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A mountain biker swoops down the rolling swells of Zippity Doo Dah Trail at 18 Road. Photo by Katie Klingsporn

First-Timer’s Guide: Fruita, Colorado

Don't overlook this high-desert town on the Colorado River, which has world-class mountain biking trails and a funky downtown.

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Fruita has come a long way in the last couple decades. The once sleepy Western Slope farm town on the edge of the Colorado River has transformed into a vibrant mecca for mountain bikers, hikers, and outdoor lovers—and it doesn’t skimp on the  excellent restaurants or quirky public art, either. The key to Fruita’s success? Two-wheel advocates recognized its potential as a mountain biking haven, and built a world-class system of singletrack trails that thread beneath the bookcliffs, over sage-dotted meadows, and along the rocky edge of the river. In response, riders came in droves, along with crowds of people pleased discover that Fruita is worth a visit even if you don’t ride a bike. With an endless buffet of public lands at its doorstep, a rich paleontological history, and a funky downtown filled with shops and dinosaur regalia, Fruita makes a fantastic weekend getaway. The desert town hits perfection in the springtime or fall; while the rest of the state remains chilly, it can be downright balmy.

The odometer: 254 miles, one-way

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A mountain biker enjoys the rolling swells of Joe’s Ridge at 18 Road. [Photo by Katie Klingsporn]

A Biker’s Paradise

First and foremost, Fruita is for biking. Mountain bikers can get their fix on the super-flowy trails surrounding 18 Road, a swath of BLM-managed humps and hills beneath the bookcliffs, where ridgetop trails like Zippity Doo Dah offer puckering exposure, steep grunters like Chutes and Ladders get the heart clanging, and mellow cruisers like Kessel Run are pure fun. Or for riding with river views, there are the Kokopelli Loops, a network of trails near the Colorado River that trace the edge of rims, swoop through desert washes, and feature burly ledge drops. For road riders, families, or bikers who aren’t feeling hardcore, the Colorado Riverfront Trail offers a paved path through tall cottonwoods along the river, with views of the Colorado National Monument and good bird-watching. The Riverfront Trail begins in Fruita’s Heritage Park and extends all the way to Grand Junction. For trail beta, bike equipment, or mechanical work on your steed, head to longtime bike shop Over the Edge Sports downtown.

Explore

Of course, you don’t have to be a biker to enjoy Fruita’s outdoor amenities. The Colorado National Monument—a canyon panorama home to desert towers, redrock vistas and bighorn sheep—is just a 40-minute drive from downtown. There, climbers can scale monoliths and cliff faces, and hikers have a host of options, from easy jaunts like the Window Rock Trail to longer scenic tours like Liberty Cap Trail. Fruita’s also a good jumping off point for river trips such as Ruby Horsethief and Westwater. Rimrock Adventures in Fruita offers guided single- or multi-day raft trips. And McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, a BLM-administered area west of town, is home to pictograph and petroglyph sites, along with the second-largest concentration of natural arches in North America.

Public art like this bike-riding dino fills downtown Fruita. Photo by Katie Klingsporn

Digging Dinosaurs

Some of Colorado’s most significant paleontological discoveries have occurred near Fruita. Dinosaur fans big and small can delve into the history at the Dinosaur Journey Museum, a small but fascinating collection of paleontological goodies west of downtown. The museum’s collection includes more than 15,000 fossil specimens, cast skeletons, robotic reconstructions of dinosaurs, and exhibits about the region’s most significant former denizens. Dinos on display include Velociraptor, Stegosaurus, and Fruita’s unofficial mascot, the T-Rex. With an earthquake simulator and sandbox for making dinosaur tracks, it’s a great place for kids. For more fossil touring, visit the Fruita Paleontological Area, also called Dinosaur Hill, a tiny educational area just south of Fruita where visitors can learn about unique fossils and take a walking tour of a quarry site where major discoveries were made.

Granny’s Pesto is a favorite pie at Hot Tomato Pizza. Photo by Katie Klingsporn

Eat & Drink

Here’s a little-known fact about Fruita: It’s where you’ll find the best pizza on the Western Slope, if not the entire state. Check out Hot Tomato Pizza, a funky shack that celebrates Fruita’s bike culture and serves up addictive East Coast-style pies on dough made in-house daily. Run by former pro mountain biker Jen Zeuner and bike photographer Anne Keller, Hot Tomato is almost always crowded, but an efficient staff quickly cranks out pies, and nothing tastes better after a long day of riding or recreating. Try the Stinky Deluxe, which comes loaded with tomatoes, meatballs, jalapeños, and feta. Fruita is also home to two breweries, Copper Club Brewing and Suds Brothers Brewing, both of which offer craft beers like IPAs and stouts in downtown locations. For a different type of buzz, check out Bestslope Coffee, a new specialty shop that has an artsy interior, small outside patio, and excellent coffee drinks made from locally roasted grounds. For a hearty breakfast, grab a breakfast burrito at Camilla’s Kaffe, a friendly spot that has been a mainstay in the community for years.

Stay

When the weather’s nice—and it usually is—camping is the way to go. The BLM land offers multiple campsites at the North Fruita Desert Campground at 18 Road. There are also campgrounds at Highline Lake State Park (where the 18 Hours of Fruita endurance bike race takes place) and in McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area. For a cozy hotel in town, the Balanced Rock Inn offers clean rooms at a good price, and the La Quinta offers a pool and breakfast.

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Downtown Fruita is home to restaurants, breweries and public art. Photo by Katie Klingsporn

Shop and Peruse

The Fruita Thrift Shop, located at the roundabout just as you enter downtown, is a treasure trove of used clothes. Don’t miss the Lithic Bookstore and Gallery, a second-story shop downtown that’s home to an incredible collection of books, art, and other curiosities. History buffs should check out the Western Slope Vietnam War Memorial Park, which is dedicated to those who served in Vietnam features a UH-1H Huey helicopter, a Walk of Honor, which includes bricks with the names of those who have served, and the Welcome Home memorial statue. And if the weather does turn bad, families can take shelter (and have fun) at the Fruita Community Center, which features indoor and outdoor pools and an expansive fitness area.

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