You’ll find miles and miles of hiking trails in Salida, Colorado as well as the rest of the Arkansas Valley. But with so many options, it can be difficult to find the perfect one for you. To help make your decision a bit easier, we’ve put together a list of our top six hiking trails in the area – each of which is “the best” for one reason or another. Regardless of which one you choose, you’re sure to have an amazing time exploring Colorado’s natural beauty.
Of course, before you head out there, make sure you’re prepared. Mountain weather can be unpredictable. Afternoon thunderstorms are the norm during the summer months. So keep an eye out for thunderclouds and lightning and be ready to get to safety if need be. If you can, opt for a morning hike. Make sure to bring along plenty of food, water, and extra layers of clothes. If you’re not used to high altitudes, give yourself plenty of time to acclimate and drink lots of water before you hit the trails. It’s quite likely that you’ll come across wildlife. Make noise as you hike so that you don’t startle any animals and keep your distance if you do come across any. You can find a more thorough review of hiking safety tips courtesy of The American Hiking Society.
Be safe and have fun!
Best Peaceful Hike – Hunt Lake
As with most alpine lakes, Hunt Lake is beautiful and peaceful. You’ll be treated to some breathtaking valley views as you make your way up the trail, which makes it a great spot for an afternoon picnic. Along the way, you’ll pass by Boss Lake, which is yet another picture-perfect lake. This is a great choice especially if you’ve brought your dogs along as they’ll love swimming in those clear waters. Only catch and release fishing with flies and lures is allowed at Hunt Lake as they’re presently working to recover the endangered Greenback Cutthroat trout.
The hike is 4.6 miles out and back if you have a low clearance vehicle and you’re unable to drive up to the trailhead. There are some steep sections in the first mile or so, but it gets much easier after those. Otherwise, from the trailhead, it’s 2.4 miles with a modest elevation gain of about 500 feet.
To get there from Creekside Chalets and Cabins: Head west on Highway 50 for about 6 miles and then turn right on Forest Road 230. Continue on for 1.5 miles. You’ll see a snowmobile shop where you can park and hike to the trailhead if you don’t have a high clearance 4x4 vehicle. If your vehicle can easily make it over some rough and rocky sections of road, you can drive right up to the trailhead.
Best Waterfall Hike – Browns Creek Waterfall Trail
Waterfall hikes in Colorado are always great, especially in those summers after a very snowy winter. One of the best things about this trail is that it offers a little bit of everything. Not only will you travel through meadows but you’ll pass through pine and aspen forests as well. You’re also likely to encounter several creek crossings. At certain points along the trail, you’ll be able to enjoy awesome views of Mt. Antero and the valley. The trail has an elevation gain of 984 feet and it’s 6.2 miles roundtrip. While the first 1.5 miles include some steep switchbacks, the rest is more of a gentle incline.
To get there from Creekside: Head east on Highway 50 and then turn left on US 285. Continue on for about 12 miles to County Road 270, where you’ll turn left. Continue straight on County Road 272 and after 2 miles, you’ll need to left turn to stay on County Road 272. You’ll find the clearly marked trailhead 1.6 miles down the road.
Best Wildflower Hike – Greens Creek Trail
If you’re a wildflower lover, you won’t want to miss out on Greens Creek Trail – especially in July and August when flowers will be in full bloom. The trail follows the creek up and it boasts a nice variety of scenery as well as a good mix of tree-covered and open sections. There are also several beaver ponds along the way. It’s moderately difficult, although the first half of it is relatively easy. You can choose to take the trail for its entire length, which is 13.6 miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of about 2,500 feet.
Or you can shorten your hike to best meet your needs. While the trail technically ends at the Monarch Crest Trail, the most energetic among you can continue to explore even more. There’s a number of trails in this area that make for an almost limitless number of possibilities.
To get there: Go east on Highway 50 and you’ll take an almost immediate right onto County Road 241. Then take a left on County Road 220. Continue on to County Road 221, where you’ll take a right. You’ll find the trailhead and a parking area about 2 miles down the road.
Best Lake Hike – Waterdog Lakes
With the Waterdog Lakes hiking trail, you’ll enjoy a bit of a challenge but some great rewards in the way of scenery. It has an elevation gain of 1,180 feet with a top elevation of 11,394 feet above sea level. So if you’re not used to high elevations, you probably want to avoid this one. The trail is a moderately strenuous 3 miles roundtrip with some steep, rocky sections. However, you’ll also come across beautiful streams and forests along your journey before arriving at the picturesque lakes.
As you might have guessed by the name, this is a popular spot for dogs and their owners during the warmer months thanks to all the lakes and streams.
From Creekside Chalets & Cabins: Head west of Highway 50. After you pass Monarch Mountain Lodge, continue on for 2.3 miles. (If you get to Monarch Mountain, you’ve gone too far.) You’ll see a dirt pullout on the left side of the highway. Park here and you’ll find the trailhead across the highway from the pullout.
Best Day Hike – Rainbow Trail
While you can easily make almost any hiking trip into a day hike, not all of them feature the incredible valley and mountain views you’ll get with the Rainbow Trail. This trail is also a great choice for those who are new to the area as it stays below 9,000 feet in elevation with an elevation gain of just 340 feet. It’s 12.5 miles long, so come prepared with plenty of food and snacks. The Rainbow Trail makes it incredibly easy to enjoy all of the natural beauty the area has to offer, so take your time, soak it all in, and remember to take plenty of pictures!
From Creekside Chalets & Cabins: Head east on Highway 50 to Poncha Springs and continue south on US 285. After about 5 miles, you’ll see a parking area on the right side of the highway. The trail can be accessed from the other side of the highway.
Best Choose Your Own Adventure Hike – Arkansas Hills Trail System
Variety is the spice of life, so why not mix up your hiking adventure a bit and tackle several trails in one day? The Arkansas Hills Trail system is easily accessible from downtown Salida. There are a over a dozen trails ranging from easy to strenuous, so you’ll be well-suited whether you’re looking for a relaxed stroll or a vigorous workout. The majority of trails are under 2 miles in length, which is what makes it so convenient to mix and match to your heart’s content. We highly recommend heading over to enjoy the trail system after a hearty breakfast so you can enjoy the town views before it gets too warm.
From Creekside Chalets & Cabins: Head east on Highway 50 toward Salida. Turn left on F Street. At the end of F Street by the river, you’ll find a parking area for the trails.
What Are Your Favorite Hiking Trails in Salida?
We love finding new trails! Let us know about some of your favorites in the comment section and we’ll make sure to include them in future articles.