Welcome to another colorful installment of our “Trail Town” series. Every month—and sometimes more often in this case—we will feature an article about a trail running city that you should put on your bucket list of places to visit! This month we feature a location that is out of this world, the city of Salida in Colorado.
Salida translates to “exit” in other languages, but this quaint Colorado Mountain town that is situated along the Arkansas River and at the base of Tenderfoot Mountain adorned with the giant “S” quite possibly might be the epitome of a quintessential Trail Town. With the delicious food options, stimulating coffee spots, world-class beer, local trail knowledge, support of the outdoor endeavors and, most importantly, one of the most amazing trail networks in the universe! If you don’t believe us, just read on.
Located in the Heart of the Rockies within the Arkansas River Valley is Salida, CO. Home to 6,000 people, the town is different than some tourist towns in that most of the residents live here year-round. Like many locations in Colorado, Salida was once dependent on mining and railroads, however, since the 1990s, has transformed into an all-seasons destination for all-things outdoor recreation, arts and outdoor celebration. Locals refer to the area as the “banana belt of the Rockies” due to its high-mountain desert weather. Salida has a very dry environment providing year-round trail running, hiking and mountain biking, while at the same time providing seasonal activities, such as white water rafting in the warm seasons and skiing in the cold seasons.
The city itself sits on the shore of the Arkansas River and during the summer one can witness, in one frame of view, white water rafters, kayakers, mountain bikers, hikers and trail runners while eating lunch at one of the open-deck restaurants like the Boathouse Cantina. Salida is not only the ideal trail running mecca with the Salida Mountain Trails network but a true outdoor destination for all seasons and for all family and friends. It is particularly special in that everyone can find something fun and exciting to do whether or not they are out running on the trails.
And if you are not yet convinced, Salida is a newly-minted Continental Divide Gateway Community.
Just listen to this pitch from one trail runner to another dropping the Local Knowledge:
Sean: Dude, you looked stressed, you need to get out of the city and go on a trail running adventure.
Rob: Totally, but it needs to be a place that offers something for my significant other and kids.
Sean: Come on, man, you know I’m always here for a friend!
Rob: Sweet! So you will watch the kids this weekend!?
Sean: No way! You know I can’t watch your kids, I have to my back-to-back long runs. The High Lonesome 100 Miler is coming up!
Rob: Then what???
Sean: Just drive to Salida, that’s where I’ll be doing my long runs. It’s only a 2 ½ hour drive from downtown Denver and it’s a place where the trail runners flock like the salmon of Capistrano and the beer flows like…
Rob: Wait a minute! I took Spanish in college. Why would I want to go to place that translates to ‘exit’?
Sean: Just imagine: you get off work on Friday night, you round up the family and by 8:30 to 9:00pm you’re in Salida and checked in to one of the awesome local hotels like the Palace Hotel, Salida Inn and Hostel or the very cool Simple Lodge & Hostel. You could walk down the street and get a quick bite at Amica’s Pizza. They have a number of wood fired oven pizzas for the kids and delicious homemade pasta options. They also have a fire-hot oil that will set your mouth ablaze, if you’re not careful. Also…
Rob: Sound great but what about the beer?
Sean: Dude, relax, I was getting there. Of course they have beer! Their taps are filled with seasonal and year-round brews from the local Salida brewery, Soul Craft. My favorite is the Coconut Milk Stout. After a good night’s sleep, you wake up the next morning as the sunrise illuminates the Southern Sawatch Range. Hoof it a couple blocks to Season’s Cafe for a Farm-to-Table brunch on the river. Now that you’re ready for the day, take the kids to one of the local rafting companies for a white water river tour down the Arkansas River. Your significant other can head over to one of the Hot Springs for a relaxing day or shop at the many artisanal arts and crafts, antique or thrift shops around town. That Ruby Blues has the most amazing vintage clothing on the planet!
Rob: Cool, so there’s bunch of stuff for them to do but how do I decide where to run?
Sean: Easy, just head over to 7000 Feet Running Company. The owners, Andrew and Emily, will happily hook you up with where to find the sweetest local single track and have a great variety of shoes and gear appropriate for your adventure. Chaffee County has an estimated 500 miles of trails. It’s location on the eastern slope of the Continental Divide provides elevations between 7,000 feet and 14,000 feet. Now you know why it’s called 7000 Feet Running Company! Within an hour from there are no less than 12 14ers, alpine rivers and streams, large areas of open ranch land, meadows and landscapes that vary from high mountainous desert, piñon and juniper forests to rugged wilderness.
