Palisade Colorado for High Desert Beauty and a Plunge
By Tab Hauser
The area four hours’ drive west of Denver and just past the Rocky Mountains is an easy place to take some time off. Our base for three nights was the small town of Palisade, Colorado where we would sip the local wine, take a river ride, pick fruit and visit two beautiful parks.
Hot Springs Stop
With a late afternoon arrival flight into Denver, we decided an overnight stop in Glenwood Springs on the way to Palisade would be just what was needed to soak away the day’s tensions.
The town gets its name from the geothermal activity below that pushes hot water to the surface.
The Iron Mountain Hot Springs is idyllically situated on the Colorado River with great views of the Roaring Fork
Health Boosting Minerals
Valley and mountains nearby. The property has 16 small geothermal soaking pools and one family freshwater pool. The soaking pools have a temperature range of 99F to 108F degrees and are said to contain 14 “health-boosting” minerals to help you relax and make your skin feel good.
Watching the sunset behind the mountains while soaking in the soothing waters was a perfect way to end a long day. www.ironmountainhotsprings.com/
Palisade: A Laid-Back Town
Palisade is a laid-back town of about 3000 people. It is located just off I-70, an hour west of Glenwood Springs, or four hours from Denver.
Palisade is the fruit capital of Colorado most known for growing over a dozen varieties of peaches and having two dozen wineries.
Fruits grow well here because Palisade has a 182 day growing season with a 78% daily sunshine rate. It is a pretty town with vineyards and orchards in the foreground and high desert landscapes in the background.
Its downtown is a couple of blocks of restaurants, shops, galleries, bakery, distillery, microbrewery, and an outdoor store.
Dave Smith of Pali-Tours of Palisade offers land, vineyard, and river tours. We went for his half-day ride down the Colorado River in a big raft that went ever so gently with the light current.
Following the raft was another guest on a rented stand-up board practicing yoga on the way.
During our float, Dave talked about the history and geology of the area while we passed through the pretty western landscape.
At one river bend, we passed under a resting bald eagle. Guests during the float were invited to jump into the river to beat the high summer heat.
Following our river trip, Dave spent a couple of hours driving us around. He took us to a few wineries, showed us the orchids, fruit stands while giving us the lay of the land.
His tours can be done in a unique open-air six-wheel vehicle or his air-conditioned van. www.pali-tours.com
Sipping through Palisade
The Grand Valley, which Palisade is part of, was designated as an American Vinicultural Area in 1991. This area here is what is called high-desert. With an elevation between 4000 and 5000 feet, these vineyards are amongst the highest in the world. The ground here has alkaline soil similar to some of the best wine regions in Europe.
Weather is a very important part of grape growing. Scott High, the proprietor of Colterris Winery said the very hot days in July and August also experience very cool nights due to the elevations and geography. “The hot days and cool nights create a fairly unique growing climate producing more acids AND more sugars in the fruit!”
Elijah Columbia, the Cellar Master of Sauvage Spectrum commented, “We do have extreme heat. A healthy watering regimen and plenty of nutrient applications aid our grapes in growing in our hot weather.
Our vineyards use a canopy trellis system which shades the berries in the hottest part of the day to prevent sunburning” To combat the cold they stop watering near the end of the growing season to stress the vines out to ripen the berries before a frost hits.
In tasting wines from some of the 25 vineyards, several were quite good. Other vineyards, like wine itself, need to age a bit to get the experience needed in producing a better quality product.
Colterris Winery is Palisade’s largest vineyard. It was also our favorite during our taste tests. We liked every wine we tried. Their reds, all aged in oak, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and a blend called “Coloradeaux”.
Colterris’s Petit Verdot gets an extra star. These wines get better if allowed to cellar a few years. An unusual wine worth trying is their “coral white” colored Cabernet Sauvignon. It is a good dry but fruity afternoon sipping wine. www.colterris.com
Maison la Belle Vie Winery has prices on the higher end of the valley but their quality of the products speaks for itself. They produce mostly red wine from both vinifera and hybrid grapes. If you enjoy good wine, put this place on your list. This winery serves lunch. website
Red Fox Cellars does things a little differently. Their tasting room serves wine, hard cider, and craft cocktails using wine or hard cider as the base.
Here you can taste wines that were aged in bourbon or tequila barrels for something with a different finish. They also have four Italian grape varieties. website
The wineries in Palisade are all near each other. While it is easy to leapfrog between vineyards all day, I suggest you pace yourself to no more than two at a time.
Otherwise, you will have what I call “wine fatigue”. To save on the fees, but more importantly, take in less alcohol, consider sharing the tasting flights. This way you can try more and worry less about getting buzzed.
Monumental Colorado National Monument
Just 25 minutes west of Palisade is the majestic Colorado National Monument that was established in 1911. At 31 square miles, this compact park is bursting with colors, deep canyons, sandstone spires, and unusual rock formations.
