History of Salida
Salida is located in central Colorado and is the county seat and most populous municipality of Chaffee County. It was first called South Arkansas when the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad made the area a stopping point. Due to the lovely view from the train upon leaving the Arkansas River canyon, it was renamed Salida, (exit in Spanish).
Salida became a big railroad town with the largest train repair facility between Denver and Salt Lake City. It also boasted many smelters as gold and silver mining in the vicinity became more prevalent. As these industries faded, farming took over.
Now Salida, Colorado’s largest historic district and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a tourist town. It is a gateway to the outdoors providing excellent fishing, rafting, hiking and more. Below are a few things to do in Salida.
Where to Stay in Salida
In my opinion, for as artistic, cute, and historic Salida is, I feel like there should be an excellent historic hotel. However, that is not the case. In fact, the lodging is a bit lacking when it comes to hotels. There are some motels in the area and a selection of Air B&B, and of course a substantial amount of camping given 80% of the lands in the area is public.
I camped in the Shavano Wildlife Area just minutes away from Salida. It requires driving up a bumpy dirt road, but once on the plateau, campers are rewarded with magnificent views all around and some shade in the low trees. It is a great place to base for the variety of activities available in the area.
Things to Do in Salida
Raft Browns Canyon
Brown’s Canyon, recently designated a national monument, stretches between Buena Vista and Salida. The canyon is famous for it the white water rafting along this section of the Arkansas River. Browns Canyon Rafting provides half-day to multi-day trips through class II-III+ rapids. The water is cold, but the scenery is beautiful!
Take a Hike
Don’t feel like getting wet? Try a hike. There are many hikes surrounding Salida from Colorado’s famous 14ers to trails more tame. Consider Waterdog Lakes Trail on the way up Monarch Pass. The AllTrails app includes directions to a dirt parking area located across the highway from the trailhead. I believe going up the pass just 1/10 of a mile more to the intersection is a better place to begin the hike as there are no boulders to climb over.
The hike climbs through the evergreen forest along a rocky single-track trail. At times it follows the power lines, but in the end, it reaches the lower Waterdog Lake. Continuing left (not right as AllTrails shows) around the lake and then ascending an intermittent path, will take you to the end of the second lake. It is best to still have the AllTrails map handy, as many trails intersect around the lakes.
Go Grape Stomping (or Wine Tasting)
After completing the hike, continue up the pass to reward yourself with a gondola ride and return to Salida and go for a wine tasting. Mountain Spirit Winery is located off Co Rd 220 about 9 miles down Hwy 50 from the trailhead.
Mountain Spirit Winery has been family owned and operated since 1995. It is located on 5 acres of farmland and apple orchards and is open everyday in the summer from 10am to 5pm.
Another winery in Poncha Springs, on the way to Salida, is Vino Salida. I happened to be in Salida in late September and got to stomp the grapes for their Tenderfoot wine. The venue feature music, grape stomping, and food and wine tasting. It was so much fun!
Prefer spirits or beer over wine? No Problem. Salida features a selection of breweries and distilleries. Moonlight Pizza & Brewpub is a popular option in town.
Stroll Salida’s Historic Streets
While in town, stroll the historic streets of Salida. Not only is Salida Colorado’s largest National Historic District, it is also Colorado’s first Certified Creative District. Check out all the art galleries, restaurants, boutiques and more. And don’t forget to step to the counter at the Pharmacy for an old-fashioned soda or milk shake. I had a cherry lime rickey, and it was great!
Picnic in the Park
If you want, get the cherry lime rickey to go, pick up a sandwich at Sweetie’s, and have a picnic in the park. Riverside Park is a shaded green space located next to the Arkansas River on F Street and Sackett Ave. Just a block or two away is Sweetie’s which offers over 60 sandwiches, soups, salads, and pastries. Find a picnic table at the park, or better yet, sit riverside and watch the kayakers, tubers, and fisherman.
Check Out the Farmers Market
Another nice green space in Salida is Alpine Park. In the summer months if features a farmers market on Saturday from 8 to 1. The market is small but includes a variety of vendors selling baked goods, vegetables, and even jewelry.
Drive Spiral Drive
On the opposite side of the river from Alpine Park, is Tenderfoot Mountain. It is the mountain with the S on it on the edge of town. You can’t miss it. It literally has a dirt road which spirals around its small peak that leads to a historic fire lookout station. The lookout station provides excellent views of the surrounding area.
While I suggested a drive most locals ride their bikes or hike on the surrounding trails, so for a morning workout, try that. There is not any shade, so start early.
Soak in the Hot Springs
After your workout, soak in the Hot Springs. There are three public hot springs in the surrounding area which are open year-round; Mount Princeton Hot Springs, Salida Hot Springs (local pool with $5 showers), and Cottonwood Hot Springs.
For some reason, I always end up at Mount Princeton Hot Springs which costs $30 for a daily pass. It features a pool with some side tubs and other natural springs in the river. I prefer sitting down by the river.
While Salida may be visited year-round, I prefer the fall when the aspen are changing. There are several scenic drives and many hikes which feature magical golden aspen. The Collegiate Peaks Scenic Byway from Salida to Minturn is a popular drive.
Along this road drivers may off shoot onto Highway 50 over Monarch Pass, CR 306 over Cottonwood Pass, and Hwy 82 over Independence Pass. All offer magnificent views of the surrounding mountains with changing color.
Other nice areas include St. Elmo and Clear Creek which also include nice hikes. For more details on hikes, see my post Hikes Near Buena Vista.
Visit a Ghost Town
Speaking of St. Elmo, it is a ghost town and includes many intact buildings including a church, general store, jail and more. It is very cool to see and also an extremely popular area for off-roading. The closest rentals for off-roading are in Buena Vista, but I digress.
There is also the historic mining town of Winfield in Clear Creek. It is a nice stop on the way to Huron Peak, one of the many 14ers in the area.
Both require driving a bumpy dirt road. If you had to choose one, I’d go with St. Elmo.
Take a Side Trip
While both leaf peeping and visiting a ghost town could both be considered a side trip from Salida, visiting Buena Vista, Twin Lakes and Leadville are also fun options. Visit these posts for more information.
Also consider checking out Colorado Mountain Lavender in Cotopaxi. It is only open during the lavender season, but you can stay there, take a tour, and buy their products.
To me, Salida is a hidden gem in Colorado. As always, stop in the visitor center and museum to find out even more! ETB