There is so much to see & do in the North Fork Valley – and within a reasonable drive – that we thought instead of suggesting one-size-fits-all itinerary ideas that we would instead provide a menu of ideas to choose from, with recommended time commitments. Choose from the sites below and make a REAL vacation of your stay at the Stone House Inn!
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park - North Rim (25 minute drive to get there - 13 miles. Spend 2 hours +). This is the reason 7/10 guests arrive in Crawford - and it’s a good reason! The park is a picturesque 13 mile drive southwest of the Inn, with the last six miles of the drive on well-maintained gravel. If you are going primarily to take in several of the major overlooks but aren’t contemplating doing much else, then 2-3 hours may be enough time. If you plan to hike some of the trails (or heaven forbid, hike to the bottom of the Canyon), then you could easily spend a full day or longer. The North Rim ranger station is closed more often than not, although Park materials are available at the ranger station’s outdoor brochure racks. If you are looking for the official Visitor Center, that is located on the South Rim. By visiting the North Rim you have chosen the lesser visited Rim of the Canyon and the solitude is worth the price of admission – not to mention the indescribable views! Be aware that, unlike the South Rim, the North Rim road closes for winter, so if you are planning visit between November and mid-April you will want to contact the Park to confirm that the road is open. Check out the Park website by clicking here. Or to read a very useful travel writer's account, with great photos, click here!
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park - South Rim (1 hour 20 minute drive to get there - 68 miles - via Delta/Montrose or 1 hours and 45 minute drive to get there - 79 miles - going south towards Gunnison. Spend 3 hours +). The drive south along the Black Canyon towards Gunnison, then west on Highway 50 is the more scenic, but is a longer drive. Please be aware that a road building project is taking place on this southern route on the Highway 50 portion. For details,click here. The South Rim of the Canyon is where 9/10 visitors to the Black Canyon arrive and so you won't have the intimate experience available on the North Rim. Advantages of taking time to see the South Rim is that the official Visitor Center is located there and Ranger programs are available. Another plus is that, should you venture through Montrose, several good restaurants await you including: Camp Robber (eclectic fine food),Colorado Boy Pizza & Brewery(high quality pies),Pahgre's Pizza, Pasta & Salads, and Guru's Nepalese Restaurant.Check out National Park information by clicking here.
Marrow Point Boat Tour (One hour drive to get there – 42 scenic miles. Spend a half day or more). If you want to see the Black Canyon from the bottom, the safest option is to join the Marrow Point Boat Tour. To be clear, this is a pleasure cruise and not a white water adventure, as the cruise is on the Marrow Point reservoir rather than the rough water of the National Park. To get to the parking area for the tour, drive one hour south from the Inn on Highway 92 to the intersection of Highway 50, travel a very short distance west on Highway 50 to mile marker 130 and find the Pine Creek parking area. From the Pine Creek trail parking area, walk down 232 stairs and enjoy an easy one mile scenic walk along the old railroad bed to reach the boat dock. Leave the parking lot no later than 45 minutes prior to the tour, and allow more time for a slower pace. Meet the ranger at the boat dock. Pre-boarding begins 15 minutes prior to the scheduled departure time; tours begin promptly. Tours run at 10 am and 1 pm every day except Tuesday, and usually from mid-June to mid-September. Be aware that reservations are a must. For details and to reserve your spotclick here.
