How to Enjoy Chaffee County like a local, with insider tips from the experts.

Also, don't forget to check out the Just for Kids section written by 10 year old Chaffee County local and guest expert, Gwen Ramsey.

Ghost Towns

Chaffee County is surrounded by rich history and is home to many ghost towns from the old west. Explore these ghost towns year round either by snowmobile, cross country skiing and snowshoeing.

 

St Elmo

-Scott-Peterson copy

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Monarch Mountain

Monarch Mountain

 

With over 350 inches of natural snowfall each year, Monarch Mountain offers a unique family friendly experience skiing & snowboarding. Unlike any other ski town in Colorado, Buena Vista & Salida are great places to plan your ski vacation and experience more of Colorado than you may have bargained for.

 

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Hutchinson Homestead

 

The Hutchinson Homestead which sits along the South Arkansas River was founded by Annabelle and Joseph Hutchinson in the late 1800’s and is an important part of Chaffee County’s history. The site, which is now called the Hutchinson Homestead and Learning Center features exhibits on what life what like in those days and is perfect for groups big or small. Tours are available daily and bring the visitor back in time while exploring the buildings and land around the site.

 

The main building is a restored two story wood framed home where the Hutchinson’s raised their family. Many items from the time period can be found in the many rooms including the parlor, bedrooms, and kitchen. Other outbuildings include the granary which held dry goods and food for the livestock, the blacksmith shop where tools were made, a three hole outhouse with a kids seat, Uncle Art’s Cabin where he lived separate from the main house, a saddle shop, various corrals, and several animal buildings for chickens, horses, and milking cows.

 

Interestingly enough, the land around the homestead is still being worked by the seventh generation of Hutchinson’s ensuring the ranching lifestyle will continue for years into the future.

Collegiate Peaks Scenic Byway

Collegiate Peaks ScenicByway Map

1 Agnes Veil Falls
2 Allie Belle and Flora Belle Ore Tipple
3 Alpine
4 Alpine Tunnel Entrance
(closed to traffic)
5 Arkansas Headwaters Visitor Center
6 Arkansas Hills
7 Arkansas Hills Trail System
8 Aspen Ridge
9 Barbara Whipple Trail System
10 Bassam Park
11 Big Bend Motocross Track
12 Browns Canyon Bridge
(Stone Bridge)
13 Browns Canyon/Hecla Junction take-out
14 Browns Canyon National Monument
15 Browns Canyon NM Northern Trailhead
16 Buena Vista Chamber of Commerce
17 Buena Vista Depot Transportation Museum
18 Buena Vista Heritage Museum
19 Buena Vista Historic Wayside
20 Buena Vista Whitewater Park
21 Buffalo Peaks Wilderness Area
22 Cache Creek placer mining sites
23 Cache Creek Cemetery
24 Centerville Cemetery
25 Chaffee County Courthouse
26 Chaffee County Fairgrounds
27 Chalk Cliffs
28 Chalk Cliffs Overlook Historic Wayside
29 Chalk Creek Fish Hatchery
30 Chubb Park State Wildlife Area
31 Cleora Cemetery
32 Collegiate Peaks Scenic Overlook
33 Collegiate Peaks Stampede Rodeo Grounds
34 Collegiate Peaks Wilderness Area
35 Colorado Midland Railroad Tunnels
36 Colorado Trail
37 Comanche Drive In
38 Continental Divide Trail
39 Cottonwood Hot Springs
40 Cottonwood Pass
41 Crossroads of the Rockies Visitor Center
42 Denny Creek Trailhead
43 DSP&P Railroad Grade
44 Elephant Rock
45 Fairview Cemetery
46 Fisherman’s Bridge Historic Wayside
47 Fourmile Travel Management Area
48 Gas Creek Schoolhouse
49 Granite
50 Hancock
51 Heckendorf State Wildlife Area
52 Hutchinson Homestead and Learning Center
53 Iron City, Iron City Cemetery
54 Jackson Hotel
55 Leadville Stage Road Historic Wayside
56 Lenhardy Cut-off Historic Toll Road
57 Love Meadow State Wildlife Viewing Area
58 M&S Quarry
59 Madonna Mine
60 Marshall Pass
61 Mary Murphy Mine
62 Maysville, Maysville Schoolhouse
63 Maxwell Park Schoolhouse
64 Methodist Mountain Trail System
65 Midland Bike Trail
66 Midland Hill
67 Monarch Crest Trail
68 Monarch Mountain Ski Area
69 Monarch Pass Parking/Trailhead
70 Monarch Spur Historic Wayside
71 Monarch Spur Trail
72 Morley Bridge
73 Mt. Antero mineralogical area
74 Mt. Antero Road (primitive)
75 Mt. Olivet Cemetery
76 Mt. Princeton Hot Springs
77 Mt. Shavano Fish Hatchery
78 National Forest Visitor Center,
Salida Ranger District
79 North Cottonwood Creek Trailhead
80 Poncha Pass
81 Poncha Springs Historic Wayside
82 Poncha Springs Schoolhouse
83 Ptarmigan Lake Trailhead
84 Rainbow Trail
85 Rocky Mountain Livestock Sales
86 Ruby Mountain mineralogical area
87 Salida Heart of the Rockies Chamber of Commerce
88 Salida Hot Springs Aquatic Center
89 Salida Museum
90 Salida Whitewater Park
91 Shavano
92 Smelter Historic Wayside
93 St. Elmo Schoolhouse
94 SteamPlant Theater & Event Center
95 Tenderfoot Mountain
96 The Numbers put-in
97 Trout Creek Pass
98 Turner Farm
99 Turret, Turret Cemetery
Salida Ranger District
100 Ute Trail
101 Valley View Schoolhouse
102 Vicksburg
103 Winfield, Winfield Cemetery
104 Zebulon Pike Historic Wayside


