A super easy (and traffic-less) two and a half hour are two of Colorado’s must-see darlings. The first being Monarch Mountain the hassle free, inexpensive resort, where everyone, regardless of age or skill level can have a helluva good time skiing (or riding). The second: a town that when the day is done will serve you up incredible food, a strong art scene, interesting history, great architecture and an assortment of reasonably priced, and often quaint, accommodations.
The Most Supremely Chill, All Possible Terrain Options, Family Friendly, Inexpensive, Traffic-Less Mountain in Colorado
The Monarch Mountain experience looks a bit like this:
1. Drive there from Denver, Salida, or from anywhere in no traffic
2. Arrive and park – for free
3. Walk 90 second to the chairlift
4. Get on the chairlift instantly as there are NO lines with your $65 lift pass or what could possibly be the best ski pass ever – the One Planet, One Pass (described below)
5. Get to the top of the mountain, be greeted by one of the friendly folk working up there and pick one of their many runs you would like to have to yourself – which is pretty much all of them. Terrain options range from the easy trails for beginners to double black for those seeking extreme. (Want Monarch Mountain’s cat skiing? They have that too!)
6. Repeat 4 and 5 until you want a break, and then go to their lodge to have a waitress (I am not even kidding) serve you tacos for $12 ($12!!!!!!!) or any other of their many sanely priced options while gaze out at the mountain activity. Starbucks coffee and a cafeteria are also available if those better suit your style.
7. Repeat 4 and 5 until it is time to go home (or head back to the lodge for a beer or a coffee).
8. Drive home, or better yet to Salida for the night, in NO traffic
The Best Kept Secret in Colorado
For 13 years, I “missed” Salida. It was beyond Buena Vista. It was a smidge out of the way enroute to Telluride. And, it is for this reason, in my opinion that it has quietly developed and maintained itself as an amazing small town and hidden Colorado gem.
Our first surprise about small town Salida was this – it is not that small. Salida is multiple blocks of charming cafes, thoughtful, modern (and freaking delicious) food, an art scene to be reckoned with, bars with live music and all the outfitters required to enjoy the practically countless outdoor activities Salida and the surrounding areas provide – year round – most of which are occupying turn of the century buildings.
Salida is a place where people from Colorado and around the country move to build and have a better life where they don’t have to worry about the big city or big city problems– and this is definitively reflected in every corner, every café and every person you meet.
p.s. Salida’s population of 5500 will probably be seriously po’d at me for saying this – but the weather – is shockingly mild.
Tucked away between Salida and Buena Vista are the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs offering five hot springs via different configurations ala – a covered pool, outdoor tubs and hot springs that flow right into the river. Go for the day and get a massage, enjoy the sauna, the steam room, the cold plunge pool, lunch and, of course, the hot springs; or stay for the night, weekend or week in the lodge or in one of their cabins. Oh, and bonus, none of their hot springs are sulfur so there is no stink. Hurrah!
Seriously Superb Food
Typically when visiting small towns I surrender to the fact that in exchange for the small town charm and niceties I will be eating questionable eggs and mediocre quesadillas for the duration of my stay. In Salida, however, this is not the case. It is not even close to the case.
The first night we went to Shallots to have amongst much other deliciousness, Barcelona Shrimp (it is like they knew David was coming) and some fabulous pinot noir.
The second night was at The Fritz where all of the small plates were incredible. (Seriously, all of them.). We went with locals who told us the story of when their daughter was in town how she ordered everything on the menu. Their theory was it was to tease them. My theory is – she knew everything was so freaking good she just had to have it all.
Cookies Worth Making a Detour For
For those who bake, they tell me 7 layer cookies (the ones with chocolate and butterscotch and coconut and nuts and other tastyness) are super easy to make.
They are super easy to buy and may I HIGHLY recommend you do so at Brown Dog Coffee in Salida. (Brown Dog also has a location in BV – what the locals call Buena Vista.)
Drinks so Cheap We Thought the Bill was Wrong
Without too much prior knowledge of “where to go” for a drink, the obvious choice seemed the Victoria Bar. (We would later learn the locals call it “The Vic”.) Legend has it, it was originally owned by one of the first female real estate moguls in Colorado. Bar tabs for a locally crafted beer and a glass of wine came in at $8 total.
