River Life in Salida, Colorado  

When you head to Salida, Colorado in June, one thing is on everyone’s mind: THE RIVER! This town has many personalities–arts community, historic district, biking mecca, music hub–but the river is its heart. 

While you’re here, be sure to get in some time on the river. That can mean rafting, fishing, celebrating at FIBArk or just spending a happy hour by the water.  Here are some of the best ways to enjoy the river while you’re in Salida. 

Rafting Trips in Salida, Colorado 

Rafting in Chaffee County is fantastic. It’s one of the things this area is most famous for. There is truly something for everyone, whether you’re into a mellow float or the adventure of a lifetime. We recommend Independent Whitewater, Salida’s longest running local outfitter. They’re “Salida’s Local River Connection” and have been rafting the Arkansas River since 1979. 

Beginners, older adults, families with very young children or anyone looking for a chill day on the river can try the scenic class II float trips. This relaxing adventure has beautiful views and takes rafters right through the heart of historic downtown Salida.   

For more adventurous types, the Browns Canyon 1/2 day is the most popular whitewater trip in Colorado. It’s great for rafters of all abilities, including families with kids 7 and older. You’ll float through the beautiful Browns Canyon National Monument and hit classic rapids like Pinball, Zoom Flume, and The Staircase. This is one of the best rafting trips in the country. So splashy, fun rapids in a beautiful canyon. It’s absolutely worth the trip! 

If you’re a next level paddler with river experience, give The Numbers a try. This challenging Class IV+ stretch of whitewater is perfect for adrenaline junkies looking to raise the bar. Plus, the high alpine scenery mixed with granite rocks and walls is stunning.  

Independent Whitewater also rents inflatable kayaks (also called “duckies”). When the water is lower, it’s a great way to get out and have your own adventure on the river with your friends or family. The gentle stretches heading into downtown Salida are perfect for paddlers looking for a fun day on the water. 

Tubing and Enjoying the Arkansas River in Salida 

Tubing the river feels like the classic summer activity. Here in Salida, tubing mostly happens downtown through the river park. This fun stretch has a path that lets you hop out, walk up and do it all over again! 

If you’re looking to rent a tube, try Totally Tubular. They are right downtown and can give you information about where to start and where to finish your tubing adventure. They don’t rent tubes all year–there are times on the Arkansas when the water is too high and rapid to be safe for floating. While the river is usually tubable by mid-July, it depends on the snowpack. To be safe, check in with them before planning your adventure. 

When days are hot, you’ll find a lot of opportunities to cool off in the river downtown. After the river levels peak for the summer, sandy beaches emerge and are great places for both kids and adults to get in the water. If you’re going to wade in the river, grab one of the PFD’s provided by the local Colorado Parks and Wildlife division. They are free to borrow for kids and adults and can help keep you safe as you swim. 

If you find the water is too high for you or your family to get in the water, particularly young kids, the City of Salida has an aquatic center and a splash pad in adjacent Marvin Park, just next to the skatepark. 

Salida’s Surf Waves 

Downtown Salida has long been known for its kayaking park in the river. Recently, the sport of riverboarding has really taken off and it’s common to see surfers and boogie boarders in the water, surfing the waves. Salida’s newest wave, the Scout Wave, has attracted big crowds. 

If you’d like to try riverboarding, Totally Tubular rents boogie boards and Badfish, right in downtown Salida, sells river surf boards and equipment. Even if you’re not interested in trying this exciting sport, watching the surfers in the wave as you walk down the river path is worth a stop. Check out the webcam…you’ll see surfers enjoying the wave year round. For more info, see our full blog post on the surfing scene in Salida. 

FIBArk Whitewater Festival in Salida, Colorado 

An overview of summer rafting adventures wouldn’t possibly be complete without a mention of FIBArk! This annual whitewater festival stands for First in Boating, Arkansas River. It’s the oldest whitewater festival in the United States and brings music, competitions and all sorts of fun to Salida. 

In 2024, the festival runs from Thursday, June 13th-Sunday, June 16th. This jam-packed weekend hosts kayak, SUP and raft races on the water, including the famous Hooligan Race on Saturday afternoon. You’ll find local touches like a hill climb straight up the signature “S Mountain”, a full carnival set up and a crazy river dog competition.

FIBArk hosts a classic home town parade through the streets of downtown and music in Riverside Park all day, with well-known bands playing on Friday and Saturday nights. FIBArk is the perfect blend between a small town festival and a big name whitewater event. 

Fishing the Arkansas River in Salida, Colorado 

If a relaxing day fishing by the river is more your speed, the Arkansas River offers so many ways to get out and find some fish. This area has a Gold Medal Waters designation, a status given to rivers of the highest quality. According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the river has about 5000 trout per mile, perfect for fly fishing or spin fishing. 

