High up in the Colorado mountains surrounded by peaks over 14,000 feet lies the quaint town of Salida, CO. Only a 3-hour drive from Denver, this outdoor mecca plays host to mountain bikers, mountain climbers, rafters, rock climbers…and the list goes on. We’ve created a 3-day itinerary to enjoy the best the town has to offer.
Rent a mountain bike to experience one of the many incredible trails in this land of high peaks. Take a shuttle up to the Continental Divide at Monarch Pass and ride the infamous Monarch Crest trail down. It’s an IMBA epic ride, and one of Colorado’s top 5 epic rides, and at 34 miles it’s a full day adventure for most.
Starting off on the trail, you will be above the treeline and the views are magnificent. As you ride down, you will drop into aspen forests and more fun, flowing singletrack. Overall it’s mostly downhill, but don’t be fooled because even the few short climbs can wear you out at this elevation. You will encounter everything: singletrack, doubletrack, smooth and flowing descents, rocky and loose trail, and never-ending views. The loop is actually three trails combined into one famed ride, so use the MTB Projects app to make sure you don’t get lost.
If it’s before June and Monarch Crest is still snow covered, or if you don’t feel like dealing with planning a shuttle, ride right out of town to the 23-mile Cottonwood Tour. This ride is rated blue/black on MTB Projects, which is mainly due to some technical rocky sections in Cottonwood Gulch that are a technical rider’s dream but can also be easily walked.
It starts with a 7-mile gradual gravel road climb to the start (head out early because the road is full exposure) before you hit singletrack and climb a bit more. At the top, appreciate the views of Salida before you hit one of the best descents in the region. You will ride a few different trails, but the signage is good and the MTB Projects app has detailed information on each. Our favorite was the Rumba trail, which climbs to a ridge with great views, then drops down into a drainage in an open valley with great flow. Be prepared for 2.5 to 4.5 hours in the saddle, depending on your pace. You can also cut out the climbing and do this ride as a shuttle by driving up to the parking area at the Cottonwood trailhead.
After the ride, head into town to lounge on couches at Woods’ Distillery, sipping one of their many tasty craft cocktails.
The Arkansas River flows through these peaks, carving steep canyons and delivering various levels of rapids throughout its length. Whether you want an enjoyable class I-II float, or an exciting III-IV whitewater adventure, the Arkansas has it all. Rent an inflatable kayak or raft for the calmer sections of the river, starting at Stone Bridge access and paddle 12 miles of class I-II rapids into downtown Salida. Or book a rafting adventure to experience the legendary class III-IV Brown’s Canyon rapids north of Salida.
After your river adventure, watch advanced paddlers taking turns on the whitewater course right downtown while you sip margaritas at Boathouse Cantina on the river.
You can’t leave Salida without summiting one of the area’s 12 “fourteeners” or peaks over 14,000 feet. Save this for the last day so you can get acclimated to the elevation, and always start early to be back down before the storms that typically roll in around afternoon. While none of the fourteeners can be described as anything close to easy, some of the more commonly hiked peaks include Mt. Yale, Mt. Huron, and Mt. Antero. These peaks offer mind-blowing views, especially once you get above the treeline. If this is your first fourteener, be prepared to walk slow, take breaks when needed, and bring lots of water and fuel. When you reach the summit, relish the 360-degree panorama of snowy peaks as far as the eye can see…it’s a whole different world up there!
Relax your sore muscles with a soak in the hot springs after your action-packed trip. An obvious choice is the Cottonwood hot springs about 30 minutes away in Buena Vista. These popular hot springs have one large pool and several smaller, more intimate tubs, as well as a café. A bit more rustic (but also less expensive) is Joyful Journey hot springs, about 40 minutes south of Salida. Three varying temperature tubs have superb views of the Sangre De Cristo mountain range rising from their backyard.
Three days not enough? Head to Crested Butte, only 2 hours away, for more epic outdoor adventures!