The History & Beauty of Browns Canyon

President Obama stated that “Conservation is a truly American idea.” Like others before him, he wanted to stress the value of our public lands and waters so that future generations could appreciate and enjoy them. On Feb. 19, 2015, President Obama proclaimed Browns Canyon, a National Monument. Forever protecting the 21,586 acres of pristine canyons, rivers and backcountry forest.

Located between Buena Vista and Salida in Chaffee County, Colorado, it’s the newest arrival in the National Monument scene. It’s where you can experience sweeping views of the Arkansas River Valley and gaze upon the high and extensive Sawatch Range of the Rocky Mountains.

The Sawatch Range formed more than 70 million years ago, is home to some of the highest peaks in the region. The cultural and historical resources found in this area are a testament to its Native Peoples as well as to the history of more recent settlers and mining communities. 

Browns Canyon National Monument is not only rich in history, but it’s also an adventurer’s dream. This area’s geology has a uniqueness that is exceptionally beautiful for nature watching, photography, and stargazing. It’s also particularly special for another reason; the Arkansas River flows directly through the canyon and designated as the most rafted stretch of whitewater in the entire nation. This is an area that begs to be explored!

When you are visiting here, the bighorn sheep, brown bear, elk, mule deer, bobcats, golden eagles, falcons and other species that call the canyon home, will make wildlife viewing especially rewarding. With over 21,500 acres of remote beauty, Browns Canyon National Monument and the surrounding areas provide many exciting and different things you can do. Let’s take a closer look at some of these activities.

Brown’s Canyon Activities

Photo by Marilyn Porter

Visitors can admire the bright yellow aspen above the canyon in autumn, and there are several hiking trails available to explore the wilderness on foot. You can enjoy backcountry hiking along a collection of routes that are located mainly in the northern section of the monument. For a different vantage point, you can explore the canyon on horseback. Winter visitors have the option of snowshoeing, or you can take advantage of some cross-country skiing.

Fishing Browns Canyon

Browns Canyon has qualified as one of the nation’s premier public trout fisheries, and this scenic part of the Arkansas River holds both browns and rainbows.

In 2014, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife proclaimed a full 102-mile segment passing through Browns Canyon as a Gold Medal Trout Water designation. A river must consistently produce 60 pounds of trout per acre and at least twelve trout per acre measuring at least fourteen inches, to receive the designation. It is considered the highest quality cold-water habitat accessible to the public. This area offers the most significant potential for world-class trophy trout fishing. There is plenty of fish here – and big ones at that!

Several sections of the river are entirely accessible, and the water is slow-moving. These are perfect conditions for you to enjoy some DIY dry fly-fishing, and there are also guided fly-fishing trips available for you as well. Salida Anglers and Ark Anglers are locally run businesses that offer a variety of guided trips and adventures for your adventure. 

Hiking in Browns Canyon

Hiking is a year-round activity. The Turret Trail, which is the main trail in Browns Canyon. The 11-mile out-and-back trail leads to shorter trails that branch off to river access and is ripe for explorers. Browns Canyon Monument also includes The San Isabel National Forest, which is a beautiful place. It’s perfect for hiking, picnicking, and communing with nature.

In the heart of the Sawatch Range, are The Collegiate Peaks – named after famous Ivy League schools. These tall, broad peaks are 14,000-feet each, and with a little patience, climbers can enjoy some spectacular views. In early July, there are many types of wildflowers here to enjoy, as well.

White Water Rafting

Browns Canyon is where you can find some of the country’s best whitewater rafting. Available from May through August, there are many tour options you can choose from. Whether you’re looking for a quick trip on the river or a two-day experience, Independent Whitewater has you covered. Riders who’d like to experience Browns Canyon will have their choice of three trip options when booking. Performance Tours has been offering whitewater rafting trips since 1986. Rafters of all levels can have a thrilling and safe experience, while experiencing Browns Canyon whitewater and the stunning scenery.

Aerial Park and Zip Line Tours

You and your family can enjoy another action-packed adventure by zip-lining and maneuvering through the challenges of an aerial park. The Browns Canyon Adventure Park has some of the most thrilling and challenging courses. With 66 elements including seven zip-lines and two high adrenaline challenges, everyone will want to participate in these exhilarating adventures.

Buena Vista Heritage Museum

The Buena Vista Heritage Museum is only 27 minutes away from the monument, located inside the old Chaffee County courthouse. This is a great place for a family field trip and where you can enjoy some wonderful exhibits. These include: an interactive classroom with slate boards and manual typewriters, a display of old wedding gowns donated by local citizens, a Golden eagle mounted in 1912, and a working model railroad. The museum is open from Memorial Day weekend through September, during the summer season. You can also experience special events like wine tastings, cemetery tours, and historical, re-enacted local theater productions when visiting here.

Mountain Biking

Buena Vista and Salida are legendary in Colorado for their bike trails. There are hundreds of miles of single track and jeep roads here, that twist and thread through the local mountains. You can explore these mountain bike trails with a professional guide who not only knows them; but they can also give you insight into the local folklore and natural history as well.

Rock Climbing

In the upper Arkansas River Valley, around Buena Vista and Salida, there are rock climbing opportunities that provide a mix of sport and traditional routes. The granite slabs located in these areas are between 50 and 450 feet, and range from easy to very difficult. The most notable climb is up Rainbow Rock near the entrance to the canyon. Those who are new to the sport can easily reserve a spot in a rock climbing class or take a trip with an experienced outfitter like the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center. Knowledgeable and friendly guides will explain technique and safety while providing a relaxed environment.

Kayaking in the Canyon

Just imagine kayaking through a National Monument. Kayaking on the Arkansas River provides hours of fun, excitement, and beauty. Experienced kayakers can ride the large rapids of Browns Canyon. Fishermen, beginner kayakers, or families with small children can enjoy the Lower Browns Canyon section where there is slow-moving water and just a few mild rapids. If you’re looking for a summer adventure, this is the place to be.

Clearly, Browns Canyon National Monument and the surrounding areas are full of history, excitement, and lots of beauty. At Creekside Chalets & Cabins, we want to make it easy for you to enjoy this popular destination and give you moments to remember. We’re located close to the Arkansas River and cater year-round to nature lovers and adventure enthusiasts. Don’t wait to plan your next mountain holiday. Contact us and book your stay today!

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