If you’re into walking and wading, the Arkansas has 80 miles of riverside public access for walking and wading, much of which is right around Salida and close to Creekside Chalets. If you’re looking for a little advice, or perhaps you’d like to take a guided fishing trip, there are multiple local shops dedicated to fishing.

  • The Next Eddy runs out of their full service shop storefront on 1st Street in downtown Salida.  
  • Ark Anglers is the longest running shop in the area, serving the Arkansas River Valley in both Salida and Buena Vista locations. They offer guided fishing, walk and wade or raft and a  fishing report
  • Up River Fly Fishing runs out of downtown Buena Vista from their convenient storefront at the corner of Main and Highway 50. 
  • Salida Anglers, established in 2019, is located off Highway 50 in Salida. 

Riverside Dining 

Chaffee County is famous for the river lifestyle and for great restaurants and bars. Why not combine the two! All of the following restaurants have solid riverside dining scenes worthy of a brunch, lunch, happy hour or dinner. The spots below are listed in upstream to downstream order, starting in Buena Vista and ending in Downtown Salida. 

Wesley and Rose

This spot in the South Main area of Buena Vista offers chic decor and a hip vibe with upscale food and drinks. Try their baked artisan breads and beignets along with specialty cocktails. They serve grass-fed Colorado beef and offer a great Sunday brunch. Choose from their private dining room or outdoor patio with views of the river. 

Riverside Bar and Grill 

This laid back hangout is on the grounds of River Runners, a rafting company just downstream of Buena Vista. It’s a hot spot for rafters just getting done with their trips, but the great food and riverside seating brings in locals from Buena Vista and Salida, as well. 

They serve delicious drinks with a fun river twist–try the River Rummer or Riverita! They have a large stage and often host live music with some of the top bands in the area and from around Colorado. Play some cornhole by the river, sip a cocktail and be sure to try the delicious tacos. The Riverside Bar and Grill is open from early spring to late summer.  

Browns Canyon Brewing

This bar/food truck combo is one of the newest additions to the riverside scene in Chaffee County. This spot is set on the property of the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center, the best spot in the valley for kayak, river surf and SUP lessons (and some on land instruction, too.) This is a great spot to hang out after a day kayaking or SUPing. They have games and even a bike pump track on site. Browns Canyon Brewing is open from early spring to late summer.  

 Drift In Bar and Grill 

The Drift-in brings tiki beach bar life to the Arkansas River! Located about 10 minutes upstream of Salida, The Drift-in is on the property of Independent Whitewater right on the shores of the Arkansas River. This open-air venue features a full-bar and food truck and cultivates a laid back, island vibe with drinks like the Painkiller, mojitos and cold beers on tap. 

The Drift offers a place for rafters to “Drift In” during their trip and is a very popular spot for Salida locals to arrive by boat, kayak, bike or car. The food truck updates their menu every year, serving tacos, burgers and the local’s favorite: loaded tots. They have a riverside stage with music and chairs and tables right next to the river. Great place to watch the sunset over the water!The Drift is open 7 days a week from Cinco de Mayo to Labor Day. 

High Side! Bar and Grill

drift in bar and grill

High Side is the spot in Salida for riverside music! Their live music schedule is always packed and their outdoor stage is an awesome place to spend a sunny afternoon. Their patio backs up to the downtown river park and is nestled into the bustling Salida riverside scene. They serve delicious smashburgers, sandwiches and host happy hour from 3-5. This happy hour menu has sliders and some of the best food and drink deals in town. From the lower patio diners can watch surfers in the “office” wave and get a glimpse of all the river action. 

Boathouse Cantina

The Boathouse is one of the signature riverside spots in Salida. The space is indoor with large garage-style windows opening right onto the river. If you snag a coveted spot by the window, you’ll see boats floating by, kayakers surfing the waves and a great view of the river. 

The Boathouse is famous for their margaritas. From the Lucky Penny, named after one of the owners, to the spicy marg, these drinks will make margarita lovers happy. They also offer beers from their signature brewery, Salida Brewing Company. They are loved for their burgers and tacos. They also have two bars and a t-shirt shop right on site.                       

Pizza Rio 

Pizza Rio is located upstairs from the Boathouse Cantina off F Street right in downtown Salida. While they are on the second floor, their deck has a fantastic view of the river and the mountains to the west. It’s a beautiful view! Pizza is New York style and there are other salads, apps and Italian dishes on the menu. They give solid happy hour discounts on drinks and it’s a great spot to watch the sunset. 

Creekside Chalets in Salida’s River Season 

Visiting Creekside Chalets in the spring and summer is a dream for river lovers and anyone who enjoys beautiful cabins next to a running creek. Our property is coming alive with aspen trees and downtown Salida is bursting with energy. 

Come enjoy our beautiful campsites and cabins and see all that river life has to offer you and your crew here in Chaffee County. Checking availability is easy. Get here and live the river life with us!