Grand Mesa National Forest (One hour drive to get there – 50 miles. Spend a half to full day). The Grand Mesa is sometimes said to be the world’s largest flat top mountain. With its 300+ lakes and endless acres of forest, it’s an outdoor paradise – and a good place to cool off in the summer at over 11,000 ft! Wildlife is plentiful, with populations of elk, deer, moose, bear, mountain lion, beaver and many smaller species. Fishing is popular in the many cold water lakes. The Visitor Center is first rate with lots of great information and is located north of Cedaredge just as you crest the top of the Mesa. The Lands End overlook on the western tip of the Mesa is a must. For more information click here. North Fork Valley Orchards (20 minute drive to get there - 15 miles. Spend several hours) If you are craving fresh peaches, apples, cherries, apricots, pears, berries and much more, then there are two orchards that top the list for a visit. The First is Big B’s/Delicious Orchards just about two miles west of Paonia on Highway 133. This is a charming, funky & agri-hip destination. There’s a very nice farm store featuring goods from the farm along with at-the-source farm fresh ciders and hard ciders. If you arrive in September or later make sure to get the unpasteurized “cold pressed” cider – hard to beat! Big B’s has a hard cider following big enough to warrant a hard cider festival in October. There is a sweet little on-site café with tasty and creative food and outdoor seating under a canopy of trees - even tire swings for the kids (or playful adults). Big B’s has regular Friday night live music events during high season (summer & fall) featuring regionally and nationally known touring acts. Fruits and veggies are available pre-picked or pick-your-own. Worth the stop for several reasons.
Our second excellent orchard suggestion is Orchard Valley Farms & Black Bridge Winery. Accessed a quarter mile south of Highway 133 just east of Paonia. Orchard Valley Farms is our pick for “pick-your-own” goodies…they have it all and the peaches are amazing! There’s a great farm store with local fruit and veggies, culinary treats, as well as a tasting room for the winery’s output. One of the nicest features is the location on the banks of North Fork of the Gunnison River. There are Adirondack chairs right by the riverbank – a great place to sip wine or eat a peach! There are plenty of other orchards in the area that are less focused on direct sales, but may be worth checking out.
And don't forget farmer's markets! Every Saturday in Summer and through October, there is a farmer's market hosted at the Creamery Arts Center in downtown Hotchkiss. The market runs from 10am - 2pm. In Paonia, check out Arbol Farmer's Market Tuesday evenings (5-8pm) from mid-May to mid-October at Paonia Town Park. Markets feature live music, wine tasting and a community meal in the shady park!
North Fork Valley Wineries & Breweries (20 minute drive to get there, spend a half day to a full day) - Click on links below to visit winery websites. When I (Nathan) arrived in the the North Fork Valley in 1995 there were no wineries at all. Now there are over a dozen and the interest in their output is growing fast! Winery visits (and agriculture in general) are now a big part of the reason visitors come to the North Fork Valley. While it may be tempting to question the wisdom of grape growing at elevation, the fact is that warm days and cool nights help to concentrate sugars in the wine grapes, resulting in a superior end product! All of our wineries are relatively humble in size. Some are not even open to the public, while a notable few produce not only very fine wines, but also offer a memorable experience to the visitor. Paonia also sports two well-regarded breweries. Below is a list of wineries and breweries with links to their websites.
Paonia: Azura Cellars - Unbelievably beautiful Italian style winery with an art gallery and patio with amazing views of the Valley. Small plates served. Stone Cottage Cellars - Picturesque stone cottage serves as tasting room. Small plates served. Black Bridge Winery - Sip wine and enjoy their orchard fruit while sitting on the banks of the North Fork River. Qutori Wines & Root & Vine Market - Attractive location on the highway right outside Paonia. Nice patio and food offerings. Puesta Del Sol: Alfred Eames Winery - Tastings by appointment only - and worth it! 5280 Winery - Tastings by appointment only. 970-527-6476 Big B's Hard Cider - Two miles west of Paonia right off the highway. This is a destination! Cafe and farm store too plus weekend live music. Paonia United Brewery (P.U.B.) - Local craft beer in a converted church just north of downtown Paonia. The hip crowd can be found here. Chrysalis Brewery - Well liked brewery just off the main street in Paonia. For information on the West Elks AVA - the official wine region designation, click here.
Raft, Kayak & Paddleboard – (20 minute drive to get there - 16 miles. Spend a half day or more) If you like to be out on the water, you have come to a good place. The North Fork Valley features two recreational reservoirs: Crawford State Park and Paonia State Park. In addition, the North Fork of the Gunnison River runs through Delta County from east to west, flowing through Paonia, Hotchkiss and eventually joining the Gunnison River west of Hotchkiss, and continuing west and then northwest on its course towards eventually joining the Colorado River near Grand Junction.
