Among Colorado's most underrated cities, Pueblo is just 42 miles south of Colorado Springs via I-25. As you drive through, along the interstate, it might appear that this bland, industrial city -- with its railroad tracks, warehouses, and factories -- doesn’t warrant a stop. But don't let your first impression fool you. Once you get off the highway you'll discover the real Pueblo, with historic homes, fine Western art, a well-run zoo, a delightful riverfront park, and a number of outdoor recreational opportunities.

Although Zebulon Pike and his U.S. Army exploratory expedition camped at the future site of Pueblo in 1806, there were no white settlements here until 1842, when El Pueblo Fort was constructed as a fur-trading outpost. It was abandoned following a Ute massacre in late 1854, but when the Colorado gold rush began 5 years later, the town of Pueblo was born on the site of the former fort.

In the early 20th century, the city grew as a major center for coal mining and steel production. Job opportunities attracted large numbers of immigrants, especially from Mexico and Eastern Europe. Pueblo today is home to high-tech industries as well as the University of Southern Colorado. As the largest city (pop. a bit over 100,000) in southeastern Colorado, it is the market center for a 15-county region extending to the borders of New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Elevation is 4,695 feet.

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Getting There

By Car -- I-25 links Pueblo directly with Colorado Springs, Denver, and points north; and Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and other New Mexico cities to the south. U.S. 50 runs east to La Junta and west to Cañon City, Gunnison, and Montrose.

By Plane -- Pueblo Memorial Airport, 31201 Bryan Circle, Keeler Parkway off U.S. 50 E. (tel. 719/553-2760; www.pueblo.us), is served by Great Lakes Airlines (tel. 800/554-5111; www.greatlakesav.com) with daily flights to Denver as a United partner. Agencies providing rental cars at the airport include Avis, Enterprise, and Hertz.  

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Visitor Information

Contact the Greater Pueblo Chamber of Commerce, 302 N. Santa Fe Ave. (P.O. Box 697), Pueblo, CO 81003 (tel. 800/233-3446 or 719/542-1704; www.pueblochamber.org and www.destinationpueblo.com), for most travel-related needs. Information and brochures are available at the chamber office, which is open year-round Monday through Friday from 8am to 5pm.

Getting Around

Pueblo lies on the eastward-flowing Arkansas River, at its confluence with Fountain Creek. The downtown core is located north of the Arkansas and west of the Fountain, immediately west of I-25. Santa Fe Avenue and Main Street, 1 block west, are the principal north-south thoroughfares; the cross streets are numbered (counting northward), with Fourth and Eighth streets the most important. Pueblo Boulevard circles the city on the south and west, with spurs leading to the nature center and Lake Pueblo State Park.

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Fast Facts

Medical services, including for emergencies, are provided by Parkview Medical Center, 400 W. 16th St. (tel. 719/584-4000; www.parkviewmc.com); and St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center, 1008 Minnequa Ave. (tel. 719/557-4000; www.stmarycorwin.org). The main post office is located at 1022 Fortino Blvd.; call the U.S. Postal Service (tel. 800/275-8777; www.usps.com) for hours and locations of other post offices.

Attractions

Historic Pueblo runs along Union Avenue north from the Arkansas River to First Street, a distance of about 5 blocks. More than 40 buildings in the Union Avenue Historic District are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Vail Hotel (217 S. Grand Ave.), headquarters of the Pueblo County Historical Society museum and library (tel. 719/543-6772; www.pueblohistory.org), with railroad memorabilia, locally made saddles, and some 8,000 books, historical maps, and photographs depicting Pueblo’s history. Union Depot, with its mosaic-tile floors and beautiful stained-glass windows, houses retail stores and offices, yet still serves rail freight lines. Walking-tour maps can be obtained at the chamber (see “Visitor Information,” above), as well as from Union Avenue businesses.

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Outdoor Activities

Pueblo's mild climate makes it a popular destination for boating, fishing, and other outdoor recreation, with several major stops for the region's outdoor enthusiasts.

Watersport aficionados are drawn to Lake Pueblo State Park (also called Pueblo Reservoir), which has some 4,500 surface acres of water when filled to capacity and 60 miles of shoreline. The lake is popular among anglers trying for rainbow trout, brown trout, crappie, black bass, and channel catfish, and there's a free fish-cleaning station.

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It's also a huge attraction for boaters, who come from all over southern Colorado, and the park offers swimming, hiking, and biking. The park’s North Shore Marina (tel. 719/547-3880; www.noshoremarina.com) provides a gas dock, boating and fishing supplies, groceries, and a restaurant. The South Marina (tel. 719/564-1043; www.thesouthshoremarina.com) provides the same services and also rents pontoon boats ($165–$185 for 4 hr. and $295–$340 for 9 hr., plus fuel), April through October.

The Rock Canyon Swim Beach, at the east end of the park, is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day 11am to 6pm but does not have lifeguards on duty.

The park has about 400 campsites, some with electric and water hookups. A dump station and showers are available, and camping rates are $14 to $18 May 1 through Labor Day, $16 to $20 the rest of the year. Camping reservations are available for an extra charge by calling tel. 800/678-2267 or through the state parks website (see following paragraph). Day use costs $6 per vehicle, and campers must pay this in addition to camping fees.

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From Pueblo, take U.S. 50 west for 4 miles, turn south onto Pueblo Boulevard and go another 4 miles to Thatcher Avenue, then turn west, and go 6 miles to the park. For information, contact the park office at tel. 719/561-9320, or go to www.parks.state.co.us.

The Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo is a beautifully landscaped waterfront park that covers some 26 acres and offers pedestrian and bike paths, benches, sculptures, gardens, and natural areas that provide good wildlife-viewing opportunities. Pedal-boat rentals are available from early April to late September on a small lake along the Riverwalk, weekends only in April and daily the rest of the season. Rates are $10 per half-hour. Excursion boat rides along the Arkansas take place on weekends in April, and operate daily from May to late September. Rates for the narrated 25-minute tours are $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and members of the military, and $3 for children 3 to 12. Hours for both pedal-boat rentals and the excursion-boat rides vary throughout the season; call the boathouse (tel. 719/595-1589) for the schedule. The Riverwalk is located near the south end of the Union Avenue Historic District, and is easily accessed via Main Street. For information, contact Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo, 200 W. First St., Suite 302, Pueblo, CO 81003 (tel. 719/595-0242; www.puebloharp.com).

Also while you’re in town, stop at City Park, northeast of the intersection of Pueblo Boulevard (Colo. 45) and Thatcher Avenue. Home to the Pueblo Zoo, the park covers some 200 acres and offers two fishing lakes, tennis courts, a swimming pool (open in summer), and playgrounds. There’s also a beautiful hand-carved antique carousel, built in 1911, with music provided by a 1920 Wurlitzer Military Band Organ. The carousel is open evenings and Sunday afternoons in summer; the park is open daily year-round. For information, call the Pueblo Parks and Recreation Department (tel. 719/553-2790; www.pueblo.us).

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There are plenty of opportunities for hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, fishing, and camping nearby in lands under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Forest Service. For information, contact the headquarters of the Pike and San Isabel National Forests and Comanche and Cimarron National Grasslands, 2840 Kachina Dr., Pueblo, CO 81008 (tel. 719/553-1400).

Local golf courses open to the public include Walking Stick, 1301 Walking Stick Blvd. (tel. 719/553-1180), at the northwest corner of the University of Southern Colorado. Rated among Colorado’s best courses and best values, this 18-hole course has a driving range and charges $30 to $32 for 18 holes and $12 for a cart. Other local courses include Elmwood at City Park, 3900 Thatcher Ave. (tel. 719/561-4946), with an 18-hole regulation course plus executive 9-hole course. Greens fees for 18 holes are $20 to $24, cart not included. Desert Hawk Golf Course at Pueblo West, 251 S. McCulloch Blvd. (tel. 719/547-2280), is an 18-hole regulation course with greens fees for 18 holes from $25 to $27, cart not included.

Spectator Sports

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Motor Sports -- Stock-car races are held every Saturday evening from April to September at I-25 Speedway, off I-25 at exit 108 (tel. 303/798-4387; www.i25speedway.com). Nationally sanctioned drag racing, Sports Car Club of America road racing, and other motor sports take place at the Pueblo Motorsports Park, U.S. 50 and Pueblo Boulevard in Pueblo West (tel. 719/240-4132; www.pueblomotorsportspark.com), April through September.

Rodeo -- Those visiting Pueblo from late August to early September can take in the Colorado State Fair (tel. 800/876-4567 or 719/561-8484; www.coloradostatefair.com), which includes a professional rodeo, carnival rides, food booths, industrial displays, horse shows, animal exhibits, and household-name entertainers.

Where to Stay

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There are numerous lodging possibilities in Pueblo, with many of the national chains represented. Rates are highest in summer, especially during the State Fair (late Aug to early Sept). Among the reliable major chains are the Best Western Eagle Ridge Inn & Suites, 4727 N. Elizabeth St. (tel. 800/937-8376 or 719/543-4644), with double rates of $80 to $150; La Quinta Inn, 4801 N. Elizabeth St. (tel. 800/753-3757 or 719/542-3500), with doubles ranging from $69 to $149; and Hampton Inn, 4703 N. Freeway, just west of I-25, exit 102 (tel. 800/972-0165 or 719/544-4700), where double rates range from $119 to $199. Room tax adds just under 12%.

Camping -- There are two KOA campgrounds in the Pueblo area, both open year-round and with all the usual commercial-campground amenities, including seasonal swimming pools. The Pueblo KOA is 5 miles north of the city at I-25, exit 108 (tel. 800/562-7453 for reservations, or 719/542-2273; www.koapueblo.com), and charges $26 for tent sites and $35 to $40 for RV hookup sites. The Colorado City KOA, about 20 miles south of Pueblo at I-25, exit 74 (tel. 800/562-8646 for reservations, or 719/676-3376; www.koa.com), charges $25 for tent sites and $37 to $42 for RV hookup sites. Both also have camping cabins (you share the bathhouse with campers) with rates in the $40 to $60 range. There are also some 400 campsites at Lake Pueblo State Park (see “Outdoor Activities,” above).

Where to Dine

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For a comfortable, down-home dining experience, I like the American and Italian food served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner at Patti's Restaurant, 241 S. Santa Fe Ave. (tel. 719/543-2371). Located on the Riverwalk, in the same location since 1936, Patti's offers American favorites, including sandwiches, burgers, steak, and seafood, plus Italian specialties, in a relaxed family-friendly atmosphere. Available at both breakfast and lunch, I recommend the Half Breed -- a spicy Italian sausage wrapped in a tortilla and smothered with spaghetti and green-chile sauce. Lunch and dinner prices run $6 to $15.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.