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Looking for a “backyard to backcountry” experience? Then head to Salida and Buena Vista to experience this aptly named experience given to Chaffee County trail systems by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Accessible from both downtowns, these trails remain snow-free for a good chunk of winter and into spring, meaning you can get deep into the wilderness all year while enjoying stunning views of the Sawatch and Sangres. While the existing trail systems are already amazing, they are always a work in progress; as visitation increases and use patterns change, land managers and nonprofits respond with well-planned solutions that protect the resource while meeting demands. Updates and changes can entirely new trails, but here, they also mean connectors and upgrades that increase accessibility and meet the changing needs of the community. Here’s your guide to what’s new in one of our favorite nooks in the state.

Backside to Pano: Foot Traffic Only
Funded by a grant from Great Outdoors Colorado, the newest highlight in the Arkansas Hills Trails System (on and around “S” Mountain, aka Tenderfoot), is the addition of two foot-traffic-only trails (Backside and Panorama) that combine with existing trails to create a 1.5-mile one-way adventure allowing you (and your pup) to run or hike wild without worrying about getting in the way of bikes. Completed in fall 2023, Backside, which peels off from Lower Sand Dunes, climbs in a hurry, featuring numerous stone steps and offering expansive views of the Arkansas River Valley on its journey to intersect with a saddle just below the start of Pano, another new foot-traffic-only trail that tops out on an overlook with stunning views of the Sawatch, the Sangres and town.

Rise N Shine: Increased Bike Accessibility
Also part of the Ark Hills trail system, Rise N Shine, which was completed in 2022, offers an easier alternative to the very popular and challenging Frontside. With less exposure, wider tread and generally easier grades (there are still some tough climbs that are closer to blue than green), this 1.5-mile route starts smooth for the first half before it climbs up the mesa, where you are rewarded with valley and mountain vistas. From its intersection with Dream On, less experienced riders can choose to descend the way they came. Those seeking a bit more of a challenge can hit Chicken Dinner for a flowy descent back to town.

Pot O’ Gold: Somewhere Over the Rainbow
Opened in spring 2021, Pot O’ Gold, located on the Methodist Mountain trail system, was created as an alternative to the road going up and down Sand Gulch. This 3-mile singletrack connector between the Little Rainbow Trail and the Double Rainbow Trail is an intermediate route. But, don’t underestimate it: The climb is tougher than you expect and the descent steep and twisty in either direction. Try to look up and enjoy the views of Shavano and the Chalk Cliffs. The trail opens up some loop options that incorporate Bear Creek, Gutz, Sol Trains, and the Spartans. Be aware that between Dec. 1 and April 15, Gutz, Pot-o-Gold, and Rainbow are closed in full; Sun Up, Sol Train East, and West are closed above the powerline road.

Crank ‘n’ Hammer: New Buena Vista Gem
First proposed in 2015, Crank ‘n’ Hammer was not added to the BV system until 2023 due to budget constraints. We wish it hadn’t taken so long! Expect technical, punchy singletrack complete with rollers and rock features on this 2.8-mile intermediate route that connects Fistful of Dollars with Camp Elevation South. Run, ride, or hike a loop that includes Camp Elevation South for a 5-mile singletrack adventure that avoids CR 304 and delivers big views of Mount Princeton. This project was made possible by a huge number of volunteers and funded by proceeds from Trail Forge whiskey, an innovative collaboration between Eddyline Brewing and Deerhammer Distillery.

What’s Next?
While there may be new trails coming in 2024, the big news right now is The Chaffee County Trails System & Conservation Plan, which aims to improve the current network and to provide sustainable trail opportunities while protecting our natural resources and wildlife. Efforts are led by a coalition that includes Salida Mountain Trails, Buena Vista Singletrack Coalition, the National Forest Foundation (NFF), Envision Chaffee County, and Chuck Cichowitz (a representative for outfitters and guides). This coalition is coordinating with land management agencies and local governments to help inform decision-making processes. Want to get involved? Public input will be a major factor in developing the plan. During the 18-month planning process, several public meetings will offer an opportunity for community engagement. The first round of meetings is planned for spring 2024. Visit the planning project webpage ( and sign up to stay informed.

Photos by Elk Raven Photography

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