Awesome whitewater, excellent trails and epic views make this little Colorado town the perfect stop for any adrenaline seeker
Welcome to Salida, where there are more places to park a bike than a car and more river miles to row than you can shake a paddle at.
In the winter the locals enjoy Monarch Mountain’s old timey feel (like A-Basin before the invasion of the Front Rangers) and excellent side-country. In the summer, Salida is a paddling mecca and the host of FIBArk, “America’s Oldest & Boldest Whitewater Festival.” That’s not all — there’s the excellent fishing, more than a dozen 14ers to bag and a red-hot mountain bike scene to boot.
Numerous campgrounds are available in the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area. Rincon Campground, located just south of Salida, is one of the most easily-accessed sites from town. To avoid the fee, camp near one of the plentiful BLM roads that shoot off U.S. Highway 50 as you head toward Cañon City, or at one of the many dispersed camping sites along the river. Remember to bring your firepan and groover (portable toilet) if you plan to camp on BLM land anywhere within the river corridor.
Run the shuttle up to Big Bend Boat Ramp from your camping spot (leaving at least one car behind) and either put your own boat, kayak or SUP on the river or rent one from Independent Whitewater (located at the Big Bend Boat Launch). Don’t forget to bring a fly rod. This stretch of the river is part of the newest (since 2014) and longest stretch (102 miles) of Gold Medal waters in Colorado and holds plenty of big trout. Float through Salida and enjoy a romp in the Salida whitewater park, where you can find crowds of boating enthusiasts enjoying the waves perfect for a surf sesh or working the slalom gates. Pro tip: this is your last opportunity to stop in Salida for snacks and refreshments before heading downriver.
Continue your float down to your campsite (if you’re camped on the river) or the Rincon Boat Launch and run back to Big Bend to grab your ride. On the way, stop in Salida at Amica’s and order a wood-fired pizza with locally sourced ingredients and a microbrew. Try the Michelangelo. After dinner, cruise the funky downtown and grab an after-dinner drink at Wood’s High Mountain Distillery. You may even bump into the proprietor and Salida mayor, P.T. Wood (you’ll know the mustache when you see it).
Head to Salida and park as close as you can to the F Street Bridge. Hop on the bike to pedal up S Mountain (also called Tenderfoot Hill) where you can get a killer view of Salida as well as the surrounding Collegiate Peaks and Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Trails are rated from easy to expert in this area, so you should be able to find something to suit your ability level. If you’re a competent biker and not too worn down by the previous day’s paddle, check out the Chicken for Dinner loop. If you’ve got a little extra time to check out the trails and area around Salida, head west about 23 miles out of town and check out the Monarch Crest Trail for a little high country singletrack.
After you’ve put those thunder thighs through the wringer and your arms can’t grab the brakes (who needs ’em, anyway?), ride right into town and hit the patio at the Boathouse for a burger and beer while watching the carnage at the whitewater park.
If you’ve still got some time before you hit the trail for home and feel like relaxing those tired muscles, stop in at one of the local hot springs. If you’re heading south toward Durango, your options are either Joyful Journey or Valley View Hot Springs (clothing optional if you forgot your Speedo). If you’re heading north toward Denver, stop in at Mount Princeton Hot Springs.
Reid is a writer, photographer and marketer from the Four Corners area residing in Summit County. An enthusiastic outdoorsman, he enjoys everything the Colorado mountains offer but spends most of his time rafting and fishing on the rivers and skiing and climbing in the mountains.