salida colorado, rafting

48 Hours in Salida, Colorado

Why visiting a ski town in the summer is perfectly fine idea.

Twenty minutes from world-class skiing on Monarch Mountain, and two and half hours southwest of Denver is Salida, Colorado, a tiny former mining town that's a no-brainer destination in winter and early spring. But it’s stellar vacation material during the greener months as well. Every June since 1949, Salida has celebrated the surge of mountain snow runoff into the Arkansas River with FIBArk (it stands for “First in Boating in the Arkansas”), which claims to be the oldest whitewater rafting race and festival. Even if you don’t catch FIBArk, however, there are miles of ziplines stretching across canyons, hiking and mountain biking trails—only accessible in spring and summer—that boast mountain views and lakeside scenery and hot springs to enjoy while taking in Salida’s Old West-style downtown and overall chill, athletic vibe.

Where to stay
One of downtown Salida’s several historic brick buildings, built in 1909 and recently renovated, is the small (15-suite) Palace Hotel which is surrounded by views of the Rocky Mountains. From there, it’s an easy walk not only to many locally owned restaurants, galleries and shops, but Riverside Park and trail heads for a couple popular hiking spots. If you’re looking for more of a spa experience, stay at Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort in nearby Nathrop. Choose a private cabin or a suite in the main lodge and soak or swim in numerous hot springs pools, some of them creekside. 

Day 1
Grab a coffee and quick bite at the Palace Hotel or Brown Dog Coffee Company, which offers smoothies, breakfast burritos and quiche as well as baked goods. Then explore Salida’s Rocky Mountain canyon from the air on Colorado’s first zipline tour, where you can climb, jump and glide—platform to platform—through the Captain Zipline Aerial Adventure Park.

Refuel at Sweetie’s Sandwich Shop, a quaint place with an extensive menu of salads and sammies. Whitewater rafting in Salida is a must, but unless you’re an experienced rafter, let the folks at Independent Whitewater hook you up with a tour appropriate to your skill level. The Family Floats are mellow runs for beginners to check out wildlife and scenery along the Arkansas River, but the company also takes rafters on daylong advanced trips through raging rapids with few breaks.

Before dinner, watch the sun set over the Rocky Mountains at RoofTop at Integrate, Salida’s only rooftop bar. Integrate is also a gym and spa that offers yoga classes, but it serves freshly squeezed juice, cocktails and Colorado beer on its roof from 5pm to sunset.

If you’re in a steak or seafood mood, dine at the venerable Currents downtown, which is one of Salida’s few high-end eateries. But if wood-fired pizza and beer sound like more of your jam after an adventure-filled day, try Amicas Pizza & Microbrewery, a spot popular with locals that serves its Colorado State Fair gold medal-winning beers —such as Green Chile Ale and the Headwaters IPA.

Day 2
You can’t beat the location of Rivers Edge Bar & Restaurant, where you can put away giant breakfast burritos with green chile sauce and an egg white omelet at a table right on the bank of the Arkansas.

Because summers are mild in the mountains (Salida’s average temperature in July is only 77 degrees), that means perfect hiking weather all season long. Tenderfoot is an easy hiking trail in the San Isabel National Forest that’s accessible just east of downtown. Or rise to the challenge of the less crowded but fairly steep and intermediate hike at Hunt Lake Trail, a two-plus mile excursion around beautiful lakes that’s especially pretty midsummer, when wildflowers are in bloom. Waterdog Lakes is a popular, moderately challenging lakeside hike with amazing views of the Continental Divide and Banana Mountain. Stop for lunch at Mo Burrito, a new spot with great carnitas, a selection of hot sauces and local beers. Explore trails at higher altitudes and higher speeds on a tour with Absolute Bike Adventures, a mountain biking company offering guided rides at a variety of skill levels, from mellow meadow excursions to high-intensity, single-track runs. If you’re not staying at the resort, buy a day pass to the hot springs pools at Mount Princeton to unwind before heading out for the evening.

Before dinner, park yourself on a reclaimed metal tractor seat at the bar made from wood salvaged from the Morton salt mine at the hip Elevation Beer Company in nearby Poncha Springs for a rye IPA, a trippel (a rich Belgian style ale). Or watch the sunset on Elevation’s outdoor patio. If you skipped pizza your first night in town, check out the patio scene at Moonlight Pizza and Brewpub, or try The Fritz across the street from Riverside Park downtown, for fare that’s a little fancier. Your last stop before turning in should be Wood’s High Mountain Distillery, a fun, mellow bar in a former auto body shop in downtown Salida where brothers PT and Lee Wood have been distilling mash whiskey in small batches in an 1880s-era still named “Ashley” since 2012. In addition to whiskey, Wood’s makes liqueurs that feature prominently on its innovative cocktail menu.