Visit Buena Vista & Salida, Colorado
Along The Collegiate Peaks Scenic Byway


The Collegiate Peaks Scenic Byway encompases 57 miles through Chaffee County connecting the communities of Granite, Buena Vista, Nathrop, Poncha Springs, and Salida. This route features many historic sites, quaint towns, irrigated ranchlands, and grand views of the Collegiate Peaks, Arkansas River, and the newly designated Browns Canyon National Monument.

Starting in the northern part of the county near Granite, the Byway follows Highway 24 south to Buena Vista. Along this section are remnants of old mining structures from one of the first gold discoveries in Colorado along Cache Creek. Evidence of the historic Leadville Stage Route can be seen along the east bank of the Arkansas River. This was an important transportation route from the valley to the mining camps in Leadville. Arriving in Buena Vista, the traveller can explore many significant historic sites such as the Buena Vista Museum, the Turner Farm, the restored Railroad Depot Museum, and the Midland Tunnels which were blasted out of sheer rock.

Highway 24 then joins highway 285 as it makes its way south through the small community of Nathrop which was an important railroad junction and jumping off spot for the productive mining camps in St. Elmo and Hancock to the west. These ghost towns can still be explored today. Nathrop also provides great access to Browns Canyon National Monument.

Continuing south to Poncha Springs, the Byway passes under the towering fourteen thousand foot peaks of the Sawatch Mountains, along the mighty Arkansas River, and past historic ranches that provided food for the people of the Upper Arkansas Valley. Poncha Springs holds several important historic sites such as the Jackson Hotel, Poncha Springs Cemetery, and the original school house which is now home to government offices. Be sure to take the short detour west to Maysville where the bright red schoolhouse can be seen.

The Byway then continues east along highway 50 past the Hutchinson Homestead and Learning Center enroute to Salida. The homestead shows what life was like in the late 1800’s and features a well preserved two story wood framed home with several outbuildings. Tours are led by appointment.

