Salida - Part 1: Snowcapped Peaks & The Arkansas River

Before we arrived Salida, we said to each other, “We’ll only be here for three or so days before we head onto Durango.” Salida wasn’t even on our radar until Andrew insisted that we stop and check out the town. Andrew, Reid and Brant (two brothers he met) rode through and stopped in Salida during his Great Divide tour last summer. He and Reid randomly decided to ride the Backbone Trail on S Mountain (Arkansas Hills Trail System) to get into town from the Great Divide route. I remember him calling me to tell me about this incredible piece of singletrack that brought him into a cool town.

So we listened to him (and Salida was on the way to Durango from Denver) and stopped.

The drive to Salida from Colorado Springs was beautiful, especially as we got closer to Salida. Once we turned onto Hwy 50 we started to drive through the Arkansas River Valley. The Arkansas River stayed to our north along Hwy 50 with San Isabel National Forest and Sangre De Cristo Wilderness on each side of us. All the while, we are staring at the snowcapped Mt. Shavano, Mt. Antero and the Collegiate Peaks as we wind up and down, turn after curve through the valley following the river upstream.


When looking at our Latitude 40° Map of Salida I was very confused why the Collegiate Peaks were called that, I didn’t notice any college named peaks. It wasn’t until recently when I decided to flip the map over to the Buena Vista (25 miles from Salida) side that I saw Mount Yale, Mount Columbia, Mount Princeton, and Mount Harvard – all fourtneers. And when I finally Googled, I found out the background story of why they were named after colleges: In 1869 a Harvard geology professor traversed Trout Creek Pass to see three prominent peaks and proceeded to name them Harvard, Yale and Princeton. Sometime later an alumnus from Columbia climbed a peak and name it Mt. Columbia.


On Campendium’s website I found a free boondocking site right outside of Salida called Salida East Recreation Area. It's located in Bighorn Sheep Canyon in the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area right off Hwy 50 and three miles from Salida.


It is also located directly across the highway from the BBQ restaurant that is also a motorcycle museum and right before the Four Season’s RV park. The GPS coordinates for Salida East are: 38° 30’ 41”N, 105° 57’ 41” W. Since we arrived in early April the traffic was light for both camping and for the boat ramp access. Although a lot of the campsites were taken by a variety of homes – tents, 5th wheels, class C’s, sedans, truck campers, vans, etc. the place still felt empty and secluded. Most of the camping sites have a picnic table and a fire ring, but there seems to be other campsites available that don’t have either. Without realizing it until later, we got a great campsite because it had a wonderful view, located far from and below the highway, had a really large and easy pull in and out spot for the trailer, the parking area was flat, the next campsite was far away, and we had a little path that led down to the river.

There are also a lot of mountain biking and hiking trails right across from Salida East, and great paddling (from what we hear) on the Arkansas River. Campers are allowed to stay anywhere along the entire Arkansas River Recreation Area (the public lands htat Salida East is located on) for 14 days within any 45 day period.


The Salida East Recreation Area has two public pit toilets and a boat ramp (because of the low traffic it became the perfect spot for Tybee to play in the water).


There is no electricity, water or dump station on-site. The U.S. Forest Service Natural Resource Center is located at 5575 Cleora Rd. about a mile from Salida East and they have a dump station ($10) and a water fill station ($6 regardless of quantity). Both are self-pay. Four Seasons RV Park doesn’t have a dump station and won’t let RVers who aren’t staying there fill up water. So the Forest Service location is the only place in Salida for these services (you can get a list of other dump stations in the area from the Salida Visitor Center). While looking online I had come across information saying that the Salida Visitor Center has a (free) dump and fill station but sadly we found out that is no longer true. We had 4-bars with Verizon 3G at our campsite.

Salida’s epithet is “Heart of the Rockies”. And being surrounded by so many various public lands and so many 14ers in the close distance, I can see why. Salida is also considered to be in the “banana belt”. A banana belt is a section of a larger region that is has a warmer climate than the entire region, especially in the winter. Salida itself is a small town with around 6,000 residents. The historic downtown area is really nice with a variety of restaurants, boutique shops, art galleries, coffee shops, bike shops, outdoor gear stores, etc.  The first day we got to Salida we walked into Absolute Bikes to get some trail information and the first person I saw in the shop (employee) was a guy that I used to work with in Asheville!

Subculture Cyclery is Super cool bike shop that's in an old railroad Ice house that is now solar powered.

Cool metal artwork representing salida and all the outdoor activities outside Absolute Bikes.

The best lunch deal in town is at Moonlight Pizza and Brewpub. It's $4 for a slice of pizza (one topping, additional topping is $0.29) and either a homemade soda (delicious! I really like the limeade and Jerud like the ginger beer) or their Moonlite cream ale beer. 

The Arkansas River runs through town and S Mountain hovers over downtown with abandon tracks at the base left behind to remind everyone that Salida started off as a railroad town. Unique and quirky houses fill up the space between Hwy 50 and downtown, with larger houses and land scattered on the outskirts, along with Elevation Brewery.

I fell for Salida when I saw how many dogs were being walked around downtown and the number of people on bikes – all kinds of people and bikes! One of the great things about the Salida East location is that we could easily ride our bikes into town to run errands. The best route to get to downtown is Hwy 50 to CR 105 and make a right on E. 1st St.


Biking into town to drop off our recycling and do our laundry. Tybee's trailer comes in handy for big errand days.


Our original plan to stay in Salida for a few days turned into two weeks. And our new plan of staying an additional week didn’t happen when the weather went back to normal and it snowed a foot overnight. The snow and then sun caused everything to turn into mud on the dirt roads and higher up. Our backup boondocking site after our 14 days expired was a bust due to the snow. We actually got an email from a local guy who heard our interview with KHEN, Salida’s community radio station, about our rig and offered us to stay on his 30 acres of land, which sadly also didn’t work out because of the snow and mud.


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