cool off in the summer at over 11,000 ft!  Wildlife is plentiful, with populations of elk, deer, moose, bear, mountain lion, beaver and many smaller species.  Fishing is popular in the many cold water lakes. The visitor center is first rate with lots of great information.  The visitor center is located north of Cedaredge just as you crest the top of the mesa.  The Lands End overlook on the western tip of the Mesa is a must.  For more information click here
            

North Fork Valley Orchards (Spend several hours)  

If you are craving fresh peaches, apples, cherries, apricots, pears, berries and much more, then there are two orchards that top the list for a visit.  The First is Big B’s/Delicious Orchards just about two miles west of Paonia on Highway 133.  This is a charming, funky & agri-hip destination.  There’s a very nice farm store featuring goods from the farm along with at-the-source farm fresh ciders and hard ciders.  If you arrive in September or later make sure to get the unpasteurized “cold pressed” cider – hard to beat!  Big B’s has a hard cider following big enough to warrant a hard cider festival in October.  There is a sweet little on-site café with tasty and creative food and outdoor seating under a canopy of trees - even tire swings for the kids (or playful adults).  Big B’s has regular Friday night live music events during high season (summer & fall) featuring regionally and nationally known touring acts.  Fruits and veggies are available pre-picked or pick-your-own. Worth the stop for several reasons.

Our second excellent orchard suggestion is Orchard Valley Farms & Black Bridge Winery.  Accessed a quarter mile south of Highway 133 just east of Paonia.  Orchard Valley Farms is  a good pick for “pick-your-own” goodies… they have it all and the peaches are amazing!  There’s a great farm store with local fruit and veggies, culinary treats, as well as a tasting room for the wineries’ output.  One of the nicest features is the location on the banks of North Fork of the Gunnison River.  There are Adirondack chairs right by the riverbank – a great place to sip wine or eat a peach!  There are plenty of other orchards in the area that are less focused on direct sales, but may be worth checking out.

And don't forget farmer's markets!  Every Saturday in Summer and through October, there is a farmer's market hosted at the Creamery Arts Center in downtown Hotchkiss.  The market runs from 10am - 2pm.  In Paonia, check out Arbol Farmer's Market Tuesday evenings (5-8pm) from mid-May to mid-October at Paonia Town Park.  Markets feature live music, wine tasting and a community meal in the shady park!  Crawford Farmer’s Market is due to debut in the summer of 2022 in downtown Crawford next to Crawford Creative Gallery.

North Fork Valley Wineries & Breweries (Spend a half day to a full day)

Click on links below to visit winery websites.
As recently as the mid-90’s there were no wineries in the North Fork Valley at all.  Now there are over a dozen and the interest in their output is growing fast!  Winery visits (and agriculture in general) are now a big part of the reason visitors come to the North Fork Valley.  While it may be tempting to question the wisdom of grape growing at elevation, the fact is that warm days and cool nights help to concentrate sugars in the wine grapes, resulting in a superior end product!  All of our wineries are relatively humble in size.  Some are not even open to the public, while a notable few produce not only very fine wines, but also offer a memorable experience to the visitor.  Paonia also sports two well-regarded breweries.  Below is a list of wineries and breweries with links to their websites.

Hotchkiss:
Mesa Winds Winery - Lovely farm location west of Hotchkiss.  Noteworthy food offerings too!
Leroux Creek Winery - Southwestern-style adobe winery on a gorgeous property.  Tastings by appointment only.
The Storm Cellar - Tasting room on site.
Jack Rabbit Hill Winery & Peak Spirits

Paonia:
Azura Cellars - Unbelievably beautiful Italian style winery with an art gallery and patio with amazing views of the Valley.  Small plates served.
Stone Cottage Cellars - Picturesque stone cottage serves as tasting room.  Small plates served.
Black Bridge Winery - Sip wine and enjoy their orchard fruit while sitting on the banks of the North Fork River.  
Qutori Wines & Root & Vine Market - Attractive location on the highway right outside Paonia.  Nice patio and food offerings.
Puesta Del Sol: Alfred Eames Winery - Tastings by appointment only - and worth it!
5280 Winery - Tastings by appointment only.  970-527-6476
Big B's Hard Cider - Two miles west of Paonia right off the highway.  This is a destination!  Cafe and farm store too plus weekend live music.
Paonia United Brewery (P.U.B.) - Local craft beer in a converted church just north of downtown Paonia.  The hip crowd can be found here.
Chrysalis Brewery - Well liked brewery just off the main street in Paonia.

