Salida sprouted up out of the sage desert back in 1880, mere weeks after the final ties were laid for the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad. Since then, the town has endured two devastating fires and a rowdy stint as a Wild West outpost to emerge as a premier Colorado playground, rounded out by a thriving art scene, numerous local grub hubs, and an authentic, old-meets-new charm.
With hiking, mountain biking, and water sports all minutes from Salida’s main thoroughfare, parents have myriad ways to easily enjoy the outdoors. Opt for a heart-pumping outing on the hiker- and mountain biker-friendly Arkansas Hills Trail System that crisscrosses Tenderfoot Mountain (also called “S Mountain” given the large, white “S” emblazoned on its side). Take your two-wheelers to the top of the 0.3-mile Jalepeño Trail for great views across the Upper Arkansas River Valley. (The trail can be accessed from a dirt road if your little ripper is just getting used to singletrack.) Stop in at Salida Mountain Sports for further trail beta and to pick up any last-minute gear needs.
On hot days, the Arkansas River beckons. Rent your vessel of choice from Totally Tubular River Rentals, conveniently located steps from the water, and spend an hour or two tubing, kayaking, or stand-up paddleboarding down the four engineered water features of the Salida Whitewater Park. If you’d prefer that a professional take the helm, book a river trip with Dvorak Expeditions. Their offerings range from mellow floats through Salida Canyon (perfect for families with smaller sailors) to sure-to-get-wet whitewater outings through Browns Canyon. Fun fact: Owner Bill Dvorak was instrumental in Browns Canyon’s designation as a national monument.
Keep the adrenaline flowing on a Captain Zipline adventure. Tucked into Lost Canyon 15 minutes outside of Salida, thrill-seekers can zipline over canyons and tackle swinging bridges in Colorado’s largest aerial park.
There are plenty of ways to add a discreet educational element to your Salida vacation. Steve Chapman wrote the book (well, lots of them) on Salida history. Pick one up at Salida Books to read after the kids head to bed, but bring the whole family along for one of his walking tours, which offer a chance to hear the mountain town’s scandalous history. (Chapman also gives tours to the local second-grade classes, so he knows how to tailor content for little ears). Kids 10 and over with a penchant for the paranormal will find the Ghost & Murder Tour particularly soul-stirring.
As one of Colorado’s first certified Creative Arts Districts, Salida plays home to two dozen artist-owned galleries. Swing by the Maverick Potter to find your new, go-to coffee mug and the screen printing shop Drift & Amble for the obligatory vacation T-shirt purchase (but this one, you’ll actually wear). Both are located on F Street, Salida’s main thoroughfare. Be sure to venture off the main drag to hit Mary Leslie Art Studio & Gallery, which features a menagerie of painted bison, osprey, and the avid artist/horsewoman’s beloved equine muses.
Sips, Snacks, and Yums
For a quick start to the day, stop by Brown Dog Coffee Co. for smoothies and java roasted at their nearby Buena Vista location. Those looking to carbo-load pre-adventure should head to Little Red Hen Bakery, which mills their flour daily in-house. Guests can even take home a free dollop of “Carl,” the sourdough starter that’s been in owner Emily Walker’s family for more than 40 years.
Come lunchtime, swing by Sweetie’s Sandwich Shop, run by wife-husband team Sarah and Rob Gartzman. You might need a fork to finish the Sears Tower, but trust us when we say this house-made ribeye sandwich with caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, swiss cheese, and a mess of sauces is well worth the effort. Snag one of their gingerbread moon pies for the road, but be sure to arrive before the lunch rush; these tasty treats made by Sarah herself (a pastry chef by training) often sell out before noon.
For lunch or dinner and a show, request a table on the patio at the Boathouse Cantina. Located on the Arkansas River within sight of the Salida Whitewater Park, diners can watch as water vessels of all shapes and sizes make their way over the rapids.
Salida is also home to two great homemade pizza joints, Amicas and Moonlight Pizza & Brewpub. We’re partial to the latter, which not only makes great ‘za (our little taste tester was over the moon for the Cosmic Hawaiian), but has a brewery on-site and a basket of toys to entertain the littles while waiting for an appetizer of braided breadsticks. Fido is welcome too as long as your crew sits on their dog-friendly patio. Another perk: Moonlight is located across the street from Fun Street Family Arcade, the perfect post-dinner stop for an air hockey match or to try for a high score with Ms. Pac-Man.
End the day with an old-fashioned soda or a brownie sundae from the Salida Original Pharmacy & Fountain.
With 16 different campgrounds within the Salida Ranger District and numerous other areas open to dispersed camping, there’s no shortage of places to pitch a tent or park an RV if that’s your family’s cup of tea. But if you relish a hot shower and complimentary breakfast–including coffee from the local roasters at Mountain Phoenix–then Amigo Motor Lodge is a great option. This recently renovated take on the classic motor lodge adds a touch of modern Southwestern flair to their guest rooms (a standard two-queen room averages $139 per night) and rentable Airstreams (their largest trailer “Diana” sleeps four and starts at $134 per night).
For the Grown-ups
Though the rooftop dining at The Biker & The Baker is open to kids, you’ll probably have an easier time enjoying your craft cocktail (their tinctures are all made on-site) and sunset if you can leave the youngsters behind.
Don’t Leave Town Without…
Snapping a family photo at the Kayak Wall–and don’t miss the well-preserved “ghost sign” advertising Snowdrift Shortening that’s just to the right of it.
Did You Know…
Each Christmas, 4,500 brightly-colored LED bulbs turn S Mountain into what locals claim is the world’s biggest Christmas tree.