Considered the white-water rafting center of the Rockies, Salida is the perfect base for enjoying the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, a 148-mile stretch of river from Leadville to Pueblo Lake. With headquarters off Colo. 291 in downtown Salida at 307 W. Sackett Ave. ([tel] 719/539-7289; www.parks.state.co.us), the recreation area includes about 20 developed sites along the river, offering raft and kayak access, fishing, hiking, camping, and picnicking. There are also undeveloped areas that offer access to the river, but be careful not to trespass on private property. User fees are $7 per vehicle per day, $3 walk-in, plus $16 per night for camping.
The busiest stretch of the river is Browns Canyon, a granite wilderness between Buena Vista and Salida, with Class III and IV rapids (moderately difficult to difficult) along a 10-mile stretch of river from Nathrop to Stone Bridge.
Most people explore Colorado’s rivers with experienced rafting companies, which provide trips on stretches of river that range from practically calm and suitable for everyone to extremely difficult, with long, violent rapids that are recommended only for skilled whitewater boaters. Leading outfitters in the Salida and Buena Vista area include Dvorak Expeditions ([tel] 800/824-3795; www.dvorakexpeditions.com), Wilderness Aware ([tel] 800/462-7238; www.inaraft.com), and River Runners ([tel] 800/723-8987; www.whitewater.net). Generally, adult rates for half-day raft trips are $60 to $80; full-day trips including lunch are in the $90 to $125 range, and multiday excursions start at about $175 per day. Prices for children are about 20 percent less.
For kayaking classes, duckie (inflatable kayak) rentals and tours, and other rafting-related needs, the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center, 228 N. F St. ([tel] 800/255-5784; www.rmoc.com), is the spot. Two-day group lessons for beginning and intermediate paddlers cost $250, duckies rent for $50 a day, and guided full-day trips are $74 to $119. For practice, the Arkansas River Whitewater Park is located on the river downtown.
Other Sports & Outdoor Activities
Fishing -- The Arkansas River is considered by many to be the finest fishing river in Colorado. There’s also trout fishing in numerous alpine lakes, including Cottonwood Lake, Twin Lakes, and O’Haver Lake. For tips on the best fishing spots, plus licenses, supplies, and rentals, stop at ArkAnglers, 7500 W. U.S. 50, Salida ([tel] 719/539-3474; www.arkanglers.com), which also offers a guide service. Cost for a half-day trip on the Arkansas River for two is $300.
Golf -- The Salida Golf Club, a municipal course that opened in 1926, is at Crestone Avenue and Grant Street (tel. 719/539-1060). Greens fees are $26 to $28 for 18 holes, $16 to $18 for 9.
Hiking -- There are outstanding trails for all experience levels throughout the region, particularly in the San Isabel National Forest, along the eastern slope of the Continental Divide west of Salida. Of particular interest are hikes into the Collegiate Range (mts. Harvard, Columbia, Yale, Princeton, and Oxford) off Cottonwood Creek Road west of Buena Vista, and trips from the ghost town of St. Elmo up Chalk Creek Road from Mount Princeton Hot Springs. For maps and other information, stop at the Salida Ranger District office, 325 W. Rainbow Blvd. (tel. 719/539-3591; www.fs.fed.us/r2).
Mountain Biking -- There are numerous trails suitable for mountain biking throughout the area, and they provide stupendous views of the surrounding 14,000-plus-foot peaks. Many locals undertake the short but steep ride up “S” Mountain for their daily exercise. Absolute Bikes, 330 W. Sackett St. ([tel] 719/539-9295; www.absolutebikes.com), rents, sells, and services mountain bikes and can provide information and maps on nearby trails. Rentals start at $40 per day for mountain bikes.
Skiing & Snowboarding -- Among the finest of Colorado’s small ski resorts, Monarch Mountain, 20 miles west of Salida at Monarch Pass on U.S. 50, serves all levels of ability with 63 trails, with 14 percent rated beginner, 28 percent intermediate, 27 percent advanced, and 31 percent expert. Covering 800 acres, the mountain has a vertical drop of 1,162 feet from its summit of 11,952 feet. It gets about 350 inches of snow annually and has no snow-making equipment. It has one fixed quad and four double chairs. All-day tickets (2013-14 prices) are $65 for adults, $40 for youths 13 to 15 and seniors 62 to 68, $25 for juniors 7 to 12, and free for those under 7 or over 68. The season pass, dubbed “One Planet – One Pass,” is worth a look, even for out-of-staters: For about $400, it nets you unlimited skiing at Monarch and free lift tickets and discounts at seven resorts in Colorado, as well as resorts in eleven other staes and five other continents. The area is usually open daily from late November to mid-April from 9am to 4pm. For information, contact the resort ([tel] 888/996-7669 or 719/530-5000; www.skimonarch.com).
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.