For information on the West Elks AVA - the official wine region designation, click here.

To download area winery map, click here.
 
Raft, Kayak & Paddle Board – (Spend a half day or more)
If you like to be out on the water, you have come to a good place.  The North Fork Valley features two recreational reservoirs:  Crawford State Park and Paonia State Park.  In addition, the North Fork of the Gunnison River runs through Delta County from east to west, flowing through Paonia, Hotchkiss and eventually joining the Gunnison River west of Hotchkiss, and continuing west and then northwest on its course towards eventually joining the Colorado River near Grand Junction.
 
Fortunately, for those who do not travel with their own river gear, Hotchkiss is home to the fantastic Western Slope SUP.  Owner, Daniel Roman will craft an adventure to meet your interests and talents.  Paddle Board lessons are part of the repertoire, so with good instruction you will be ready to get out on the water!  Calm, Crawford Reservoir, is the perfect place to get your paddle board feet, and then put in at the Gunnison River Pleasure Park National Recreation Area six miles west of Hotchkiss to put your new skills to use… or to embark on your river raft or kayak trip.  It should be noted that this area of the Gunnison River offers “Gold Medal” fishing and has been a secret get away location for well-known personalities - even Jimmy Carter and international diplomats have reportedly fished these waters! 

​If you are looking for convenient public river access to the North Fork of the Gunnison River, you have two good options.  There is a nice new launch accessed from the Delta County Fairgrounds in Hotchkiss - on the north side of the river not far from the bridge crossing Highway 92 (use fairgrounds entrance).  There is also river access at Paonia River Park.  The River Park is accessed on the main street of Paonia about a quarter mile north of downtown, off Shady Lane.  The River Park was developed by the Western Slope Conservation Center and includes displays about living in concert with the local river environment.
 

Needle Rock – (Spend 1-3 hours)

Needle Rock, a 700’ high volcanic neck, makes a really dramatic photo subject.  It is located on the east edge of “Missouri Flats”, about four miles east of Crawford.  Missouri Flats is a picturesque agricultural area in a somewhat hidden valley, so get your camera ready for a work out!  The base of Needle Rock has a small parking area, a covered picnic area, and is the location of the Needle Rock trailhead.  The trail is not very long (about half mile one way), but it is quite rugged with some elevation gain, so be sure to wear sturdy shoes.  The trail takes you to the northern base of the rock, but does NOT take you to the top of the spire… unless you are way more adventuresome than is good for your wellbeing (the rock tends to be flaky and is not ideal for climbing).  TIP:  The Needle Rock parking area is a magnificent spot to view the night sky.  There are no sources of artificial light visible from this location and the silhouette of the rock against the night sky, is a lovely frame to look for shooting stars, or simply to contemplate the vastness of being.  To see if a meteor shower will be happening while you are visiting, click here.
 

Crawford State Park – (Spend 1 hour to a day)

Crawford State Park is located just a mile south of the Inn and is a major water sports destination in the area.  The entry station has a very nice visitor center and helpful staff.  Folks go to the 400 acre reservoir to fish (both fair weather & ice fishing), launch a power or fishing boat at the boat ramp, put in a kayak, canoe or enjoy the lake on stand-up paddle board, or to take a dip at the swim beach.  Many covered picnic areas are available, as well as several easy hiking trails.  TIP:  Travel around to the far side of the lake (using the road that leads to the Black Canyon), and hike the trail at that entrance to the lake.  If you are looking for a scenic shot, this is hard to beat.  The lake, with boats will be in the foreground, with Needle Rock rising in the distant valley, backed by the peaks of the West Elk wilderness… simply lovely!  Please note:  While the reservoir is a major recreation resource, it is primarily used for irrigation water for the surrounding area.  In dryer years (unfortunately these are too common), the boat ramp and swim beach may close as early as mid-July if the water gets too low.  Even when the water is too low to launch a power boat, there will always be enough water to use self-powered watercraft or to throw a line in the water.  To check on lake conditions or for more information, check out the Park’s website by clicking here.   
 

