The Best of Salida, Colorado!

The Best of Salida, Colorado!

While Colorado is one of my favorite places to be, the state is becoming more and more dense with tourists. It’s hard to find a town where you can enjoy the best of Colorado while still feeling tucked away in your private, mountain retreat.

Don’t shout it from the rooftops, but I’m here to tell you that the small town of Salida is your answer!

After many visits to the area, endless time with the wonderful people, and years of future trips already planned, I’m confident that we have identified the best that Salida has to offer you!


Where is Salida, Colorado?

Located 2.5 hours southwest of Denver, Salida is surrounded by stunning mountain scenery in the heart of the Rockies, including the Sawatch Range and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. With an elevation of just over 7,000 feet (2.1km), Salida enjoys milder summers and colder winters than the surrounding towns, making it much more alluring to tourists. 

What to do in Salida, Colorado

Hiking in Salida

Colorado, as a whole, has a lot of fantastic places to hike and go to new heights, literally. Salida offers 30 scenic trails that will take you through various terrains, difficulty, and lengths. The trails can also vary in elevation, with the highest at 14,420 feet (4.4km) at the top of Mt. Harvard, part of the “collegiate peaks” and a group of mountains called the 14ers.

The top 5 trails to hike in and around Salida are rated from easiest to most difficult here. We start with an easier trail, Old Monarch Pass Loop, a scenic 3.2 mile (5km) and 1.5-hour hike through meadows, forest, and above the timberline of the San Isabel and Gunnison National Forests.

An easy-to-moderate trail network near Salida called the Arkansas Hills/ S Mountain Trails offers nice views of Salida and the Collegiate Peaks. The trails range from .5 miles (1km) to 3 miles (5km) and vary in effort but are easy to access from downtown Salida. They are more exposed than many other trails, so you’ll be in the elements a little more.

Hunt Lake Trail is a 7.2 mile (11.5km) out-and-back moderate hike below the Continental Divide that takes approximately 4 hours to complete and offers gorgeous views of Boss Lake Reservoir on the way up to Hunt Lake, which sits at an elevation of 11,476 ft (3,497m).


The Waterdog Lakes Trail, named after the Tiger Salamander that lives in the lake, is a moderate-effort trail that is 3.2 miles (5km) and roughly 2 hours long. It leads to two scenic lakes below the Continental Divide, offering a lovely view of both Bald Mountain and Banana Mountains.

If you like a good challenge, you can go the Standard Route and climb two of the Colorado 14ers, Mount Shavano and Tabeguache Peak. This out-and-back trail is 11.2 miles (18km) long and takes approximately 9 hours. You will likely end up scrambling over rocks and climbing steep, rocky terrain to get to the peaks, where you will be pleasantly surprised by the expansive views from the top. 

Most of these hikes are doable at any time during the year; just be prepared to bring extra equipment during the winter for some cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. If you opt for a 14er climb, ensure you have the equipment for the rocky terrain and steep climbs. You can also bring your pets on most trails; make sure you follow all park rules and have leashes for them.

Rafting in Salida

If water is more your speed, the Arkansas River flows right through Salida, and you can choose your own adventure style with rafting. The adventures range from a mellow, family-friendly float down the river without the white water rapids to intense whitewater rafting up to 24 miles.

Snow melt dictates the river’s flow, so water levels may vary, impacting the type of rafting experience you’ll have. The best times to go are late May to Late June for the adrenaline-seeking adventure trips because the water levels will still be high, and Mother Nature will create some whitewater magic for you.

Late June to mid-August is best for beginner and family-friendly trips, where you can get a taste of a mellower version of rafting down the Arkansas.

mountain river

I highly recommend booking an adventure through one of the two main rafting outfitters in town, Salida River Adventures or Independent Whitewater, so that you can maintain safety and have expert guides to give you an experience like none other! If you like festivals too, they host two local rafting festivals a year, and you’re sure to have a boatload of fun!

Fly fishing in Salida

If you’re interested in fishing or fly fishing, look no further, as this section of the Arkansas River has been designated as a gold medal water for fishing, namely fishing large brown trout or gigantic rainbow trout.

With plentiful public access points along the river and several local outfitters who offer guided trips and equipment rentals, you will definitely be able to experience the beauty of fly fishing.

The locals say that March 1st to the end of October is the peak season for fishing here, but you will always find a lucky catch at any time of the year. You will need to look up the rules and regulations for fishing at one of our top 5 recommendations, as some locations are catch-and-release only or have a fish possession limit.

Browns Canyon is one of the most popular places to fish and raft. Its scenic and remote section of the river offers medium to intense rapids and excellent fishing for brown and rainbow trout.

BigHorn Sheep Canyon comes in second as a challenging section of the river. Still, it offers awe-inducing views of the bighorn sheep that inhabit the canyon walls. You will find wild and stocked trout and warm-water species like bass and walleye.

Our third recommendation is Salida East, conveniently located just east of downtown Salida. You will find primarily brown trout mixed with some rainbow and cutthroat trout.