The Season Ski Pass (Still Available) to 30 Mountains for $529!!! ($529!!!)
Want to ski or ride Monarch, Loveland, Sunlight, Ski Cooper, Devils Thumb, Durango, Granby Ranch, Silverton, Winter Park, Copper Mountain and Steamboat?
What about five different ski resorts in Germany and Austria? How does Alta sound? Always wanted to ski Taos? Want to try something new like Michigan’s Indianhead Mountain Resort or Mount Bohemia? Arizona’s Snowbowl? New York’s Labrador Mountain? New Mexico’s Pajarito, Sipapu, Ski Apache or Angel Fire? British Columbia’s Red Mountain Resort or Revelstoke Mountain Resort? California’s China Peak or Sierra-at-Tahoe? Nebraska’s Mt Crescent? North Carolina’s Cataloochee? Wyoming’s Grand Targhee or Snowy Range? Missouri’s Snow Creek? Iowa’s Mt Crescent Ski Area? Or even Spain’s Masella?!?!
Well, you can.
All with one pass.
The One Planet, One Pass which is still on sale for $529. That is 37 resorts for $52 or $14 per resort. ($14!!!!)
What is this 1962 pricing? No, it is the One Planet, One Pass – and you can still get it today!
Extremely Reasonable Accommodation Options
Salida offers historic hotels, B & Bs and countless affordable options. We stayed in the Hampton Inn. It is a nice 10-minute walk to the center of town and comes with a free and generous breakfast (it completely transcends raisin bran and danishes), a pool, a hot tub (hot tub!) and – drum roll – free cookies!!
Hike, Mountain Bike, Fly Fish, Cat Ski, Learn to Ski or Just Ski – in February
Because of some kind of geological, meterological, topographical magic they have going on in the Salida area – in one day – in February – you can hike, snowboard (backcountry, inbounds or learn to), fly fish, mountain bike or just sit back and do plain nothing while taking in the gorgeous surroundings – all on the same day.
They Just Doubled the Gold Medal Fishing Areas in All of Colorado
Thanks to the herculean efforts of locals, politicians, businessmen, environmentalists and fishing fanatics, 102 miles of the Arkansas that was once heavily polluted from mining operations was recently designated as Gold Medal Fishing Status in the State of Colorado.
The Best Beer We Didn’t Get to Try – Until We Were Back in Denver
The problem with Salida and Monarch is this – too much to do and three days is nowhere near enough time to do it. In collecting local intel on the must do’s Elevation Beer Company came highly recommended. Although time did not allow us to enjoy it there, we were able to see (and agree with) all the hub bub when we tried their stout at Fresh Craft in Denver.
South Park, yes, that South Park
While Hollywood introduces itself via slapping its name in 45 foot tall letters across a mountain, South Park, Colorado probably in the top five most known destinations made famous via the entertainment industry , let’s you know you have arrived via two signs – the first being half a billboard (not entirely sure what happened to the other half, but it does appear it was there at one time), and the second a standard and relatively small Colorado Department of Transportation road sign. If you don’t pass these indications (which I did consistently in 13 years), South Park, 57 miles north of Salida, is well worth the visit. A few cute coffee shops, small town restaurants and numerous photo ops await you.
Buena Vista: Well, Yes It Is
First time visitors to Buena Vista can make the mistake, as I have, in thinking that what is seen from Highway 24 is Buena Visit. However, a short jog down that road to Main Street leads you to, the sweet downtown you were likely seeking. There you will find Deerhammer Distilling Company, The Asian Palette, a locally recommended Asian restaurant, a bike shop, cafes, bars and restaurants. We hit the Lariat, the most happening place in town during our visit for bacon cheeseburgers, and we would happily do it again.
The Places We Will Go Next Time
To make sure we eventually hit it all, we got a short list of the best of other locally recommended favs including: Laughing Ladies, 216 Ferraro’s and Benson’s Tavern. For other ideas in what to do and see in the area (for people of all ages and adventure levels) try the book that gives us all kinds of in-town and way-off-the-beaten path adventure, eating, sleeping and doing ideas: John Fielder’s Best of Colorado.