Fortunately, for those who do not travel with their own river gear, Hotchkiss is home to the fantastic Western Slope SUP. Owner Daniel Roman will craft an adventure to meet your interests and talents. Paddleboard lessons are part of the repertoire, so with good instruction you will be ready to get out on the water! Calm Crawford Reservoir is the perfect place to get your paddleboard feet, and then put in at the Gunnison River Pleasure Park National Recreation Area six miles west of Hotchkiss to put your new skills to use…or to embark on your river raft or kayak trip. It should be noted that this area of the Gunnison River offers “Gold Medal” fishing and has been a secret getaway location for well-known personalities - even Jimmy Carter and international diplomats have reportedly fished these waters!
If you are looking for convenient public river access to the North Fork of the Gunnison River, you have two good options. There is a nice new launch accessed from the Delta County Fairgrounds in Hotchkiss - on the north side of the river not far from the bridge crossing Highway 92 (use fairgrounds entrance). There is also river access atPaonia River Park. The River Park is accessed on the main street of Paonia about a quarter mile north of downtown, off Shady Lane. The River Park was developed by the Western Slope Conservation Center and includes displays about living in concert with the local river environment.
Needle Rock – (10 minute drive to get there - 4 miles. Spend 1-3 hours) Needle Rock, a 700’ high volcanic neck, makes a really dramatic photo subject. It is located on the east edge of “Missouri Flats”, about four miles east of the Inn. Missouri Flats is a picturesque agricultural area in a somewhat hidden valley, so get your camera ready for a work out! The base of Needle Rock has a small parking area, a covered picnic area, and is the location of the Needle Rock trailhead. The trail is not very long (about half mile one way), but it is quite rugged with some elevation gain, so be sure to wear sturdy shoes. The trail takes you to the northern base of the rock, but does NOT take you to the top of the spire…unless you are way more adventuresome than is good for your wellbeing (the rock tends to be flaky and is not ideal for climbing). TIP: The Needle Rock parking area is a magnificent spot to view the night sky. There are no sources of artificial light visible from this location and the silhouette of the rock against the night sky is a lovely frame to look for shooting stars, or simply to contemplate the vastness of being. To see if a meteor shower will be happening while you are visiting,click here.For a nice video view of Needle Rock, click here.
Crawford State Park – (2 minute drive to get there - 1.5 miles. Spend 1 hour to a day) Crawford State Park is located just a mile south of the Inn and is a major water sports destination in the area. The entry station has a very nice Visitor Center and helpful staff. Folks go to the 400 acre reservoir to fish (both fair weather & ice fishing), launch a power or fishing boat at the boat ramp, put in a kayak, canoe or enjoy the lake on stand-up paddleboard, or to take a dip at the swim beach. Many covered picnic areas are available, as well as several easy hiking trails. TIP: Travel around to the far side of the lake (using the road that leads to the Black Canyon), and hike the trail at that entrance to the lake. If you are looking for a scenic shot, this is hard to beat: the lake, with boats in the foreground, with Needle Rock rising in the distant valley, backed by the peaks of the West Elk wilderness…simply lovely! Please note: While the reservoir is a major recreation resource, it is primarily used for irrigation water for the surrounding area. In dryer years (unfortunately these are too common), the boat ramp and swim beach may close as early as mid-July if the water gets too low. Even when the water is too low to launch a power boat, there will always be enough water to use self-powered watercraft or to throw a line in the water. To check on lake conditions or for more information, check out the Park’s website by clicking here.
Eagle Rock Overlook – (20 minute drive to get to the trailhead - 17 miles. Spend 1-2 hours) While this archeological site has been known quietly for many years, it has not been managed for public use until a few years ago. The access is less than a mile west of the access to Gunnison River Pleasure Park National Recreation Area (Gold Medal fishing, rafting, etc) and about seven miles west of Hotchkiss. A “natural” dirt road takes you to the trail head, so this may not be ideal unless you have 4-wheel or all-wheel drive vehicle. This archeological site is the oldest known habitation site in Colorado at over 12,000 years. Rock art can be seen here and it is interesting to imagine what life must have been like thousands of years before Mesa Verde was inhabited. An excellent write up can be viewed by clicking here.
