By Heidi Kerr-Schlaefer

After a gentle meander through Trout Creek Pass that provides only glimpses of the majestic Collegiate Peaks, suddenly the entire view comes into focus. The mountains seem to rise straight into the sky. It’s a view that many writers have tried, but failed, to capture in words. It is one of the most spectacular views in Colorado.

As Hwy. 285 turns south, the Arkansas River is on the left and beyond that is Colorado’s newest national monument, Browns Canyon. The Arkansas Valley, with striking peaks and a wide, rushing river—this is the Rocky Mountains. It’s little wonder that local tourism has coined the phrase, “Now, this is Colorado,” on their marketing material.

Salida has all the things that make a Colorado vacation so special, including the Arkansas River that runs along the edge of downtown. Riverside Park is the heart of everything. Next to the water, it’s a place to play, walk or watch ducks. Salida has shopping, several breweries, a distillery, a vibrant art scene and good food.

At 7,000 feet above sea level, Salida has a slightly higher elevation than Steamboat Springs, and is 99 miles southwest of Denver. It is the gateway to skiing at Monarch Ski Area and 30 minutes from Buena Vista to the north.

Get outdoorsy

Outdoor recreation is a large part of Salida’s appeal. Several outfitters will help with everything river-related, including rafting trips and kayak outings. While the area is well-known for river sports, it is lesser known as an aerial adventure spot.

Browns Canyon Adventure Park is 20 minutes from Salida along the Arkansas River. It is an aerial adventure park upstream from the national monument that shares its name. With views of the river and canyon, guests can scoot, shimmy and scream their way through 66 obstacles and ziplines. Like skiing, there are easy courses that are “blue” and more difficult ones that are listed as “black.” Intrepid guests of the adventure park can also choose to raft through Browns Canyon, with half-day, full-day and overnight experiences available.

If something less adventurous is on the agenda, hiking abounds. Browns Canyon encompasses approximately 22,000 acres. Its unusual geography and 3,000-foot range in elevation supports a diverse landscape of rock and woods.

Several hikes start in the canyon,including the Ruby Mountain Trail, Hecla Junction, Turret Trail and River Bench Trail. There is also Catkin Gulch Loop, a trail that goes deep into the wilderness. Ruby Mountain and Hecla Junction have campgrounds, restrooms, picnic sites and boat launches.

Staying closer to town, Salida’s Sands Lake State Wildlife Area is a birding haven within city limits. Waterfowl flock here as do the birds that love the flowing waters of the nearby river. Fishing is popular and a path encircles the lake. It is perfect for bird watching or strolling at sunset with the dog.

Kick back in downtown

Downtown Salida is storybook pretty, with a riverfront park and blocks of historic buildings housing art galleries, clothing shops and gift stores.

The Beekeeper’s Honey Boutique sells everything from luxurious lotions to beeswax candles to honey. It is the oldest honey company in the state of Colorado, and it has been in the same family for four generations.

Drift & Amble, located on F Street, has an assortment of clothing, cards, accessories and home goods sold in a light and bright environment. With sayings like “Colorado, Keep it Wild” on t-shirts and ballcaps, it’s the type of place that belongs in Salida.

Also located downtown, visitors will find Salida’s newest brewery, Tres Litros Beer Co. Just a block from Riverside Park on N. E Street, Tres Litros serves up a smoky Baltic porter and a pale ale called Riverside, just to name a few.

Wood’s High Mountain Distillery is located 0.2 miles from the brewery. Brothers PT and Lee Wood, after years of living an outdoor lifestyle and swapping whiskey with like-minded friends, founded their own distillery with tasting room, opening the doors in 2012.

Farm fresh in Salida

On Saturday mornings through October 17, the Farmers’ Market sets up in Alpine Park. On Sundays, the market moves to Buena Vista.

Live music wafts through the air, as does the smell of roasting green chilis. Pueblo, two hours east, supplies the area with fresh chilis in the fall. September is the perfect time to load up on chilis roasted at the market. There’s an array of locally made goods like spices from The Salty Wench. High altitude farms provide a selection of colorful vegetables.

The public is invited to visit a few Arkansas Valley farms. Jumpin’ Good Goat Dairy, located in nearby Buena Vista, conducts tours by reservation. The farm’s goats provide the milk that has been making their artisan cheese since 2002.

In the county since 1968, Arrowpoint Cattle Company raises Highlander Cattle and their grass-fed beef appears on menus in local restaurants. Please call ahead to make an appointment to see the operation.

Stay in Salida with the dog

This chill community loves dogs, and they are welcome in a lot of businesses around town. Perhaps unsurprisingly, finding pet-friendly lodging isn’t difficult.

Amigo Motor Lodge was a tired, old motel that’s been given new life. The 17 rooms have been remodeled and the property has rentable Airstreams. Two of these sparkling metallic campers are dog-friendly.

Opened in the summer 2016, everything here says, “stay and relax.” Hammock chairs swing from trees and cozy beds invite travelers to sleep in.

Eight minutes away by foot, Soulcraft Brewing features 16 taps. Dogs are allowed on their big patio, which features a stage for live music. A food trailer serves up fresh pasta, salads and sandwiches.

Just a minute down the road from Amigo Motor Lodge is Gone to the Dogs, a pet store. From snacks to doggie backpacks, they have it all. And located just two minutes away is Salida’s dog park, Loyal Duke’s.

 

Eat in Salida

Eating is one of the highlights of any travel experience and one need not look far for good food in Salida.

The line can get long, but Little Red Hen Bakery is worth the wait. It has a large patio but is tiny on the inside, so it’s ideal in the warmth of fall. The smell of baking bread usually prompts patrons to walk out with breakfast and a loaf of fresh homemade bread. Red Hen even makes their own bagels.

Pizza always sounds good, and pizza at Amica’s is always on a Salida agenda. It’s been a go-to spot in town for 18 years and has a true Salida vibe. There is everything from pasta to pizza on the menu, including a fantastic Thai pizza with peanut sauce, roasted chicken, green chilis, Asian slaw and avocado slices.

Find a true Rocky Mountain experience in Salida, a town that oozes authentic Colorado charm. Whether it’s a weekend or a week, pack hiking boots and bring the dog. Fido will fit in perfectly.

 

Heidi Kerr-Schlaefer is a freelance writer from Loveland. She is also the founder of HeidiTown.com and covers travel, festivals and The West. To comment on this article,emailletters@nocostyle.com.