Without a single snowflake in sight in December in Colorado, my initial plans to snowboard every mountain fell through and I headed down south to Buena Vista and Salida to explore a slice of heaven that I had gotten a glimpse of once before last year during our first ColoRADical Road Trip 🙂
How did I miss taking Independence Pass south from Aspen to the Arkansas River Valley in summer, paddling on the river, playing in whitewater rapids, soaking in hot springs, and hiking the adjacent Collegiate Peaks, I do not know and still kick myself in the foot… I remember this area to be chock full of vistas, hiking and biking opportunities, water sports, and quaint towns with wonderful people and my recent visit did not disappoint!
Salida is the biggest town in Chaffee County, CO and is said to have the largest preserved historic district in CO. The town is indeed absolutely adorable, very pedestrian and tourist friendly, with an abundance of coffee shops, breweries, distilleries, wineries, and local eateries, EVEN life music multiple nights a week!
In terms of activities, it offers everything you could look for and then some. The 14,000 ft Collegiate Peaks provide some world class terrain for hiking and camping, the Arkansas River has rapids to be envied by any other white water area. Mountain biking is another popular activity and there are a few shops to serve all your biking needs. Fishing and hunting as well as horse back riding are widely available. Dog sledding, back country skiing, snow shoe hiking are popular in winter and Monarch Mountain, famous for its waist deep powder is only 30min away. Methodist Mountain, which is a major feature on Salida’s southern horizon, offer more hikes and trails accessible from town on mountain bike and is the northernmost mountain in the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range.
Salida also has mountain biking and hiking trails right in town on Tenderfoot Mountain and the Arkansas River offers both world class challenge in its rapids and family-friendly floating in its calm bends. I highly recommend the Sand Dunes trail and if you follow it for a while you will see real sand dunes (after all Salida is only an hour from Colorado Sand Dunes National Monument) 🙂
A couple of yoga studios with full schedules will keep you stretched after all the outdoor fun! And it never hurts to have a coffee shop right next to the yoga studio #butwhichonefirst?!
Woods Distillery is another highlight in town, offers a mean homemade Sazerac and was featured in the latest edition of Edible Aspen. You can NEVER go wrong with dinner at the Fritz and if you sit at the bar you may even meet the head chef/owner 🙂 Dessert and apres-dinner drinks at the Biker and Baker are also a must (they may be #betterthansex)
If you happen to be in Salida in November and December, do check the Riverwalk lights and look at the Christmas Tree above town at night. It is quite romantic indeed!
During our first ColoRADical road trip we were told not to bother stopping in Poncha Springs as there was nothing good there. I decided to prove people wrong and found there are hot springs, a brewery, and a winery in town. #goodenoughbyme
Vino Salida Wine Cellars – the only good thing in Poncha Springs #notreally 🙂 It is always the small, overlooked places that impress me with their local charm! The local soil and climate makes some fantastic reds and if you are a doing a tasting don’t miss the Tenderfoot Stomp – a full-bodied red made by grapes stomped by the community during the annual Fall equinox harvest fest.
No visit to Southern Colorado would be complete without checking out a few hot springs. Luckily, the Arkansas Valley is chock-full of them. You can opt for the more luxurious and resort-like Mt Princeton Hot Springs or you can drive up Cottonwood Pass and frequent the locals’ favorite rustic Cottonwood Hot Springs. Cottonwood Pass has been closed for paving the last 2 years but the hot springs are open, the nature is pristine and gorgeous, people are nowhere to be found off-season and hiking trails are plenty!
My personal favorite are the clothing optional, off-grid, situated in a commune, super hippie Valley View Hot Springs down in the San Luis Valley at the foothills of Sangre de Cristo Mountains. More on them and that part of Colorado in another post!
Buena Vista is half the size of Salida but by no means it is half the fun! It boasts the oldest American whitewater festival – FIBark – in June and I say you don’t want to miss it 🙂 It is called Buena Vista for a reason…you wouldn’t know which side to turn to to photograph, especially in early Summer (wildflowers) or Fall (foliage)!