Hotchkiss National Fish Hatchery – (20 minute drive to get there - 15 miles. Spend one hour) Sport fishing in Colorado is a popular pastime and with so many folks enjoying this sport, it is left to the State to make sure that Colorado’s rivers and lakes are well-stocked! The Hotchkiss National Fish Hatchery has been giving a nudge to fish populations since 1967. The Hatchery, which is located off the Valley’s well-trod pathways, south of the hamlet of Lazear (a few miles southwest of Hotchkiss), offers an up close look at how fish stocks are maintained. To learn more, click here.
Fort Uncompahgre – (40 minute drive to get there - 32 miles. Spend one hour) The first non-native visitors to Delta County arrived in 1776, when missionaries Escalante and Dominguez ventured through. In the late 1820’s, Antoine Robidoux set up a fort and trading post at the confluence of the Gunnison and Uncompahgre rivers, just west of Delta, to serve local fur trappers. Fort Uncompahgre was active until the mid 1840’s when the local Utes decided the fort was introducing an unwelcome influence. On the fort’s original location now sits a reconstructed, historically accurate second act. The Fort provides an eye-opening look into the lives of trappers, mountain men & the native Utes of the area. A nice visitor center and gift shop is on-site. To learn more click here.
Pioneer Town (45 minute drive to get there – 34 miles. Spend one hour) Cedaredge is the site of Pioneer Town. Partially a collection of historical settler and agricultural buildings which have been preserved and moved to this site, and partially a faux old western town. Like Fort Uncompahgre, Pioneer Town offers a glimpse of Delta County’s past. A nice gift shop/visitor center is on-site. This can be a nice stop on the way to or from a foray to Grand Mesa. Learn more by clicking here.
Dominguez-Escalante Canyon National Conservation Area (1 hour drive to get there - 40 miles. Spend half to full day) The Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation area, about 9 miles northwest of Delta off Highway 50, provides abundant wildlife and historical sites, as well as stunning scenery. No visitor center or facilities exist on site (save for porta-potties at the entrance). The Conservation Area offers an undeveloped look at western Colorado's canyon country. No crowds, guaranteed! For information, click here.
Dry Mesa Dinosaur Quarry Paleontological Site (One hour and 15 minute drive to get there - 55 miles) Imagine gigantic dinosaurs plodding over the Uncompahgre Plateau - they did millions of years ago! Dry Mesa Quarry is a 55 acre site located within the Jurassic Morrison formation and contains fossils with a geologic age of approximately 150 million years. The quarry is located 26 miles southwest of Delta on the Uncompahgre Plateau. Excavation activity has yielded remains of many different kinds of extinct animals including partial skeletons of animals not previously known to science - including some of the largest ever discovered: Supersaurus & Ultrasaurus. The site was actively excavated from 1972-2000. Click herefor more information.
Hotchkiss Crawford Historical Society Museum – (15 minute drive to get there – 11 miles. Spend one hour) While this museum has pretty limited hours (weekends only), the museum is a small but enjoyable window into life in the Valley from the time of the first white settlement in 1882 to present. The museum also contains a respectable collection of artifacts and information representing the native population of the area. Click herefor more information.
North Fork Valley Geology, Wine & Orchard Tours - (20 minute drive to get there - 15 miles. Spend half to a full day) Led by retired geologist Dr. David Noe & wife Jo Anne Jarreau, Colorado Detours offers guided driving and hiking tours of the geology of the area - including the Black Canyon & Needle Rock. Wine & orchard tours are also popular. Tours are enjoyable and very educational.