Eagle Rock Overlook – (Spend 1-2 hours)

While this archeological site has been known quietly for many years, it has not been managed for public use until a few years ago.  The access is less than a mile west of the access to Gunnison River Pleasure Park National Recreation Area (Gold Medal fishing, rafting, etc) and about seven miles west of Hotchkiss.  A “natural” dirt road takes you to the trail head, so this may not be ideal unless you have 4-wheel or all-wheel drive vehicle.  This archeological site is the oldest known habitation site in Colorado at over 12,000 years.  Rock art can be seen here and it is interesting to imagine what life must have been like thousands of years before Mesa Verde was inhabited.  An excellent write up can be viewed by clicking here.
 

Hotchkiss National Fish Hatchery – (Spend one hour)

Sport fishing in Colorado is a popular pastime and with so many folks enjoying this sport, it is left to the State to make sure that Colorado’s rivers and lakes are well-stocked!  The Hotchkiss National Fish Hatchery has been giving a nudge to fish populations since 1967.  The Hatchery, which is located off the Valley’s well-trod pathways, south of the hamlet of Lazear (a few miles south west of Hotchkiss), offers an up close look at how fish stocks are maintained.  To learn more, click here.
 

Fort Uncompahgre – (Spend one hour +)

The first non-native visitors to Delta County arrived in 1776, when missionaries Escalante and Dominguez, ventured through.  In the late 1820’s, Antione Robiboux set up a fort and trading post at the confluence of the Gunnison and Uncompahgre rivers, just west of Delta, to serve local fur trappers.  Fort Uncompahgre was active until the mid 1840’s when the local Utes decided the fort was introducing an unwelcome influence.  On the fort’s original location now sits a reconstructed, historically accurate second act.  The fort provides an eye-opening look into the lives of trappers, mountain men & the native Utes of the area.  A nice visitor center and gift shop is on-site.  To learn more click here.
 

Pioneer Town (Spend one hour)

Cedaredge is the site of Pioneer Town.  Partially a collection of historical settler and agricultural buildings which have been preserved and moved to this site, and partially a faux old western town.   Like Fort Uncompahgre, Pioneer Town offers a glimpse of Delta County’s past.  A nice gift shop/visitor center is on-site.  This can be a nice stop on the way to or from a foray to Grand Mesa.  Learn more by clicking here.

Dominguez-Escalante Canyon National Conservation Area (Spend half to full day)  

The Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation area, about 9 miles northwest of Delta off Highway 50, provides abundant wildlife and historical sites, as well as stunning scenery.  No visitor center or facilities exist on site (save for porta-potties at the entrance).  The Conservation Area offers an undeveloped look at western Colorado's canyon country.  No crowds, guaranteed!  For information, click here.

Dry Mesa Dinosaur Quarry Paleontological Site

Imagine gigantic dinosaurs plodding over the Uncompahgre Plateau - they did millions of years ago!  Dry mesa Quarry is a 55 acre site located within the Jurassic Morrison formation and contains fossils with a geologic age of approximately 150 million years.  The quarry is located 26 miles southwest of Delta on the Uncompahgre Plateau.  Excavation activity has yielded remains of many different kinds of extinct animals including partial skeletons of animals not previously known to science - including some of the largest ever discovered:  Supersaurus & Ultrasaurus. The site was actively excavated from 1972-2000.  Click here for more information.

Hotchkiss Crawford Historical Society Museum – (Spend one hour). 

While this museum has pretty limited hours (weekends only), the museum is a small but enjoyable window into life in the Valley from the time of the first white settlement in 1882 to present.  The museum also contains a respectable collection of artifacts and information representing the native population of the area.  Click here for more information.

North Fork Valley Geology, Wine & Orchard Tours - (Spend half to a full day).  

Led by retired geologist, Dr. David Noe & wife, Jo Anne Jarreau, Colorado Detours offers guided driving and hiking tours of the Geology of the area - including the Black Canyon & Needle Rock.  Wine & Orchard tours are also popular.  Tours are enjoyable and very educational.