Salida is, in a word, authentic. For many of us, Colorado's Rocky Mountains evoke images of twangy country music and cowboys throwing back whiskey. In Salida, not only do you get that experience, but you can also see the guitars and whiskey being crafted by hand. The fact that it's all set in one of Colorado's largest National Historic Districts—a picturesque Victorian downtown surrounded by mountains—adds to the atmosphere. Since the town is smack dab in the heart of the Rockies, it's also a hub for outdoor adventure. And once you've had your fill of hiking and rafting in the fresh Colorado air, unwind with a soak in the hot springs in town or a scenic drive up Tenderfoot Mountain. Pure perfection.
Salida, like many Colorado towns, comes from humble beginnings. Originally a gold rush boomtown, it came into its own once a post office was established in 1881. Because of its railroad, it managed to escape the fate of fading into a ghost town like so many other settlements, and a bustling, Victorian downtown quickly sprang up. Today, the center of town still stands, preserved as a historic district. Most of the buildings today are occupied by artisans, craftsmen, and local small business owners who draw inspiration from the history and soul of Salida. Surrounded by mountains, Salida serves as a hub of activity for those seeking outdoor adventure in the Rockies.
To sample the natural wonders around Salida, Browns Canyon National Monument is in a league of its own. This slice of land protects a swath of the Arkansas Valley and the Sawatch Range of the Rocky Mountains. The remote wilderness has few facilities, and those that do exist are primitive. There are few roads through the 21,586 acres of land, and the only way to access the wild and beautiful interior is via trail. Turret Trail is one of the more popular trails (popular being relative, since Browns Canyon is generally a quiet park), traveling north to south through the monument. The combination of mountains and gulches creates a varied landscape with plenty of nooks and crannies to explore, and since it's so pristine, you'll have no trouble spotting wildlife. It's also prime territory for horseback riding, mountain biking, fishing, and whitewater rafting. Pro tip: The way the light at sunrise and sunset plays off the colorful granite in the canyon is not to be missed.
The mountains are such a big part of Salida, and Tenderfoot Mountain has turned into the locals' love letter to the Rockies. It was through the dedication of Salida residents in the 1920s that Spiral Drive, a scenic route wrapping up and around Tenderfoot Mountain, was built. The whole town was involved in making the spectacular drive a reality, whether by raising money or actually putting in manual labor on the road itself. The drive offers panoramic views of the mountains and ends in a gazebo that overlooks the town from 600 feet up. In the 1930s, seniors from the local high school added the giant white "S" made out of rocks on the mountainside. It can be seen from virtually anywhere in town, and is a perfect reminder of the strong sense of community and pride that makes Salida so special.
Even the local booze is inspired by the outdoors. Case in point: Wood's High Mountain Distillery. The founders, a pair of brothers, were inspired to distill their own spirits by whiskey shared over adventures through the Grand Canyon, and in 2012, their dream became a reality. Their gin is made with Rocky Mountain juniper (and their dry-hopped gin features Colorado-grown Cascade hops), their Fleur de Sureau boasts local honey and elderflower, and their whiskeys are incredibly special—there's a reason cowboys liked whiskey so much. They distill their spirits in a vintage 19th-century copper pot still made in Germany, which only adds to the authenticity. The saloon vibes of the tasting room don't hurt, either. Wood’s cocktails, though, are all ridiculously delicious modern takes on classics, and perfectly highlight the lovingly crafted spirits.
The sights and tastes of Salida are getting a run for
The Arkansas River is just as important to Salida as the mountains, especially for tourism. It offers incredible fishing, canoeing, and whitewater rafting. From seasoned pros to hesitant beginners, there’s something for everyone to do on the water. Whether you hire a guide to take you down the rapids, or you rent a canoe for a relaxing float on your own, it's worth getting out on the water. You'll get a whole new view of Salida, a side of the region that's untouched and wild. Vallie Bridge Campground is a perfect place to escape into nature; the main feature of the primitive campsite is the river access for those looking to paddle downstream.
Between the natural beauty and soulful history, it's hard to imagine Salida getting any more incredible. That is, until you visit the town's natural hot springs. The Salida Recreation and Hot Springs Aquatic Center is the country's largest indoor hot spring facility, and is not to be missed. All-natural hot spring water is piped in from a geothermal pool a few miles away and used to fill the two pools. There's a larger, 25-meter pool with lap lanes and water that stays around 84 degrees, and a smaller leisure pool with warmer water, usually around 98 degrees. Whether you want to take a relaxing soak or take advantage of the aquatic climbing wall and slide, you’ve come to the right place.
If you're willing to head a bit out of town, you can take advantage of one of the best hidden gem campgrounds in the country. O'Haver Lake Campground might have rustic amenities, but it's popular for one main reason: the unforgettable views. Seriously, it looks like something out of a Bob Ross painting. It's located right on the shores of O'Haver Lake, which is surrounded by stands of vanilla-scented Ponderosa pine and aspen, with mountain peaks off in the distance. If you have a canoe or kayak, bring it along to take out on the water. The lake also provides some good fishing as well.
If you're looking to mingle with the locals, belly up to the bar at Benson's Tavern & Beer Garden. No matter where you're from, you'll feel right at home. They have a full bar (including a ton of local beer on tap) and a kitchen serving up perfectly greasy pub grub. The friendly atmosphere is enhanced by live music, vintage signage and taxidermy, and an outdoor bar built into an Airstream that lives out back on their patio. Salida has plenty of bars and restaurants to choose from, but nothing beats a cold beer and green chile cheese fries while listening to music and enjoying the fresh Rocky Mountain air.
To bring Salida's vibes back home with you, stop into Yolo Clothing. This boutique really captures the style and essence of the town. There's a special emphasis on locally made goods, like candles and jewelry, as well as clothes and accessories that feel laid back while still having tons of personality. If you're looking for souvenirs for friends or a memento to remember your trip, you'll likely have good luck here.
Whatever draws you into Salida, whether it’s the arts or the history or the outdoor recreation, you'll feel the magic here. The worries of everyday life feel far away when you're 7,000 feet above sea level and deep in the wild heart of the Rockies. It's not hard to see why the locals love Salida, and why it's such a special, hidden gem of a destination.
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As Airstream travels the country in search of unique Round Trip destinations, we keep our eye out for dedicated craftspeople who are passionate about manufacturing quality products. Like like the hundreds of production associates who hand-make Airstream travel trailers and touring coaches in our Jackson Center, Ohio manufacturing facility, they are committed to their craft – and to living their dreams. These are their stories.