Salida, Colorado

Where the Rockies get real

Jan 8, 2004
Outside Magazine
best American towns Salida, Colorado

A kayaking mecca, the Arkansas River Valley offers over 100 miles of whitewater    Photo: Corbis

"NOW THIS," BRAG THE SIGNS on highways "is Colorado." Refugees from Front Range cities like Denver and Boulder are drawn to this oasis at 7,038 feet in the Upper Arkansas Valley, near the center of the state—as are the hordes who come to run the Arkansas River. The sweetly unpretentious town of Salida has a thriving arts scene, century-old crackerbox cottages, two whitewater play holes just steps from downtown, and a municipal pool filled with hot-spring water.

OUTDOORS: Courtesy of the mild banana-belt climate, locals can bike (on pavement and off), hike, fish, and paddle nearly year-round. The 148-mile Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, punctuated by Class II–V drops, slices through Salida's historic district. Northwest of town, the Sawatch Range boasts 15 fourteeners, more than a quarter of the state's total, and hundreds of miles of hiking trails. Nearby Monarch Ski and Snowboard Area, at 11,961 feet, averages 30 feet of snow a year.
REAL ESTATE: Most properties fall somewhere between two poles: small, aging downtown fixer-uppers of 1,200 square feet or so, starting at around $150,000, and newly built custom homes on an acre (or two, or five) priced at $400,000 and up.
HANGOUTS: The River Run Inn (doubles, $100–$125; 800-385-6925,, in an 1892 building, offers a great room with rolling library ladder, plus a quarter-mile of Arkansas riverbank. Laughing Ladies (euphemistically named after the prostitutes of Salida's mining-and-railroad era) is the town's finest restaurant, but the definitive gathering place is the Victoria ("the Vic"), a bar with pool tables and live music.