Fishing - (2 minute to one hour drive to get there - spend as long as you wish!). While your innkeepers do not have fishing experience and so cannot impart much advice, the North Fork Valley offers numerous opportunities for a fishing foray.Crawford State Park, located less than two miles from the Inn, has a 400-acre stocked lake which is popular with fisher-people both in fair weather and during winter, for the ice fishing opportunities. Crystal Creek, about 8 miles south of Crawford, is a wilder option. The North Fork of the Gunnison River running through Paonia & Hotchkiss offers another good opportunity. Paonia State Park, sixteen miles east of Paonia, features a large (long) lake with plenty of fishing spots and a boat ramp on the east end of the lake. Colorado's largest body of water, Blue Mesa Reservoir, is a scenic one hour drive south of Crawford and is a very popular fishing destination. And last but not least...Grand Mesa National Forest - about an hour drive northwest - boasts over 300 cold water lakes!
It should be noted that the section of the Gunnison River west of Hotchkiss offers “Gold Medal” fishing and has been a secret getaway location for well-known personalities - even Jimmy Carter and international diplomats have reportedly fished these waters! For guided fishing trips, contact Gunnison River Expeditions or The Gunnison River Pleasure Park (business as opposed to the Recreation Area).
Day Trips Worth the Effort...
Crested Butte via Kebler Pass/Lost Lake (2 hour 15 minute drive to get there) No matter which route you take to Crested Butte, it will be breathtaking and well worth the trip. The route over Kebler Pass takes you through the world's largest and oldest living organism - a huge aspen forest - with lovely mountain scenery (especially beautiful the second half of September and into October during color changing). Consider stopping at Lost Lake along the route for nice scenery and an enjoyable hike. Crested Butte is a charming and historic mountain town with a past rooted in mining. Present day Crested Butte is an artsy bohemian town with a nice downtown, supporting fun and interesting shops and a very nice selection of restaurants. During winter Crested Butte is a ski destination. This is our favorite ski town. Some favorite spots: Butte Bagels and Montana Rum Distillery. Keep in mind that Kebler Pass is well-maintained but partially gravel - and closes over winter. Crested Butte via Hwy 92 & Gunnison (2 hour drive to get there) This route to Crested Butte (south on Colorado Highway 92) is totally different terrain than over Kebler Pass. The drive takes you along the Black Canyon and offers stunning views, including the San Juan mountains in the distance. The road is paved and well-maintained. The drive is especially curvy with many drop offs. If you are especially troubled by such road conditions, it might be best to take the Kebler Pass route. This southern route takes you over the Blue Mesa Dam - Blue Mesa Reservoir is the largest body of water in Colorado and popular for water sports. You will travel through the small college town of Gunnison which has some nice shops and good spots to eat (Mario's Pizza is recommended...or Garlic Mike's for the evening meal). Redstone & Marble (1 hour and 15 minute drive to get there) If you drive north and east on Colorado Highway 133 you will enjoy wonderful views over McClure Pass (paved and well maintained). The first town once you clear the pass is Marble, which is accessed off the highway by taking Gunnison County Road #3 for 8 miles. Marble is really less of a town than the site of the old marble quarry, a collection of summer homes (mostly), an art gallery or two and locally well-liked Slow Groovin' BBQ. If you continue on the road past Marble for some distance you will come to an old mill site that is one of the most popular locations in Colorado for photographers. The old Marble mill site is enchanting. After an avalanche destroyed the mill earlier in the 20th century, the remains (mostly large marble pillars) feel reminiscent of ruins you might find in Greece. A level and fairly primitive foot path lets you meander through the site, which borders the Crystal River - aptly named.
Leaving Marble (backtracking to Colorado Highway 133) you will then travel east an additional 11 miles to the former coal mining town of Redstone. Redstone, a planned mining community with a very interesting history, is situated on the other side of the Crystal River from the highway. You will turn at the beehive-looking coke ovens along the highway and cross the bridge. The first thing you will see upon entering town is the Redstone Inn, a charming historic inn with a nice restaurant (featuring the world's largest collection of original vintage Stickley furniture). It is worth stepping inside for the historic feel and a good meal. The town has a dozen or so shops and galleries as well as a wonderful riverside park (with public bathrooms and a playground for kids). This is a marvelous place to relax and watch the river or read a book. Don't miss the tiny, but very informative, museum adjacent to the park. Understanding the history of Redstone really enhances the experience. Consider the delicious Propaganda Pie for top notch Pizza. Walking the main street (only street) is ultimately enjoyable...and if you have the time, continue on the road as it leaves town. Redstone Castle, about a mile west of town - accessed from a drive leading from the Redstone Inn - was a masterpiece of its day. Check for tour times. Note: Redstone has a marvelous summer music festival - free admission every Saturday night in summer. For details, click here.
