Salida, Colorado calls itself the “Gem of the Rockies.” Another Colorado town, Ouray, also calls itself the “Gem of the Rockies.” Ouray also calls itself the “Switzerland of America.” It seems to be more focused on mountain activities than water activities but, nonetheless, if it is anything like Salida, then it must be a gem. Salida has become a favorite destination for my wife and me, and we have gone at least once a year for the past four years.
Anyway, if you are a whitewater kayaker, whitewater rafter, or trout fisherman you probably already know about Salida, Colorado. If not, it is a great place to visit even if you don’t care about those sports. Salida has a sort of “hippie throw-back attitude” that pervades the town. Look at the mural on the side of the building as well as the big “S” on the top of the mountain in the distance. Definite hippie stuff.
Salida and Buena Vista, a town about 20 miles or so from Salida, are both great places to take whitewater lessons or just to go whitewater kayaking. The Arkansas River, which runs through both towns, is dam controlled, so as the season progresses toward the end of summer, the flow decreases. I got certified as a whitewater instructor in March, so the flow was very high and, consequently, pretty scary. If you are interested in lessons, I suggest targeting June and to take lessons in the Salida Whitewater Park.
The Salida Whitewater Park runs 1/4 mile through the center of town on the Arkansas River and has four primary features: a classic freestyle hole called the Boat Hole, another more forgiving kayak hole, and two surfer waves. However, don’t get lazy in the “forgiving” hole. I did, got stuck and got window shaded (think of how old window shades used to flap over and over when you let them go). The park offers very easy access, so you make run after run without getting in your car or scrambling over rocks. You can spend a whole day playing around and working on your skills.
You know Salida is a whitewater kayaking Mecca because of Capricorn Sports and the famous “Wall of Kayaks” on the side of the building.
Capricorn Sports offers whitewater kayaking lessons. Here is a link to that business: Capricorn Sports
Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center also offers whitewater kayaking lessons. Here is a link to RMOC: Rocky Mountain Outdoor Sports
On one trip we decided to hike the Browns Pass Hartenstein Lake Trail. The trail is roughly six miles round trip and is considered moderate to difficult. I don’t think it was difficult but considering you go up about 2000 feet it was tiring. We happened to go on a drizzly day and that might have been a good thing. Had the sun been out it may have made for a more tiring hike. This is the view once you reach the lake.
There is also a hiking trail right in town called the Spiral Trail. If you stand on F Street and look away from the river, you will see a mountain with a big letter “S” on the side (see the first photo in this blog). The Spiral Trail is a switch back trail that takes you to the top of Tenderfoot Mountain. There are a number of named trails in addition to the main spiral trail that, from what we are told, are mountain biking trails. Below is a map of the trail area.
When you get to the top you find a staircase that leads up to and old building.
I’m not sure what purpose the building served or serves but it does a fantastic place to take in a view of Salida.
SALIDA HOT SPRINGS AQUATIC CENTER
There are a number of hot springs in Colorado. The one in Salida, the Salida Hot Springs Aquatic Center, is the largest indoor hot springs facility in the country. The water is gathered from an underground springs eight miles up the road, high in the Rocky Mountains. From there, it is piped directly to the pools through an insulated pipeline, delivering fresh hot water continually.
The water in the indoor pools ranges from about 84 degrees to 98 degrees, depending on the depth of the water. That was a blessing when I took my whitewater instructor training because we spent a few hours there learning how to teach the kayak roll. It is a very popular spot for tourists who want to relax in warm spring water after a day of exercise.
Scanga Meat Company
My birthday happened to occur while we were on one of our trips. I love burgers and decided that I wanted burgers for my birthday dinner. We were told that the best place to by beef in Salida was the Scanga Meat Company located at 9250 County Rd 156. When you arrive you will see this sign.
It turns out the Scanga Meat Company is a slaughterhouse as well as a deli so you are guaranteed that the meat is as fresh as it can be. Well, the burger meat we bought was the best I have ever had—period. If you love beef and are in Salida, you owe it to yourself to go to the Scanga Meat Company.
I also love beer! We bought a locally brewed porter called Little Mo’. Little Mo’ is made by the Elevation Beer Company located at 115 Pahlone Pkwy, Poncha Springs. They have tastings seven days a week but we didn’t have time to drop in. I rate Little Mo’ as “pretty good.” The Beer Advocate web site rates it as an 85 whereas it rates my favorite beer, Black Butte Porter, as a 93. As you can see it has typical porter coloration.
Vino Salida is a local winery specializing in Colorado wines. We decided to go to a wine tasting at the shop and, because I’m a bit of a wine snob, I had low expectations. The first thing I sampled was honey mead, something that I really did not like because it was way too sweet. After two other tastings I tried their Cuvee rouge. It is a blend, consisting of 22% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Syrah, 37% Zinfandel, 13% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petite Verdot. It was really good, good enough for me to spend $25.00 for a bottle to have with the burgers. You definitely should pay a visit to Vino Salida if you are in the area.
Sweetie’s Sandwich Shop
Sweetie’s is a sandwich shop/bakery that has awesome brownies and other pastries. I have to issue a warning, though—if you buy the pastries you will get addicted to them. We bought three brownies, each of which seemed to weigh about a pound, and we (me, mostly) gobbled them down. It was my birthday, after all.
As you might imagine in a “hippie” town, there are a lot of galleries in Salida, several of which feature pottery. There are too many to list in this blog piece but, if you want to know what kinds there are and where they are located, follow this link: Salida Galleries
On two occasions we rented apartments in downtown Salida. They were not cheap, but they were very upscale and we could walk to any attraction in just a few minutes. We have also stayed in other places, including an RV park.
Four Seasons RV Park, Salida, Co
On one trip we stayed at the Four Seasons RV Park, Salida, CO while taking whitewater lessons in Buena Vista. Our site backed up to the river, so we got a lot of great views of boaters, rafters, tubers and fisherman just by stepping outside. The trout fishing must be amazing because one fellow camper came by and offered us trout he had caught because he just had too many. When we sat at our RV spot we saw one set of fishermen after another passing by.
Jefferson Farms Natural Fibers
Jefferson Farms Natural Fibers is an alpaca farm that specializes in producing high quality fleeces and luxury products.
This doesn’t sound like a place to stay, does it? Well, it is! The accommodations are a part of a larger house and they are incredibly comfortable. On this trip, we had two of our dogs with us and took advantage of an enclosed area in which we could let them out to do their business. The kitchen had a Samsung oven that is better than any oven I have ever encountered. It is just an incredible place to stay.
Below are some pictures of the accommodations as well as the alpacas which, by the way, are right across from the rental home. They seemed to be as curious about us as we were about them.
If you are an outdoors person, or someone who likes to visit a lot of galleries, or both, then you should definitely take a trip to Salida. You cannot go wrong.