The Grand Mesa is a 700-square-mile flat-top mountain that rises dramatically east of Grand Junction, Colorado. Little-known outside of the nearby western Colorado towns, the Grand Mesa is a vast playground dotted with lakes, streams, and wildflower-strewn meadows. There is no better way see it in its vastness than this wonderful hike. Crags Crest runs like an east-west backbone about 1,000 feet above the rest of the mesa, affording 360-degree views of countless lakes and distant mountain ranges.
There are two trailheads for the Crags Crest Trail, each leading up a short spur trail to the main loop. The loop is a bit closer to the eastern trailhead, making the overall hike shorter by less than a mile. This adventure starts at the eastern trailhead and follows the loop counter-clockwise, so the hardest climbing is at the beginning and the highest ridges can be left behind before the common afternoon storms.
After leaving the parking lot by Eggleston Lake the trail climbs gently past Upper Eggleston Lake and Bullfinch Reservoir. Just past this lake the trail heads up the steep rocky shoulder of the crest and climbs steadily to the ridge. At this point, about 2 miles in, most of the vertical gain has been completed and the rest of the hike is flat, undulating, or gentle downhill. The 3 miles along the crest itself is some of the most amazing hiking above the timberline. Views of numerous lakes pass by on either side like dioramas. As the trail starts to drop off the western end of the crest it passes through beautiful meadows of wildflowers (and hungry mosquitos). The trail drops down to the intersection with the western trailhead spur. With a car shuttle this exit will save about 3 miles, but the last part of the loop is too wonderful to miss. Sloping green meadows covered with flowers roll down to the lakes to the south, and the trail traverses these fields. The return loop skirts Wolverine Lake and Forest Lake before it returns to the shore of Eggleston. This hike has rewards along every mile of its route, and it is an absolute joy to hike.
Many of the lakes in the Grand Mesa are home to native brook trout populations as well as planted rainbows, so fishing anywhere on the mesa is a treat. There are several campgrounds in the Island Lake section of the mesa near the trailheads such as Ward Lake, Cottonwood, and Island Lake. Check with the ranger at the visitor center to find out where dispersed camping is allowed. There are even a few rustic lodges and restaurants for that after-hike reward.