Avalanche Ranch Hot Springs (1 hour and 20 minute drive to get there) If you have plans of visiting Marble and/or Redstone, and enjoy a good soak, you will want to drive an additional five miles east on Colorado Highway 133 to check out Avalanche Ranch Hot Springs. This is a fairly new hot springs and admission is carefully managed, so a drop in will probably not result in soak time. You will want to call the hot springs for a reservation well in advance. Click here for the website. There are four soaking pools of various sizes and temperatures, and this is one of the most scenic locations for a hot springs that you will find. To enhance the experience there is an antique/gift shop on site that is very enjoyable. If you want a more rustic hot springs experience, look for cars parked along the river between Redstone and Avalanche Ranch - that will be the location of Penny Hot Spring - lovingly referred to as "the Hippie Dip". Free in every way imaginable.
Aspen (2 hour and 15 minute drive to get there) What can be said about Aspen that hasn't been said before? For those with deep pockets and a fascination with the world of glamor, Aspen is a "must see". Many super-exclusive shops and restaurants of impeccable credentials, nightlife galore and endless people watching opportunities. Except for the service class, there are probably fewer Coloradans in Aspen than anywhere else in the state. Still, it is a sight to behold. Ridgway & Ouray/Hot Springs (1 hour and 45 minute drive to get there) Ridgway, where much of the classic Western True Grit was filmed, is also the unlikely home town the Grammy awards (made by three craftsmen in a small shop). The town has an absolutely marvelous town park, downtown, plenty of interesting Old West buildings, nice shops and many options for good food (Colorado Boy Pizza, Gnar Tacos, Land & Sea Costa Rican). Ridgway is small but fun and has seen a recent renaissance. Worth a stop if going to Ouray or Telluride.
Ouray, just about eight miles south of Ridgway, is known as "The Switzerland of America" due to the indisputably stunning Alp-like San Juan Mountains which surround the town on three sides. The town is an excellently preserved example of an Old West town. Plenty of architecture and history to sate your curiosity. Ouray is an enjoyable diversion and a jumping off point for those wishing to enjoy the wilder areas of the surrounding mountains. Lots and lots of shops, restaurants to draw your attention, as well as the famous Ouray Hot Springs. Unlike most other Colorado hot springs, this is managed by the municipality of Ouray and is popular with families. For information,click here.
Orvis Hot Springs (1 hour and 45 minute drive to get there) Just a mile south of Ridgway is one of the best hot springs in the state, Orvis Hot Springs. There are three indoor pools, six outdoor pools, a sauna and massage services on-site - set amongst lovely landscaping and marvelous views of the surrounding mountains. This is one of our favorite destinations for a day trip (when combined with stops in Ridgway and Ouray), however, be aware that the outdoor facilities are clothing optional. Click here for information on Orvis. Hot springs really are one of our favorite Colorado activities. For a good primer on what is available in Colorado,click here.
Telluride (2 hour and 20 minute drive to get there) The second best-known ski town in Colorado - maybe a rung or two down the glitz ladder from Aspen (a plus in our opinion), Telluride is still pretty upscale with great shops and notable restaurants. Don't miss the marvelous Telluride Truffles down a side street. Walking the side streets and along the river is enjoyable, as is the free gondola from Telluride to sister town, Mountain Village. No visit to Telluride is complete without the gondola ride! Mountain Village is an exclusive "planned village". Not bad for that sort of thing, but not historic or particularly interesting.