In Salida the Byway heads back north on highway 291 running right through one of the largest historic districts in Colorado. Be sure to take some time to explore the interesting Salida Museum and a walking tour of downtown before heading past the historic Salida Smelter and Smokestack and the Browns Canyon Bridge. The Byway then ends at the junction of highway 285 creating a lollypop style loop.

Enjoying the Arkansas River

 

Flowing through the center of Chaffee County, the Arkansas River is one of the four major drainages that flow out of Colorado. It’s also one of the most popular. The river, fed by snowmelt, runs a bit later than other rivers, but provides a longer season of recreating. It is responsible for an economic boost during the summer months.

Fishing is extremely popular and very productive. Fishing usually picks up in March and last until mid May when the snowpack starts to melt. Once high water is over and the majority of snow in the high country melts, the fishing picks back up. The Arkansas was recently bestowed a Gold Medal fishery designation. Fishing from the bank, wading, or from a raft are all great ways to enjoy this hobby.

Three distinct sections of the river provide thrills for the thousands of guests each season on commercially guided trips. The Numbers section above Buena Vista is a continuous class four for maximum thrills. Browns Canyon, between Buena Vista and Salida, is a mostly class three section within the newly appointed National Monument. Downstream from Salida is the Royal Gorge with towering walls and challenging rapids.

Kurt Glaser with Riverboat Works says it best, “We are pretty fortunate to have the Arkansas River here in the valley.”

Mountain Biking the Arkansas Hills

 

The Arkansas Hills Trail System, also known as Tenderfoot or S Mountain, is a huge asset to the town of Salida, Colorado. Lying only a couple hundred yards within downtown, bikers and hikers can be on the trails in a matter of minutes. One of the easiest and most convenient ways to access this system is to bike from the F street bridge up Spiral Drive to the trailhead kiosk and map. Posted here are trail descriptions with length and difficulty. All trail junctions are signed and easy to follow. Trails range from beginner to expert.  First timers or those new to the sport can start on the “Pepper” trails which have low grades and short loop options. The more advance will love the North Backbone and Sweet Dreams trails. For the expert level rider looking to push it, try the Unkle Nazty trail.

Due to the nature of the “Banana Belt” climate in Chaffee County, the trail system typically is good for riding long before other mountain towns melt out. South and west facing hills soak up the solar heat and dry out fast providing year round riding. Anton van Leuken, owner of Salida Bike Company, adds, “While Monarch Pass can receive feet upon feet of snow, Salida receives only an inch or two every now and then, creating a great network of trails really close to town.”

Rock Climbing in Chaffee County

 

Rock climbing opportunities in Chaffee County are mainly centered around the Buena Vista area, more specifically, the Four Mile Recreation Area. Climbs in this area are a mix of sport and traditional routes from 50 to 450 feet on granite slabs ranging from easy to very difficult. Sport climbing is a form of rock climbing that relies on permanent anchors fixed to the rock, and possibly bolts, for protection. In contrast, in traditional climbing the rock is typically devoid of fixed anchors and bolts and climbers must place removable protection as they climb.

 

The majority of the best sport climbs can be found near the Midland Tunnels and around Turtle Rock, Split Rock, and Transmitter Tower. Elephant Rock in particular provides a unique setting along the historic railroad tracks with incredible views of the Sawatch Mountains. Here the climber ascends a distinct tower of granite among pinon and pine forest with the Arkansas River rolling close by. For the more adventurous, the Davis Face offers multi pitch routes on bomber granite in a wilderness setting. Other climbing areas in the valley can be found at Rainbow Rock near Nathrop and several crags in the Cottonwood Pass vicinity.

 

Rock climbing in inherently dangerous and those without the know how or skills can reserve a spot in a rock climbing class or trip with an outfitter like Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center. Knowledgeable and friendly guides will explain technique and safety while providing a relaxed environment to push your limits in this fun and healthy sport. Gear, maps, and information can be found at The Trailhead in Buena Vista or Salida Mountain Sports.