North Fruita Desert Campground
Amid the arid landscape and dusty plateaus of western Colorado lies one of the state’s most beloved mountain-biking sanctuaries — the 18 Road trail system. Pitch your tent at the North Fruita Desert Campground (aka 18 Road Campground) for unrestricted access to 58 miles of flowy singletrack. And if you need supplies (or a frosty drink), retreat 13 miles south to the town of Fruita.
One of the greatest joys of camping in the North Fruita Desert is not what you’ll find, but what you won’t find — crowds. You’ll have no reason to feel claustrophobic when you open your tent each morning to sprawling vistas of painted sagebrush and distant mountains.
What makes it special?
There are a total of 111 campsites, topped off with amenities like fire rings, picnic tables, gravel parking lots and vault toilets. Surrounding trails offer winding switchbacks and spectacular views along the ridgeline of the Bookcliffs (a series of cliffs and mountains that resemble open books, hence the name).
The most “Colorado” thing about this place
If you’re a fan of the ski-in/ski-out experience found at many Colorado resorts, North Fruita Desert Campground is right up your alley. Several trails lead directly out of the campground, so just mount up and go!
Whether you’re rockin’ a hard-tail bike or going all out with full suspension — or even hiking — you’ll feel right at home here. Most trails aren’t rocky, and you won’t have to deal with too many bouts of strenuous uphill. The aptly named Tough Enough trail provides 37 miles of some of the region’s most challenging terrain, while Vegetarian is an easy-going green that’s perfect for beginners.
Top sensory encounter you’ll experience
We’re going with the feeling of weightlessness you’ll experience as you crest the rolling hills. Due to lack of trees, you can glide over the natural contour of the land at your own pace with full views of the vast desert panorama.
Quirkiest thing to expect
The campground feeds out to a massive mountain-biking trail system, with many route names being cool nods to cultural references. Look closely at any trail map and you’ll notice “Star Wars” references like Kessel Run and Sarlacc — the latter refers to the mysterious beast lurking beneath the deserts of Tatooine.
Our favorite traveler review
“The riding here is off the hook! You can have a casual breakfast, then do a couple trails and swing by your campsite for lunch and a beer before heading out for some more amazing riding. Most of the trails are directional, so you have no worries about encountering uphill or downhill traffic. The trails are progressive and there is one for all abilities. Kessel Run is a great warmup, then head over to Pumps, Bumps & Rollers (P.B.R.). Take lunch, then hit Joe’s and Mojo if you are looking for something a bit more technical.” — DugW65, Tripadvisor
Things to see & do nearby
While we’ve really hyped up the mountain-biking scene at 18 Road (and rightfully so), the Western Slope is also home to OHV playgrounds like Grand Valley OHV Recreational Area. Put the pedal to the metal along 17 square miles of barren desert featuring smooth doubletracks and numerous hill climbs.
On the south side of I-70, you’ll find Colorado National Monument, one of nine national monuments in the state. Here, it looks as if the land collapsed under its own weight, giving way to expansive ravines and sporadically placed rock pillars.
History buffs can embark on a 1,000-year journey through Colorado history at Museum of the West in Grand Junction. Gaze in wonderment at the intricate artwork of the Ute and Fremont people, or explore the firearms wielded by outlaws who helped shape the Wild West.
Finally, see what’s brewin’ in the heart of peach country at Palisade Brewing Company. Enjoy something crisp and refreshing like Corn Fed hoppy lager or Summer Set peach cider, while you soak up views of the sun-splashed valley.
Photos courtesy of C. Row