Carbondale, Glenwood Springs & Hot Springs (1 hour and 50 minute drive to get there) Beyond Redstone, on Highway 133, is Carbondale - and further north, Glenwood Springs. Both have their bright spots and both are primarily bedroom communities for those serving the rich and powerful of Aspen. Carbondale has a historic downtown with some nice shops and restaurants - a quarter mile off the highway. Glenwood Springs is best known for its hot springs - there are two. The older, historic, Glenwood Hot Springs, features a very large hot springs pool, including lap lanes, as well as a therapy pool. This is where Doc Holliday came to unsuccessfully treat his tuberculosis (he is buried on a hillside on the edge of town). Iron Mountain Hot Springs is relatively new, and sports 16 smallish soaking pools of various temperatures. Both have lovely views, but the latter requires reservations to secure soak time, as well as soaking time limits. To learn about Iron Mountain Hot Springs, click here. To learn about Glenwood Hot Springs, click here. On the nearby mountainside is Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park. Tour the "Fairy Caves" and ride one-of-a-kind rides. It's an odd combo, but is worth checking out. Click here for the website. Also, consider white water rafting on the Colorado River by working with a local guide.
Colorado National Monument (1 hour and 25 minute drive to get there) Colorado National Monument is located just outside of Grand Junction and serves as a preview of the grand landscapes of Utah. A worthwhile stop, with some amazing views.
Lake City (2 hour and 10 minute drive to get there) Billed as the most remote town in the lower 48 states, Lake City is near...well, nothing really, except lovely scenery and lots of wildlife. This is a small town frequented by outdoor enthusiasts and containing a handful of fun shops situated in the historic downtown. Several restaurants and coffee shops provide sustenance. There is also a nice museum downtown as well as a small park. A charming stop and a nice place to chill.
Pitkin/Tin Cup (2 hour drive to get there) Once the fifth largest city in Colorado, during the silver mining boom of the early 1880's, Pitkin's fortunes quickly went south with the silver bust of 1893 when the town went into steep decline. Fires did not help matters. Today, Pitkin has 66 full-time residents and a number of summer homes. It is mostly an outpost for forays into the surrounding national forest, and as the jumping off point to 12,000 foot high Cumberland Pass - the highest passenger vehicle pass in the United States. Be aware, this is not recommended unless you have a four wheel drive vehicle - if so, it is highly recommended! At the top of the pass, consider taking a short hike. The thin air will make a short hike just about right! Once summiting the pass from Pitkin you will eventually end up in Tin Cup. Not really a town, but an almost-ghost town with no full-time residents. A few old settler buildings exist, however the pioneer/miner's cemetery is worth the trip in itself. One can return over Cumberland Pass to Pitkin or continue on to Taylor Park Reservoir and then west to Almont...and ultimately on to Crested Butte or Gunnison. Don't miss stopping to see the Pitkin Hotel, which is charmingly under-renovated and retains the authentic feel of an old western hotel with shared bathrooms. If you stay, ask for the Roosevelt Room - where Teddy was rumored to have stayed in 1905.
On & Beyond...
Salida/Buena Vista (2 hour and 40 minute drive to get there) From the Inn, head south on Colorado Highway 92 and then east on US Highway 50. Once you cross Monarch Pass you will soon drop into Salida. This is one of our favorite Colorado mountain towns. Salida has a thriving downtown with many historic buildings housing a proliferation of fun shops and nice restaurants. The town has an artsy, Bohemian feel, and a nice shady park along the river. About 20 minutes north of Salida is Buena Vista (cringingly pronounced by locals 'Byu-na Vista'). Buena Vista is certainly worth a stop if you are contemplating driving further on towards Leadville. The town has a similar feel to Salida, with a similar creative bent. The downtown has been nicely restored and there are some nice shops to explore.
Leadville (3 hour and 15 minute drive to get there) If heading north from Buena Vista, you will drive about 35 miles to the town of Leadville. Leadville was once a prosperous mining town and there are many buildings celebrating the architectural style of the late 19th century, including the famous Tabor Opera House and the Delaware Hotel. At over 10,000 feet, Leadville has the distinction of being the highest incorporated city in the United States. The town is quite enjoyable - again, many shops and restaurants to explore. Leadville is enjoying a bit of a renaissance, but is thankfully still full of history and western charm. The word "authentic" seems fitting, as it is not as polished as some other mountain towns. A nice brief stop on the way to Leadville is the tiny hamlet of Twin Lakes. Just a quaint general store, art gallery, museum, and inn adjacent to two calm lakes, and not much more.
