SALIDA, Colo. — The most populous municipality of Chaffee County is the town of Salida, meaning “exit” in Spanish. It’s named on account of its location where the Arkansas River flows out of the valley and into Bighorn Sheep Canyon.
If you ask the locals, it’s one of the best kept secrets when it comes to Colorado mountain towns. Located nearly 110 miles southwest of Colorado Springs, a two-and-a-quarter hour drive on U.S. Highway 50 or two-and-a-half hour drive on Highway 24 rests the Chaffee County seat of Salida.
Dan Shore has been the town’s mayor for about three months. He lived in Breckenridge for a while, but he and his wife felt that it was just too big.
“People came here very intentionally to create maybe what they weren’t getting elsewhere. It’s just a remarkable place in that regard,” Mayor Shore said.
Shore came here like many others before him, saying that he wanted the benefits of the mountain town without the extreme weather and traffic and–a chance to know your neighbor.
“We noticed when someone is down on their luck and needs help, everyone steps up,” Shore said. “They might have a fundraiser for to help or some other activity. So, it was this sense of community, and that’s something I never really had anywhere else I’ve ever lived. So, it really struck a cord with me.”
The town is nestled in the canyon, sitting at 7,083 feet and hugging the Arkansas River. In 1880, the town was originally named “South Arkansas”, when the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad reached the area in may. By June, the town had grown to 300 people.
It’s now home to at least 5,666 people, according to the 2020 census. A railyard on the north side of the river built all the old brick buildings downtown for its employees, and the community was born.
Mike Harvey owns a thriving paddle-board business in town. His business depends on the river.
“Over the course of the history of the development of Salida, the railroad dumped and filled and sort of channelized the river, and the residents of Salida on the Southside responded,” Harvey said. “We sort of ended up with a flood control channel in downtown Salida, so straight river, not much character, with steep inaccessible banks.”
Today, you’ll find that the river is one of the gems of the community. White-water paddling is a popular activity as well as fishing, rafting and wading in the water.
Fibark, held every Father’s Day weekend in June, is the nation’s oldest whitewater festival and has been Salida’s signature event since it was first held in 1949.
Mayor Shore says the river is just part of the equation for the town.
“What I find really unique about Salida is, obviously you have the river right behind me, but we also have phenomenal access to mountain biking trails here on the mountain,” the mayor said.
The Colorado Trail, the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, the Great Divide mountain bike route and the Rainbow Trail all cross paths into the town.
Salida is actually home to a dozen mountain peaks that exceed altitudes of 14,000 feet above sea level–one of the most in the state and more than any other state in the country.
Shore said, “Where I find my happy place is out on the trail. I would probably tell you it’s up Fooses Creek after a fresh snow.”
The perfect cooldown after a ride or hike would be a walk through the downtown district where history comes to life.
Downtown Salida is home to Colorado’s largest national historic district, hosting 136 preserved buildings that each have a Wild West past. Explore the town like a local with Salida walking tours or shop around town for handmade goods by artisans of every genre.
Don’t forget the wineries, breweries and distilleries in town!
If you like it…you can likely find it in Salida!