Unless you are doing long hikes, this place makes a perfect half-day visit.
The best way to see the park is via the 23 mile Rim Rock Drive. It has two entrances. Start at the West Entrance because you are just four miles from the visitor center.
Scenic Overlooks Abound
Here you can pick up a map and ask the rangers about scenic overlooks and easy strolls just off the road. While the average drive straight to the East Entrance is about an hour, not planning for scenic overlook stops is a big mistake. The speed limit is 25 mph as the road is very twisty with no rails to protect you against drop-offs.
You also don’t want to go fast because you will miss all this beautiful scenery in what may be Colorado’s prettiest short drive. If star gazing is your passion, drive into the park at night as you will have the clear dry air high above any lights.
Hiking at Colorado National Monument can go from mild to wild with lengths ranging from a quarter-mile to 14 miles. For longer hikes, you should be in good shape and carry lots of water. For casual hikers, see the ranger at the visitor station as to what is easy just off Rim Rock Drive. NPS website
Grand Mesa National Forest just west of Palisade makes a nice day trip. This is the tallest flattest mountain in the world reaching an elevation of 11,000 feet.
It sits on 500 square miles of beautiful thick forest. When driving on it, it is pretty flat and hard to grasp you are on a 10,000-foot mountain.
To see it, visitors take the 63 mile Grand Mesa Scenic Byway. I recommend starting near Mesa and driving all the way to Delta before coming back to Palisade on I-50.
This way you can grasp the elevation when seeing it to your right in I-50. During the drive, there are a few towns to stop in as well as the visitor center. Here you will learn about the many miles of trails to hike, 300 lakes to fish or swim in as well as areas to camp. People come here for weekends to escape to nature and the heat.
While on the Grand Mesa take the side road to Lands End Observatory. This will give you a good prospectus as to just how
high the elevation is with a breathtaking view. Having rented a Jeep Cherokee from Sixt Rent A Car (https://www.sixt.com) in Denver we decided to take the adventurous way to Lands End Observatory.
If you have a good AWD vehicle, the weather is dry and you are not afraid of heights and steep drop-offs, take Lands End Road to the top. This exits from I-50 and continues to the steep walls of the mesa.
The narrow dirt road climbs 5000 feet using a lot of switchbacks to get to the top. It is not a road for the casual driver. Return to Palisade via the Scenic Byway.
Palisade is the peach capital of Colorado. They grow over a dozen tasty varieties that you will not see at your local markets.
There are several fruit stands around the town that will always sell what is ripe. Near the Palisade’s entrance off I-70 is the Palisade Peach Shack.
The store has produce, pie, coffee and local treats. Here you can also arrange to go fruit picking. As we were early for peaches, we picked apricots one morning. We also intend to order specialty peaches to be shipped home. www.palisadepeachshack.com/
The Talbott Cider Company is the place to go to sample different styles or hard cider https://talbottsciderco.com/
Dinner in Palisade
on Main Street is a modern-looking place with an open-air kitchen. Their menu lists and gives thanks to the local farms. They offer five starters, five main courses, and four desserts. We shared the English Peas starter and the Thai Fried Chicken and a couple of craft cocktails.
Looking over to the other tables, you won’t go wrong with their ribs, steak or lamb. I recommend ordering their sourdough bread that comes with fresh creamy butter for $12 as soon as you are seated. Service here could not have been any more professional. website
The Palisades Brewing Company always has plenty of their beers on tap including some seasonal varieties and a hard cider. The problem with the menu is that there are too many good things to choose from. We went for the smoked wings, incredible nachos and their in-house-smoked pastrami Reuben sandwich. All had plenty of good flavors and was more than enough to feed two people. That went nicely with a flight taste of five beers in 3-ounce glasses. www.palisadebrewingcompany.com/
Palisade: The Wine Country Inn is an 80 room hotel that sits adjacent to the vines. The hotel has a nice pool, gym and a full breakfast included. Its hallways are decorated with very old photos of the region. This was a nice place to spend three nights. https://coloradowinecountryinn.com
Glenwood Springs: Best Western Antler is in a good location close to the Iron Mountain Hot Springs and just a three-minute drive to downtown.
It has a family fun pool and a good breakfast. hotel website
Everything you will need to know about Palisade can be found at visitpalisade.com If you come in September, get tickets early for the Colorado Mountain Winefest as it sells out each year.
The New Palisade Plunge Single Track Mountain Bike Trail
A new trail shoots down 32 downhill miles from the Mesa. Mountain bikers will really enjoy this. Plunge from the top of the Grand Mesa National Forest 32 miles downhill through breathtaking back-country trails and challenging terrain. The Palisade Plunge trail connects the top of the Grand Mesa to the valley floor and the town of Palisade, Colorado.
Descend 6000’ feet in elevation on the fast, fun, high-energy trail through untravelled public lands and the unbelievable scenery. This trail is guaranteed to keep your endorphins pumping all the way into the Town of Palisade. read more