Creede If you are taking the trouble to get to isolated Lake City, and are planning on heading further south in Colorado, then the charming small town of Creede would be a worthwhile way station. The downtown is nestled into the surrounding cliffs in an almost cozy way. A handful of shops and restaurants make this a nice place to stretch your legs for an hour or two. Durango/Silverton/Narrow Gauge Railroad via "Million Dollar Highway" (3 hour and 30 minute drive to get to Durango) One of the most scenic drives in Colorado is the road between Ouray and Durango. The portion of the highway between Ouray and Silverton (which rests between Ouray and Durango) is commonly called the "Million Dollar Highway". While an unbelievably beautiful drive through the San Juan Mountains, it can also be a bit unnerving in places for those not comfortable with heights. The road is paved and well maintained, but traverses some precarious terrain with sheer drop offs. There is some debate if the nickname of the road refers to the cost to build it or to the quality of the views, but both may have some validity. If you take this route it is worth imagining the brave settlers who first put this road in - using primitive equipment and loads of fearlessness and grit!
Silverton, as the name implies, was a booming mining town in the late 1800's, and is one of the best examples of in-tact historic western architecture. It feels so authentic that it is easy to imagine what the town's past was. Silverton is now popular with outdoor enthusiasts due to the extensive outdoor playground in every direction, and is a fine stop for connoisseurs of the Old West. Like Leadville, Silverton is slowly sprucing up, but still has a lot of western charm. Plenty of shops and restaurants fill the downtown.
The next town to the south, and the regional capital of southwest Colorado, is Durango. Durango is a college town with a very enjoyable downtown and every amenity that a traveler would need. If railroad history is of interest, check out the Durango/Silverton narrow gauge railroad. Taking the train from Durango to Silverton (or visa versa) provides a scenic adventure and a good taste of what train travel was like nearly 150 years ago!
Great Sand Dunes National Park (3 hour and 45 minute drive to get there) If you ever wanted to feel like you were in the Sahara (albeit with high mountains all around), the Great Sand Dunes is where you want to be. It is really amazing and well worth a National Park designation.
Mesa Verde National Park (3 hour and 45 minute drive to get there) Mesa Verde National Park is popular for a good reason. If you have any interest at all in indigenous history, it would be criminal to miss seeing this Park.
Moab, UT/Arches National Park/Canyonlands National Park (3 hour drive to get there) Moab, Utah is not notable so much for the town as for what surrounds it. There are a few blocks of interesting tourist-oriented shops and nice restaurants (especially the Thai restaurant west of downtown), but for the most part, Moab is a few miles of unremarkable hotels catering to the millions and millions of tourists who visit each year. The Moab Rock Shop is worth a stop and devoting some time to enjoy all of the interesting rocks, fossils and more on site. An editorial note on getting there...Driving to US Interstate 70 at Grand Junction and heading west is recommended. There are two entries to Moab from Interstate 70. Utah State Highway 191 is more heavily traveled, however the drive is unremarkable in almost every way. The much better and more scenic option is to take Dead Horse Mesa Scenic Byway, on Utah Highway 313 between Interstate 70 and Moab. Many miles of stunning canyon driving as opposed to exposed desert driving.
Arches National Park is scenically stunning and is nearly mandatory for any admirer of the great outdoors. We say this despite the fact that the unrelenting mobs of tourists in the warmer months diminish the enjoyment. In our experience, the best times to visit are March/April or late October/November. At these times the crowds are notably smaller and the weather is not typically too hot or too cold. From first hand experience, summertime visitation is not recommended.
Canyonlands National Park, not far from Arches, is more expansive and less crowded. It is possible to be alone with your thoughts in many spots in the Park.