Separating skiers and snowmobilers keeps everyone happy
Grand Mesa's real appeal is that the U.S. Forest Service has minimized conflicts between motorized and nonmotorized recreational users by designating specific snowmobile and cross-country trails along State 65.
Three trail systems for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing crown the Mesa. The Skyway and County Line systems, linked by a 1-mile trail, are relatively gentle, with groomed tracks that can be combined into myriad routes of various lengths. Skyway's trails are easy, and its northeastern section provides a dramatic view of the Book Cliffs, deeply eroded shale walls that resemble taupe book spines lined up on a shelf. The County Line system is even easier, and its southern trails offer good views of the soaring San Juan Mountains. A full-moon ski or snowshoe outing on any of these high-altitude routes is an ethereal delight.
The Ward Lake system is more extensive and more challenging, with a 500-foot elevation difference between the lowest and highest parts. Some trails are groomed; others are marked but ungroomed. As the system farthest from Grand Junction, Ward Lake gets the fewest users. It is also the lowest in elevation and faces south, so the season tends to be shorter here. One of the two main trailheads is near the Grand Mesa Visitors Center, where heated rest rooms are open daily (not a trivial consideration on the Mesa).
If you prefer your views to change quickly, one after another and with a lot less effort, book a snowmobile tour. Of the Mesa's 121 miles of snowmobile trails, a half-day tour can cover about 35 to 40 of the most scenic. Guides stop at the best views, like the Land O' Lakes Overlook, from which 16 lakes are visible, along with a remarkable 180° panorama that arcs from the mountains surrounding Aspen all the way to Utah. From Crater View, you see Powderhorn, the West Bench Trail (which skirts the Mesa's north rim), Chalk Mountain, and the Grand River Valley. Lands End, on the Mesa's western tip, seems to put all of western Colorado and a good part of Utah at your feet. People who own or rent sleds can explore other trails through the forest and across the empty, rolling landscape.
Whether on snowmobiles or skis, always head out prepared for weather, and let someone know where you're going. This really is Colorado winter the way it used to be.