Rob: So you’re saying I could run from 7,000- to 14,000 feet in one day?
Sean: That’s right, you can “exit” the wired world and experience the trails as they were meant to be experienced. A little place called Sssalida!
Trails, Parking & Transit:
Located within a mere 3 minutes walk from downtown Salida are two local trail systems developed and maintained by the Salida Mountain Trails (SMT) organization. In downtown, the most obvious feature is Tenderfoot Mountain to the east. Lovingly named S Mountain because of the giant S looming over the city 300 feet up the hill. S Mountain is the focal point from which all trails in the Arkansas Hills Trails System have been developed. Several trailheads are located within two blocks of downtown Salida making it convenient for individuals looking to become acclimated to area, those going out for an hour less or loops and out backs for multi-hour excursions. The trails in this system offer a terrific views of Salida, the Sangre de Cristo and Sawatch Mountain Ranges. A runner can easily take 3 mile loops up to marathon distances with elevations ranging from 7,000-to 10,000 feet. The most notable feature of the area is that it faces southwest allowing many of trails to be snow free all year round.
Two miles from downtown is the Methodist Mountain trail system located in the foothills of the Sangre Cristo Mountain Range. This trail system runs along a ridge that hovers between 7,000- and 7,600 feet. The primary trail is the Little Rainbow Trail, which provides terrific rolling terrain with vistas looking north into the Arkansas River Valley. On clear days you can see a majority of the 14ers involved completing Nolan’s 14, an epic ~100 mile challenge that involves 14 14,000 foot peaks and which runners try to complete in under 60 hours.
Local fact: The Nolan’s 14 supported record was just broken by Scott Sports athlete, Alex Nichols, who happens to be local miner in Salida (actually, he just owns land…but it is at the base of a copper mine) and stated, “Salida is just a fantastic town! The only thing that rivals the trails in Salida are the fantastic restaurants and breweries in town.”
If one continues vertically for 8 miles from the Little Rainbow to Double Rainbow and up Sand Gulch, one would reach the trail fittingly known as Rainbow Trail. The Rainbow Trail is multi-use trail that runs 100 miles along the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range. With elevations ranging from 8,000 to 10,500 feet between Westcliffe, Cañon City and Salida. What makes the this trail so special is that a runner or group of runners could start in downtown Salida and create a number of point to point, out-n-backs and lollipops ranging from 15 miles to 100 with vertical gains of 2,500 to 20,000 feet.
The Rainbow Trail provides direct trail access to the Colorado Trail and Continental Divide trails. If a person would prefer to drive from Salida one would only need to go between 15 to 25 minutes to access these prime mountain trails. Most of the Colorado Trail and Continental Divide runs are out-and-back but the there are over 20 trials that branch off these national treasures creating a unique mountain running experience that will all levels of runners. A local favorite with access via the Colorado Trail is the Brown’s Creek Trail. The highlight of this 6 mile out and back it Brown’s Creek Falls.
You’re probably thinking if there are that many trails then where are the races? The main reason you haven’t heard is probably because they keep them all to themselves. In reality, Salidans are very welcoming of out-of-town runners and guests. The most popular trail race is a marathon/half marathon in March that ranges starts—and stays—high, ranging between 7,000 and 9,500 feet elevation. The Run Through Time Hard Half and Marathon routinely brings over 450 participants that want crave high-altitude suffering. The course records are not that impressive on paper—1:29 for men, 1:45 for women for the half marathon and 3:03 for men, 3:33 for women in the full marathon—but keep in mind that these were set by world-class trail runners.
The race is sponsored by local businesses and supported by Chaffee County Running Club. At the helm is new race director, Kristy Falcon, a local competitive runner in her own right. Speaking about the history of the race, Kristy stated, “I think what’s awesome about this race is the support from the community for the past 13 years. Salida has changed during that time, and the race course has changed, but the community involvement has always been, and continues to be, really important to the success of the race.”
Past Salida resident and elite trail runner, Sandi Nypaver, reminisced about the race: “The Run Through Time races might seem like just another trail race, but anyone who spends some time in Salida and runs the trails knows it’s a special place to run. The course offers everything from smooth and fast single track to the technical downhill of the Uncle Natzy trail, a personal favorite of mine. The views of the Sawatch Range are ridiculously good, too! Looking up at those majestic peaks always makes me smile even when I’m pushing hard.
