Nestled in the Rocky Mountains
Colorado sits atop a lot of people’s list of places to visit. But with that being said, tourists generally visit the big name towns and cities within the state and often disregard the smaller lesser known ones. Salida, Colorado is definitely one of the lesser known towns. But for us in the know, it’s a town worth going back to over and over again.
Why, you ask? Because it’s just a cool town with a funky vibe and a wonderful river that runs right through it. The Arkansas River is a big part of this town. The main part of the quaint downtown area is built right on the banks of it. Visitors will find a wonderful park with an amphitheater that often hosts live music, a riverwalk, shops, restaurants and beautiful views of the nearby mountains.
Whitewater Rafting near Salida
As I said though, the river is where it’s at in Salida. During the summer, the river is always full of rafters, kayakers and tubers enjoying the water and sunshine. You will also find dozens of rafting companies doing business on the river. I always go with Independent Whitewater. Every time I go I’ve had a great time and had some amazing runs through epic Brown’s Canyon with outstanding class 3 & 4 rapids like Zoom Flume and Widowmaker. Check out their website at https://www.independentrafting.com/.
If you have your own kayak, you will find a kayak course on the Arkansas River by Riverside Park in downtown Salida. It is easily accessible by a ramp adjacent to the riverwalk. I love watching the kayakers from the bridge over the river. The river sees a lot of action during the summer and you can spend hours just watching people go by.
As much as the Arkansas River is a part of Salida, it is also well-known for its miles and miles of hiking and biking trails. Salida is home to 2 main trail systems: Arkansas Hills Trail System aka Tenderfoot Trails and Methodist Mountain Trail System. These trails take you through town or into the mountains almost in every direction.
These extensive trail systems offer an incredible number of choices for whatever level you are at. A lot of the trails intersect allowing users to do loops instead of hiking or biking in and out on the same trail. This also allows users to hike or bike for however long they like or time allows.
A very popular trail, and one you can’t miss, is the S-Mountain trail. Look for the big S on the side of the mountain across the Arkansas River from downtown Salida and Riverside Park. You will climb a little over 600 feet and the trail is about a mile and a half to the top. Once you get to the top, you will see why this trail is so popular! Since this trail is on the sunny side, it can be accessed most of the year.
If you want to hike or bike into the nearby mountains, you can find many trails that lead to the Continental Divide and traverse along creeks or lead to pools, lakes or waterfalls. Of course, wildlife is abundant so always keep your eyes open for high country animals like deer, elk and bighorn sheep.
A good place to begin researching these trails and to find maps is salidamountaintrails.org. Check out their website and then hike or bike your way through your visit.
Whether you are rafting, kayaking, hiking or biking in and around Salida, you can’t miss the incredible Rocky Mountains and 14ers (mountains with elevations 14,000 feet or higher) that surround the town. This part of Colorado has over a dozen 14ers that can be seen from the town of Salida. That’s incredible really!
The Sawatch Range and Continental Divide are to the north of Salida and home to such peaks as Mount of the Holy Cross, Mount Elbert (the highest peak in Colorado at 14,433 ft), Mount Massive (the second highest peak at 14,421 ft) and the Collegiate Peaks that include Mount Harvard, Mount Yale and Mount Princeton, to name just a few.
Drive north out of Salida on Highway 285 through the Arkansas River Valley towards Buena Vista and you’ll be treated with incredible views of these mountains and one of the prettiest drives in all of Colorado. If you have the time, continue north out of Buena Vista on Highway 24 towards Leadville to see the full extent of the mountain range. These mountains are stunning, majestic and epically on display every day of the year from this outdoorsy town.
If staring out at 14ers and the rest of the mountains is your thing, why not take some time to hit up one of several hot springs in the area? In between Salida and the nearby town of Buena Vista are a number of hot springs that are open to the public. Some of these hot springs offer additional amenities besides the pools such as slides, spa services and a couple have lodging facilities. One of the hot springs, Valley View Hot Springs, is actually clothing optional.
My favorite of these hot springs is Mt. Princeton Hot Springs in Nathrop, Colorado, not a far drive from Salida. When my sons were little we often camped in the Arkansas Valley and would head to Mt. Princeton to relax in the hot springs and enjoy the shower facilities. The view of the mountains from the hot springs is absolutely incredible and the memories are ones none of us will forget. If you want more information about the many hot springs in the area, click here.
After a long day of enjoying all that Salida and the surrounding area has to offer, you are probably hungry for some good food. A couple of my favorite restaurants for dinner are the Boathouse Cantina, which sits right on the Arkansas River across from S Mountain. You can eat American and Mexican cuisine while watching people on the river. It’s a lively place and always busy. As is my other go to which is Moonlight Pizza & Brewpub. It’s not near the river but has a fun atmosphere and great pizza and you know I love pizza!
As usual, I am always on the hunt for a great little coffee shop in the towns that I visit. While Salida has several, my favorite is Brown Dog Coffee Company. They have a great chai and lots of yummy morsels. For lunch, the hotspot in town seems to be Sweetie’s Sandwich Shop. Their sandwich (sammies) menu is extensive and innovative and they even offer some fresh baked sweets if you need a chaser.
Next time you visit Colorado, why not think about visiting Salida and the Arkansas Valley? As you can see, there are many things to do in this cool funky town that sits along the Arkansas River. I know for me, I just visited this past summer again and enjoyed some awesome whitewater rafting, shopping, hiking and restaurants and can’t wait to go back next time I have the chance.
As I was researching for this post, I came across this funny article about Salida from 2013. Check it out and if you’ve visited Salida, tell me if you agree 🙂
Since you are here, why not read about another cool unique Colorado town – Creede, Colorado.