Parks and Recreation Areas
South central Colorado is chock-full of parks and recreational areas. Almost every chamber of commerce will have a list of trails in the near vicinity, so when you're asking for general information about the city, ask for a list of trails, too. Many cities are still recovering from the 2013 flood that caused significant damage across the state so call the local parks department or forest service for closures before venturing out. The Arkansas River flows through this region, so every spring and summer people come here to raft through a mix of challenging white-water rapids interspersed with smoothly flowing sections. Pike, bass, and trout are plentiful in this region: popular fishing spots include Spinney Mountain Reservoir (between Florissant and Buena Vista), the Arkansas and South Platte rivers, and Trinidad Lake. Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in the San Luis Valley is perfect for walking up (and sliding down) the dunes, hiking on mountain trails, kite flying, and wildlife viewing. Monarch, west of Salida, is the nearest ski area.
Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area. This area is unique because it follows a linear 152-mile stretch of the Arkansas River, from the mountains near Leadville to Lake Pueblo. The Arkansas River is popular for rafting and kayaking, and fishermen love it for its brown trout. (Anglers near Salida reported good luck with 'hoppers, not to mention the caddis hatch every Mother's Day.) There are six campgrounds along the river. Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, 307 W. Sackett Ave., Salida, Colorado, 81201. 719/539–7289; www.parks.state.co.us/parks/arkansasheadwaters.
Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. This wilderness region northwest of Buena Vista includes 14 mountains above 14,000 feet and is known for superb hiking, mountain biking, and climbing and a few ghost towns. Leadville Ranger District, San Isabel National Forest, 810 Front St., Leadville, Colorado, 80461. 719/486–0749.
Pike National Forest. This massive forest encompasses millions of acres of public land that stretch along the Front Range and go deep into the Rockies. Pikes Peak is the best-known 14,000-footer in Pike—and one of the most famous in the state. Forest entry is always free. Forest Service Office, 2840 Kachina Dr. , Pueblo, Colorado, 81008. 719/553–1400; www.fs.usda.gov/psicc.
Ring of the Peak. This collection of trails, four-wheel-drive roads, and a few paved roads circles Pikes Peak. Altitudes range between 6,400 and 11,400 feet. Check the website for trail access. www.ringthepeak.com.