Big Bend is our fourth choice, and because it’s not as popular as the other three– you will find the gentler and broader section of the river more suited for beginners and families. You will discover smaller trout in this section, with the larger ones hanging out near the bridges and islands.

The 5th recommendation is Rincon; while it’s not as popular, it boasts a secluded and beautiful section of the river downstream of Salida. You will find more large and aggressive trout near the Rincon Campground and Rincon Bridge. 

fly fishing

There are plenty of other places to fish, like creeks and lakes. You can even drive further out of town to attempt ice fishing at the Antero Reservoir!

Mountain Biking in Salida

If you like a little dirt on your wheels, seeing some epic sights, and getting a little adrenaline rush, you can ride some neat trails to get a little of everything during your stay here. I am including the top 5 trails, ranked from easy to challenging, so you can pick and choose your adventure while planning your stay.

The easiest trail recommendation is the 2.8 mile (4.5 km) Race Track Trail, which will still give you the rocky mountain biking experience with a low elevation gain for just over an hour of riding. It is considered kid-friendly, and you can still see the sights.

The Lost Trail is a 3.4 mile (5.5km) loop, which is considered a moderate 1-hour-and-40-minute ride within the Methodist Mountain Trail System south of Salida. You can catch some expansive views of the other mountains and a bird’s eye view of Salida.

The Arkansas Hills Trail System is an 8.1-mile (13km), moderately challenging loop closest to Salida, so you can get your mountain biking experience without having to travel too far out of your way. The 3.5-hour loop consists of 11 trails ranging from 0.4 to 3.2 miles (0.7 to 5 km), with several access points and multiple trail combinations.

The longest trail within this system is a moderately challenging trail, North Backbone Trail, an 8.2 mile (13km) out-and-back trail that is the longest trail in this system and offers stunning views of the mountains and Salida. It takes approximately 3 hours and 20 minutes to complete, but it’ll be an experience you won’t forget.

mountain bike

If you like a predominantly downhill ride, Sand Dunes Trail (also called S-Mountain Chicken for Dinner) is a 3.2 mile (5km) out-and-back trail also in the Arkansas Hill System that offers a moderate challenge that follows a small canyon that references “sand dunes” which is a sandy stretch roughly ⅔ up the trail. You will get a lot of views of Sawatch Range on this trail, as well.

Horseback Riding in Salida

If horse riding sounds like fun, many of the trails mentioned before are worthy of horseback riding. If you have a horse and want to bring them along for the trip, Salida offers accommodations for them, as well.

Most of the outfitters that provide the horseback riding service and/or horse lodging offer excursions ranging from one hour to a full-day ride out and around the Collegiate Mountains and the Sangre de Cristo mountains.

There are 11 horseback riding outfitters and 2 Llama outfitters that will fit your unique needs. You will find experiences ranging from dude ranch style to relaxing spas (for humans) and waterfall rides.

Golfing in Salida

You can golf at the oldest golf course in Salida, the Salida Golf Club, which was established in 1926 and looks younger every day. The golf course also gives you a 360° view of the Sangre de Cristo and Collegiate mountain ranges, which is stunning.

You also get the chance to play at an elevation of 7000 feet (2134m) above sea level and on a leisurely slope, so you can enjoy your day without perspiration. You will also have access to their amenities during your stay.

If you want a more family-friendly golfing game, head to Rocky Mountain Mini Golf. Built by Harris Golf, one of the oldest golf companies in the business, this 18-hole course also features Friday night fun with glow-in-the-dark balls and a lighted course.

If PGA golf isn’t your thing, you can go to the Poncha Springs Disc Golf Course, a PDGA standard course that boasts challenges for every level of disc golfer. It is located on 20 acres (80,937 sq.m) and has 18 holes; it is free and open to the public.


Ziplining in Salida

If zipping along through the tree lines is more your speed, you can soar through the trees at the first commercial zipline and largest aerial park in the state of Colorado at Captain Zipline. Here, you can zip, climb, raft, ATV, and even splash your way through the Arkansas River and the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. You can purchase packages that allow you to stay and play for a few hours to a whole day. 

Visiting Hot Springs in Salida

After your outdoor excitement, you can take a long, hot soak in the local hot springs. In operation since the 1930s, Salida has its own Aquatic Center, the largest indoor hot spring pool in the country. With water piped directly into the center, this family-friendly center has two hot springs pools that benefit everyone.

Visiting Sand Dunes in Salida

Grand Sand Dunes National Park is about a 1.5-hour drive from Salida and has North America’s tallest sand dunes with a wide variety of natural systems, scenic settings, animals, and plants found nowhere else on Earth.

You can even see some of the oldest known archeological sites in America and plenty of opportunities to explore and witness all the park offers. If you’re looking for something closer to your stay, head to the Sand Dunes Trail, where you will find a sandy stretch on this hike through the Sawatch Range. 

