While Chaffee County offers plenty of things to do, from the mountains to the river to numerous festivals in both Salida and Buena Vista, the area is known as the Crossroads of the Rockies for a reason.
Three major highways lead out of the county: U.S. 50 heading east toward Gunnison and west toward Pueblo, U.S. 285 heading south into the San Luis Valley and U.S. 285/24 northeast into Park County toward Denver Colorado Springs, and U.S. 24 heading north toward Leadville.
Whether you are passing through, heading home or a local looking for a day trip, consider some of these interesting stops along your way.
U.S. 285/24 North
Antero Reservoir is a great place to fish and has been known to hold record-breaking trout. From Johnson Village drive 13 miles to where U.S. 24 splits off to go east. Drive another 8.5 miles on U.S. 24 to Colo. 80 and turn left to the reservoir. A fishing license is required for those older than 16. Boat inspections for invasive species is required. Visit denverwater.org/recreation/antero-resevoir for information.
Fairplay is home to South Park City, 100 Fourth St., a unique museum of buildings from the 1870s and 1880s. Many of the buildings were transported here from other mining towns to set up a town typical of most mining boomtowns in the central Rockies. Visitors can tour the buildings, and the museum has living history days Aug. 10-11 with costumed guides. Fees are $10 for adults, $5 for children ages 6-12. Children younger than 6 get in free. From Johnson Village take U.S. 285/24 north 37 miles. South Park City is a few blocks down Main Street on the left. Fairplay also has several funky places to go for a meal, including Brown Burro Café, 706 Main St., and the Middle Fork Restaurant at Fairplay Valiton Hotel, 500 Main St.
Como, about 10 miles north of Fairplay, is an old railroad town that houses a historic roundhouse with a working roundtable and depot from the 1880s. Visiting the structures gives the visitor a sense of how busy this little hamlet was in the days of steam locomotives. Aug. 17 Boreas Pass Railroad Day provides the opportunity to experience the high line road the train used to take and visit several historic sites along the way. Visit southparkrail for more information.
U.S. 285 South
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve consists of a 30-square-mile dune field with dunes as tall as 750 feet. The area is so much like another planet that even NASA uses the area to test its robots. Visitors can hike, picnic and even slide down the dunes on sand boards or sand sleds.
The park is open 24 hours a day all year. No camping is available at the park, but there are nearby camping areas. The park is 90 miles from Salida, south on U.S. 285 to Colo. 17, County Lane 6 and Colo. 150. Check out more at nps.gov/grsa/index.htm.
Saguache is about 45 miles southwest of Salida, right on U.S. 285. This historic town is the county seat of Saguache County.
The Saguache Museum gives visitors a good look at life in historic Colorado, including information on convicted cannibal Alferd Packer, who did time at the Saguache County Jail, which is now part of the museum. It’s also a great jumping off point to the Rio Grande National Forest, and Colo. 114 follows the original Old Spanish Trail.
U.S. 50 West
Monarch Crest about 18 miles west of Poncha Springs on U.S. 50 is situated at the Continental Divide at an elevation of 11,312 feet. There is a fully stocked gift shop and snack bar that features homemade fudge, and an impressive taxidermy display of animals the owners have hunted over the years.
Nearby is the Monarch Crest Aerial Tramway that takes visitors to an observation tower at the top of the mountain. Buy tickets at the gift shop.
Several hiking/biking trails start out here.
For more information visit monarchcrest.net/
Blue Mesa Reservoir is about 79 miles from Poncha Springs and is a long, narrow body of water suitable for boating. Camping sites are available. The reservoir is part of the Curecanti National Recreation Area. Visit nps.gov/cure for more information.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, about 122 miles west of Poncha Springs, features dramatic cliffs and a drop of as much as half a mile to the Gunnison River. The river has carved its path through layers of rock, including some of earth’s oldest rocks from the Precambrian era. The park has a visitors center and several trails and drivable access to scenic views. There is a campground and access to the river via a steep access road. Visit nps.gov/blca for information about the park and campgrounds.
U.S. 50 East
About 54 miles east of Salida, Royal Gorge Bridge and Park is home to America’s highest bridge, stretching over a canyon deeper then the Grand Canyon. The site includes the bridge, tramway, zipline and sightseeing platform. It is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., year-round, weather permitting. Learn more at royalgorgebridge.com.
Cañon City, the third oldest city in Colorado, offers a variety of things to see and do. About a hour east of Salida, Cañon City is home to the Colorado Prison Museum (prisonmuseum.org), open seven days a week from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. during the summer. It also is home to the Royal Gorge Route Railway (royalgorgeroute.com), which offers trips by rail through the Royal Gorge daily. You can also get an amazing view of the surrounding area from Skyline Drive, a road that runs along the top of a high razorback ridge overlooking Cañon City. Follow the signs just west of town on U.S. 50.
U.S. 24 North
Twin Lakes Reservoir is about 25 miles north of Buena Vista. Take Colo. 82 to the lake. There are several entrances to the area, and the reservoir is open for fishing and boating.
Interlaken is an abandoned “ghost” resort that can be reached on foot or boat. All of the buildings save one are closed, but the grounds can be explored. To reach the hiking trail turn off on CR 25, which will end in a parking area for the Colorado Trail; follow signs for the trail. The hike is about 4.5 miles round trip.
Twin Lakes and Interlaken Boat Tours offers twice daily trips across the lake to the resort area. Visit twinlakesinterlakenboattours.com/ for schedules and prices.
The Villiage of Twin Lakes is located further up Colo 82. The Twin Lakes Inn & Saloon is a good place to grab a meal and a drink. The inn also offers overnight lodging in the historic 1879 structure. Visit thetwinlakesinn.com for more information.
The City of Leadville, about 34 miles north of Buena Vista, is home to several museums, including historic homes, most of which are included in Leadville’s Museum Passport available for purchase at the Golden Burro Café, the Healy House Museum, the Leadville and Lake County Chamber of Commerce or the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum.
The National Mining Hall of Fame and museum not only houses a collection dedicated to mining but also has the Hall of Fame honoring pioneers in the mining industry.
The museum also curates the Matchless Mine, which provided the Tabor fortune in the late 1800s and was the last home of Elizabeth “Baby Doe” Tabor.
The Leadville, Colorado & Souther Railroad offers scenic rail rides through the summer and fall. Visit leadville-train.com for schedules and fares.