Maybe you’re thinking about something shorter with warmer weather. How about a race that’s 0.8 miles long, has 500 feet of gain and no route? The Tenderfoot Hill Climb kicks off the FiBark Whitewater Festival on a Thursday night during the second weekend of June. This is a race made to break you. It’s average completion time is over 30 minutes! It starts in the middle of town at the corner of F and 1st street at 6:00pm so the entire town gets to cheer you on as you suffer, fall and bleed your way through 0.8 miles of extremely loose rock and sand. If that doesn’t convince you to run then you will happy to know that you will be crushed by one of the local high school students who traditionally win the race. Just ask Sage Canaday who came in second to a 15-year-old Salida High student in 2014. Feeling very ambitious? You can sign up for the triple crown that week which includes a 10k road and trail race and hill climb.
So maybe a 1 mile race or a marathon isn’t far enough for you. Not to worry, Salida has an ultra. How about a 100 mile race that runs along the Continental Divide and Colorado Trail systems that includes 24,000 feet of elevation gain? Every August, the High Lonesome 100 is put on and it does not disappoint. It takes you over the elevation of 13,200 feet, through 2 ghost towns, over 5 alpine passes, through remote basins and over soaring ridges. The best part is the race is organized and produced by highly experienced ultra-runners. This is truly an ultra-runners race, for ultra-runners, by ultra-runners.
So maybe a traditional race isn’t your thing and what we’ve offered isn’t difficult enough. Salida has an answer for that—starting to see a pattern here? You can attempt Nolan’s 14 whenever you want. Started in the late 90’s by a Salida local among others the idea is simple; connect 14 14ers from Mt. Shavano to Mt. Massive in one push under 60 hours. Start 15 miles from downtown Salida at Blank’s Cabin and join a club that less than 30 people are in. Like most things in Salida there are no awards at the finish, only the pride and peace of mind that you were able to accomplish something truly awesome.
There is another reason why Salida is a hotbed for trail running and that reason is that some of the best high school trail runners have the great opportunity to compete in the National High School Trail Running Championship (NHSTRC). Founded by local high school and competitive trail runner, Kenny Wilcox, the NHSTRC is a ATRA-member-race promoting and encouraging young trails runners. The young trail running talent pool may be due to a program that Coach Kenny Wilcox has created for his high school athletes. Trail running has become a training staple with his athletes. “As an example,” Wilcox said, “take a look at the results from the 2016 Run Through Time Half and Full Marathon held on Salida’s trails. You’ll notice that Salida athletes Taylor Stack and Seth Minor mixed right in with athletes that have been at the Olympics, Olympic Trials, and Leadville 100.”
The NHSTC is a trail race designed specifically for high school athletes, is open to all current high school athletes and is extended to include incoming freshman and 2018 high school graduates. There are no qualifying standard so high school athletes near and far are welcomed to join this well-organized event. The race feature Salida’s legendary switchbacks, steep climbs and descents as well as technical rocky footing to give athletes the opportunity to showcase their strength and trail running prowess at a National-caliber event.
The NHSTC will crown a team champion and individual champion for the girls and boys. There is also the Beas Knees Citizens Race. Not to be confused with Bee’s Knees, this is named in recognition and honor of the late Brett Beasley, a U.S. Forest Service Ranger who was instrumental in connecting countless people to the outdoors and known to the locals as “The Beas”.
The second running of the NHSTC will be held on Saturday, July 28, 2018 in Salida, Colorado and covers approximately 5 miles of the Salida Mountain Trails.
Anywhere you wander in Salida you will find that dark morning elixir. The location that can be heard hundreds of miles away—as they are an underwriter for a local Southern Colorado NPR station—is Café Dawn. Owners Dawn Heigele and Phillip Benningfield have over 40 years of combined experience in the service industry and Phillip has even written a book on coffee…literally, it’s called The Dark Roast. Phillip has also been voted Salida’s Best Barista.
Other spots for gourmet coffee is Howl Mercantile & Coffee offering cold brew and made to order concoctions in-shop with an eclectic mix of women’s and men’s accessories and home goods focusing on small batch producers. Gathering Grounds Coffeehouse & Eatery is another coffee joint that you just might find yourself indulging on biscuits or the gluten free options.