ATV Tours in Salida

You can rent Jeeps or ATVs in Salida for a different adventure. Rocky Mountain Jeep Rentals will rent Jeeps for you to use and explore the town and surrounding mountain ranges.

You can go off-roading and mudding to your heart’s content. (They will even pick you up in style at the airport!) For ATVs, snowmobiles, and side-by-side rentals, go to All Season Rentals.

Both companies offer tours where you have access to knowledgeable and experienced guides who know how to ensure you have a fun experience.

Salida Live Music

Live music showcases this town’s vibrant artistry, and you can find it at Benson’s Tavern and Beer Garden, High Side! Bar and Grill, and 146 Taphouse. These venues offer food, drinks, and a wide variety of entertainment with their music. Feel free to check in and never leave!

Dog Sledding in Salida

If you’re anything like I am and barely get to see soft, fluffy snow. Colorado is a playland for people like us. Since I am an animal lover, dog sledding is on Salida’s list of top things to do.

Monarch Dog Sled Rides offers 30- 35 minute dog sled tours through the San Isabel National Forest, led by a team of adorable huskies. They even allow you to adopt one of their retired sled dogs if you fall in love with them.

Skiing in Salida

The best place to ski in Salida is Monarch Mountain, one of the oldest Colorado ski areas. It opened in 1939 and is a 25-minute drive west of Salida. It receives over 350 inches of snow each year and has 63 trails for all levels of skiers, a terrain park, a hike-to terrain, and a snowcat service.

snow skiing

Snowmobiling in Salida

When the snow falls, you can rent, or even bring your own, snowmobile and head down one of four popular trails around Salida.

The Cottonwood Pass has panoramic views of the Rockies at 12,126 feet (3696 m) above sea level, with groomed trails that lead to the Continental Divide. It is suitable for all levels, but primarily beginners and intermediate.

Marshall Pass offers 70 miles of gorgeous powder while traversing the Continental Divide and cruising to a height of 10,800 feet. You’ll have fun in the powdery wonderland with trails that vary in width.

For the more advanced and experienced riders, you can go to the North Fork of the Arkansas, which starts with 7 miles (11km) of groomed trails and then opens up to steep hills and deep powder while passing the site of a short-lived mining town called Savano and some of the 14ers like Tabeguache Peak and Mount Shavano.

St. Elmo/ Tin Cup Pass is for advanced riders who are familiar with snowmobiling and can handle steep, narrow trails with an elevation of 12,100 feet (3688 m). This trail will take you through St.Elmo, Colorado’s most well-preserved ghost town, with rows of buildings that have withstood the test of time, even if its people have moved on.

Where to eat in Salida

Pizza – Moonlight Pizza

You can head to Moonlight Pizza and enjoy the beautiful sight of the mountains while imbibing in a pint of one of their many beers on tap and noshing on a delicious slice of pie. They also offer sandwiches, salads, and beers with outdoor seating.

You can also go to Amicas, a community tap house specializing in pizza, pasta, and salad. They offer microbrews, wines, and desserts while soaking up the vibe, taking in the art displays, and listening to live music.

Boathouse Cantina offers American fare on the bank of the Arkansas River. You can sit on their deck and soak up the sun while watching the rafters float by. It is one of the most popular restaurants in town, so be prepared to wait.


Sweeties Sandwich Shop is another local favorite, offering over 60 original artisan sandwiches and a variety of salads, soups, and beverages. There will undoubtedly be something for everyone, and you can even take your meal on your adventures!

The Fritz is an American gastropub that offers a rotating menu of dishes inspired by global flavors. Here, you will see beautiful views of the mountains while having the opportunity to eat a more elevated version of everyone’s favorite foods and some new flavors for the more adventurous taste buds. They are only open for dinner, so make sure you plan ahead!

Breweries in Salida

Tres Litros Beer Company is located in the center of Salida. It offers thoughtfully crafted beers and an open-air indoor/outdoor covered seating area. They also offer live music and snacks, or you can order delivery/ bring food from other local restaurants to accompany your brew. 

Soulcraft Brewing is a fun and friendly craft brewery and American restaurant with 16 beers on tap, additional ciders, a small selection of wine, and live music. 

Salida Brewing Company is a collaborative effort between several riverside restaurants and

Elevation Brewing Company, located in Poncha Springs; it has a taproom that offers 6 beers and a community gathering place that is sure to entertain and create more connections with this fabulous town.


Now that you see all that our secret slice of Heaven has to offer, drive AWAY from the traffic. Follow that beautiful Arkansas river through the mountain passes. And go meet the wonderful people of Salida, Colorado. They’ll take care of you like good neighbors. And you’ll go back to enjoying the relaxing part of your vacation travels!

This post was written by Ruth Rodenbeck.

Ruth is an avid writer, reader, and adventurer who lives with her husband and twin daughters. When she is not negotiating with the tiny human offspring, she is plotting her next set of adventures either in real life or in her writing. Find more of her writing at NPS Family Travel.

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