Dreaming of Travel: Salida, Colorado

Published on July 15, 2020 - Updated on July 16, 2020

Rafting on the Arkansas River and Exploring Small Town Colorado.

Salida, Colorado is an awesome mountain town located two and a half hours outside of Denver. Known as the “Heart of the Rockies,” it is located right in the middle of the state, nestled in the mountains. Salida also has Colorado’s largest National Historic District, seven natural hot springs right in town, miles of hiking and biking trails, the Arkansas River which is ideal for water play, and it is a hub for live music and events. 

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We arrived with a mission to experience a fun family float down the Arkansas River and had no idea how many other amazing experiences we were in for. So much excitement is packed into this small town, and we couldn’t help but love Salida in a big way. 

Our river rafting trip consisted of a lovely ten mile-long stretch of river known as Bighorn Sheep Canyon. Generally considered to be from Salida to Vallie Bridge Recreation Site (~19 miles) we enjoyed the shorter route from Salida to Rincon Recreation Site with a mix of relaxed floating and up to Class III rapids. 

This is a great excursion with kids ages five and over assuming they are comfortable getting wet and won’t be overwhelmed by some ups and downs. Class III is suitable for beginners, but it is the highest stage of the beginner river difficulty ratings, so not meant for very small children. The full journey can be extended to an overnight adventure for those who don’t plan to be on the water for seven hours. 

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We were fortunate enough to have my brother's rafting boat and his guiding smile as this stretch of river is one of their family favorites which helped the confidence of our four-year-old. For rafting rentals, we encourage you to check out Riverboat Works. If you’re looking for a guided experience, check out Independent Whitewater

Rafting The Arkansas River near Salida is a scenic adventure with a mix of residential waterfront cabins and incredible topography including impressive native trees and breathtaking rock formations. The many opportunities for beach breaks, picnic spots, and land exploration makes this a wonderful route for a full family day. 

Where to Stay?


Since you could easily enjoy rafting all day, consider an overnight as there is so much more to see in the area. The Rincon Campground has fantastic, riverfront campsites with fire pits and space for tent or RV camping (we found it on The Dyrt). It is a very popular takeout for this mellow stretch.

Another site at about the halfway point is Four Seasons RV Park located in the historic area of Cleora. It has riverside camping options as well, and cabins if you’re looking for more amenities (although we did not stay in the cabins). 

There are also quite a few cabins of all sizes in the area available through the typical online home rental companies.

Where to Play?

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Once you decide to explore the town, make sure you give yourself plenty of time. Salida is adorable! There is so much to see and do in this lovely mountain town from biking, walking paths, and great local restaurants and breweries. SubCulture Cyclery is located right in the heart of town so rent some bikes to tour the town at your own pace.

Salida Mountain Sports should definitely make your list, for all types of outdoor gear. It’s a great place to invest in some new ski boots, as co-owner Nate Porter’s mission is to make everyone’s ski boots feel more like bedroom slippers. 

There’s also a wonderful, updated playground on Sackett Street in downtown Salida, called Riverside Park. It’s uniquely cool and is just a few short blocks from the boat ramp with plenty of green space and picnic tables.

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Kaleidoscope Toys focuses on unique, high-quality educational toys and gifts. They believe in supporting the local community and supporting local craftsmen and practice sustainable, environmentally friendly business practices. Kaleidoscope is exactly the type of toy store your family will want to support!

For winter travelers, Monarch Ski Resort is just outside of town and worth a trip to the area all on its own. 

Where to Eat?

Dine-in or take pizza to go from Amica’s Pizza. Amica’s is all about community and customer loyalty, which seems to be a common thread in Salida. In addition to delicious flavors in their food, they are a community tap-house so be sure to explore their craft beer selection.

Don’t leave Salida without taking a step back in time at Salida Pharmacy & Fountain. In Salida, the old fashioned tradition of grabbing ice cream with super fun flavors and lots of toppings while picking up your pharmacy needs is still in full swing. 

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Salida emanates old school, hospitable charm, and is exactly the type of getaway we need to picture as we are all “Dreaming of Travel.” We hope you will place it, and all our DOT featured destinations, on your family bucket list as you plan for your future family adventures!

We look forward to seeing you there!

Let us help you get outdoors with Hiking WIth Kids: Tips & Tricks, Ten Tips For Hiking Responsibly in the days of COVID-19 or seek inspiration from the safety of your home in Dreaming Up Your Next Adventure.

Explore more of our Dreaming of Travel series in a music lover’s paradise like Memphis, or find your happy place on Bear Lake: An Adventurer’s Oasis. If you’d prefer, Make Nature Your Focus in Harper’s Ferry, Plan Your Next Adventure in Savannah, Explore Grand Teton or Yellowstone, or check out the recent blogs by Colin Boyd to further fuel your wanderlust in the Dry Tortugas or at Mojave National Preserve.

If you have a perfect getaway or a favorite landscape, please reach out to us at share@happyly.com and we will be excited to cover it! Share your highlights with us on Instagram @gethappyly.

Thoughtfully captured by:
Caitlin Iseler
Caitlin Iseler, happyly founder and CEO, was born in New York and is one of eight children. Her favorite holiday is Thanksgiving and the chance to sit at one table with her favorite 40 people. Caitlin, her outdoor loving husband, Thomas, and daughter, Hanah, live in Virginia Beach. She is also blessed to be a bonus mom to 2 incredible humans, Max & Elizabeth. Being a mom has always been something she dreamt of and it brings her joy beyond measure. Before starting happyly, Caitlin spent 15 years working in executive search with technology companies, most recently with Korn Ferry. In what seems like a lifetime ago, she attended the University of Virginia and was a member of the National & ACC Championship Teams, a gift that keeps giving.
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