Have you just logged numerous miles on the Salida Mountain Trails and you feel like you could eat a horse—or an entire batch of vegan brownies, if your diet is more animal friendly. Satiate your appetite with one of many refueling options. If you need some major carb intake then head over to the Little Red Hen Bakery where owner Steve Miller whips up batches of artisan breads and sweet treats. If you’re lucky enough to visit on a Friday be sure to stop by the wood-fire oven and speak with fellow ultra runner, Mark Minor. This guy makes the best bread in the state of Colorado! Make sure to try the decadent cinnamon roll or savory rosemary bread.
Want a tasty sandwich? Check out the local Sweetie’s and choose from over 25 handcrafted sandwiches. If it’s brunch you are craving with over Season’s Cafe, 85% of the ingredients sourced in Colorado, so go eat on the river and contemplate your next awesome adventure.
If pizza in your future then you’re in luck. Go to Amicas Pizza. They have wood-fired oven pizzas and house-made pastas that will satisfy all runners and family members. If Salida is one of the most amazing trails towns in the universe, then Moonlight Pizza has to have the best pizza in the solar system (we are not aware of any pizza joints outside of our solar system). With pizzas named Cosmic Hawaiian and Spicy Moon Chicken, it is definitely out of this world. They also brew their own beer!
Are you the kind of person that enjoys small plates that you can share with your discerning running buddies, family and friends? Then pop into The Fritz for a Gastro-Pub/American Bistro experience. Inspired by French, Spanish and local cuisine, specializing in tapas, tasty sandwiches, truffle fries, local beers, creative house cocktails and world-class wine and whiskey, you will be left wanting more.
A worthy lunch option is the newly opened progressive taco shop called Gnar Tacos! Think sushi-grade Ahi Tuna or fried avocado ala carte tacos and local craft beer.
Beer & Libations:
OK, we know all you trail runners have been waiting for this information. Let’s start with the heavy stuff: whiskey and gin. Wood’s Distillery is the local favorite. A high mountain small batch distillery that specializes in whiskey and gin.Take a seat in the tasting room and enjoy hand-crafted cocktail while enjoy aroma of gin and whiskey distilling 12 feet from your seat. Not to mention, the owners and founder of the distillery, P.T. Woods himself, was recently elected Mayor of Salida, so you can chat about civic opportunities over a Mountain Hopped Gin & Tonic.
If you are not into the liquor, just head down to Soul Craft Brewery on Hwy 50. They have an assortment of 22 seasonal and year-around micro brews created in Salida at 7000 feet. They have traditional favorites as well as an adventurous Green Chili Ale and Coconut Milk Stout and you might just pick up your race bib number for one of the local races at this brewery. You might as well enjoy a beer while your there!
Did you check out Soulcraft your first night? Then head 4 miles toward Poncha Springs to Elevation Beer Company. An award-winning Colorado micro-brewery which cares about its craft beer status, being a member of the Independent Craft Brewers Association. Elevation offers top-notch small-batch beers so be sure to try the local favorite bourbon barrel-aged Oil Man Imperial Stout or the Acide Dry Hopped Kettle Sour Saison. The beautifully-crafted bar area is created from salvaged wooden beams from a Morton Salt mine. This will explain the metal Morton Salt sign nailed above the chalkboard menu. The tables are also constructed of wood salvaged from both a forest fire and bark beetle kill in the nearby Collegiate Range and are as unique and impressive as the beer they serve. And there is also the other-worldly Moonlight Pizza which combines house-brewed beer and pizza which is a cosmic combination!
If you look back at the previous few sections, you will find that culture is tightly intertwined into every aspect of Salida. For example, local artist, Brink Messick who donates his art to local and regional conservation organizations and sell his art at local shops and breweries, is also personally heavily involved in the trail scene as Conservative Outreach and Project Manager for the Colorado Mountain Club. And the local Salida running specially shop, 7000 Feet Running Company, is a major part of the local running scene, supporting races, holding group runs and clinics and believing in the trail running movement by being a corporate member of ATRA. The National Hight School Trail Running Championship is also a corporate member of ATRA, as is its founder, Kenny Wilcox. Now you see the culture that Salida is attempting to promote: Activity, Community, Participation.
Now you see why this place is out of this world!
Author’s Note: Thanks to Andrew Walker for information and his insight into his hometown. Making a Salida a tried and true Trail Town!