When Salida was founded in 1880 as an outpost for the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad, people had a less than favorable attitude toward the Arkansas River. Its rushing water and narrow canyons above and below town were feared by residents and cursed by the railroad. Low-rent flophouses and brothels lined “undesirable” riverfront property. What a difference 130 years makes. Today, the river is the focal point of downtown and attracts outdoor enthusiasts of all sorts, including some 300,000 boaters who come to the area to paddle on the country’s sixth longest river.
Park-and-play originated in Salida in the 1960s with the construction of an enhanced site for the FIBArk Festival. Today, two play holes and a slalom course are the legacy of a late-‘80s transformation of a rundown section of river to a whitewater playground by visionary local boaters.
After sessioning Salida, drive 30 minutes upriver to Buena Vista, where you’ll find four play waves and holes (six after improvements scheduled for this year). Up- and downriver of Salida, the Arkansas River challenges beginners and experienced boaters alike. Among the most popular runs are Brown’s Canyon, serving up 16 miles of deep, playful class III, and Pine Creek, six miles of in-your-face class IV–V just north of Buena Vista.
Mountain biking: New for 2010, the Arkansas Hills trail system now starts just across the river from the F Street Bridge and whitewater park. This singletrack stacked loop system offers hours of meandering climbs, high-speed downhill and stunning vistas of the Collegiate Peaks.
Hiking: Just beyond Salida city limits, hundreds of miles of multi-use trails traverse and summit fifteen 14,000- foot peaks in the surrounding Sawatch Mountains.
Grub, Pub and Hubbub
Started in 1949, FIBArk is the oldest whitewater festival in North America and still boasts one of the toughest downriver races: 26 miles from Salida to Cotapaxi. In addition to downriver races, slalom and freestyle, FIBArk features live music and the popular Hooligan Race in which costumed locals pilot wacky homemade watercraft through the rapids.