Choose your own winter adventure in Chaffee County! Winter is the perfect time to bundle up and explore snow-capped mountains, frozen streams and all of the season’s beauty. Fire up a snowmobile and chart your own path across fields of white. Or feel the snow crunch under your snowshoes or cross-country skis.
Start off the day by heading up to Monarch Mountain Ski Area. This gem in the rough stays open until mid April thanks to it’s high elevation and big snowpack. Its not uncommon for the area to have a 70” inch base on closing day. What this means is that most every run will be open with plenty of coverage to ski or ride on. Don’t miss the Kayaks On Snow event held each April. Have a tasty lunch at the Sidewinder Saloon and head on down the pass for part two.
While the west side of the valley is still covered in tons of snow, the east side is drying out and perfect for spinning your wheels in the dirt. This scenario brings bike enthusiasts from surrounding mountain towns still covered in snow to Chaffee County where the trails are high and dry. Start at the F Street bridge in downtown Salida, cross the railroad tracks, and head up the Frontside Trail to the top of Tenderfoot Hill. A network of stacked loops provide miles of narrow singletrack with amazing views of fourteen thousand foot mountains across the valley.
After a couple of hours of mountain biking head up to Fisherman’s Bridge in Nathrop and drop your raft into the Arkansas River. Spring snowmelt causes the water levels on the river to rise each day creating exciting whitewater opportunities in Browns Canyon. This stretch of class 3 and 4 rapids will test your skills of navigation as you cruise through a landscape of towering walls, rock outcroppings, and curious wildlife. End your day at the Hecla Junction or Stone Bridge takeouts.
Pack up the sleds first thing in the morning and head up Chalk Creek Canyon past Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort to the road closure. A groomed trail system will take you past the well preserved ghost town of St. Elmo and several other mining sites. Stop awhile and check out the historical buildings before continuing up to Tin Cup Pass or the Alpine Tunnel. Views abound up here so be sure to take a camera and maybe even a picnic lunch.
Cross country skiing opportunities in Chaffee County exist for all levels and experience. For beginners, the mountains offer miles of groomed trails that follow closed roads and picnic areas. Some of the more popular destinations are Cottonwood Lake and the Collegiate Peaks Campground. It’s fairly easy to learn and most people pick it up within a day!
Dog sled tours based on Monarch Pass and an annual dry land dog sled competition north of Buena Vista offer opportunities for adventurists and dog lovers to enjoy a unique winter activity. An lditarod team is based locally.
For snowshoers looking to try out a backcountry trail, the Sawatch Range offers a variety of choices, from all-day adventures to short, kid-friendly options. The Waterdog Lakes Trail on Monarch Pass is a steep, high-altitude climb of less than two miles to small lakes close to 11,300 feet in elevation. Browns Creek near Nathrop has several trails for snowshoers to try.
Horseback is a popular mode of transportation in the Colorado outdoors. For visitors looking for a truly western experience, commercial outfitters in Buena Vista and Salida offer a range of options from short, one-hour guided horse trail trips to rigorous multi-day excursions.
When it comes to locally crafted beer, wine and spirits, water is the main attraction. It is the clean, odorless foundation that local breweries, wineries and distilleries count on to let their specialty and seasonal flavors shine through. For many, life revolves around water and the outdoors. Many sports enthusiasts split their time playing and and also working hard at local beer, spirit and wine-making enterprises.