Travel After 50: Small towns, big personality
The North Fork Valley, home to Paonia, Hotchkiss and Crawford, is full of thriving communities of artists and creative businesses tucked amid western Colorado’s unspoiled wilderness.
To the delight of lovers of the arts, the North Fork Valley Creative Coalition — which manages the Paonia Creative District — has welcomed artists of all mediums to the area. And the valley’s charming small towns have so much to offer — it’s hard to know where to start. Read on for ideas on things to do and where to eat and stay.
From a thriving Certified Colorado Creative District and award-winning wineries to one-of-a-kind farm experiences, Paonia has a lot offer.
Paonia’s Creative District could be from a Norman Rockwell painting, with turn-of-the-century buildings housing galleries and artist studios. Blue Sage Center for the Arts is a highlight — see the latest gallery show and find out what events are happening. Across the street, outlined in dark orange, is the historic Paradise Theatre, where you can catch a movie or live musical performance. Take a stroll to admire the Art Wall at Elsewhere Studios, an artist residency program that hosts creatives from around the world.
After getting your cultural fix, use the Valley Organic Growers Association’s directory to find a farm to visit. Berg Harvest produces cherries, peaches, apples and pears, while JuNo Farms specializes in Asian specialty produce and free-range eggs. Once you’ve collected some just-picked produce, it’s time for a glass of wine. The West Elks American Viticultural Area (AVA) boasts some of the highest vineyards in North America and some of Colorado’s best wine. Have the Yacht Club Red, aged in French oak at Azura Cellars, an idyllic winery and art gallery with lovely views. Or Stone Cottage Cellars makes an exquisite Rose of Pinot Noir and has a cottage for those interested in extending their trip.
Rent an e-bike or cruiser from Cirque Cyclery, a must-visit boutique with a variety of bikes and gifts. Purchase a colorful purse or plaid shirt at Refinery, where everything is made entirely from reclaimed fabrics in Paonia. Trader Mag’s is a vintage store with a beauty counter that sells products you can only get on the Western Slope. Be sure to pop into Root & Vine Market for a glass of wine or a cup of locally roasted coffee.
Take part in Final Friday Frolics year-round, an art walk through the North Fork Valley Creative Coalition. If you like your art with a side of pastoral splendor, go on the North Fork Valley Art and Ag Tour — a showing of organic orchards, wineries and artists’ studios in late August/early September. Late November brings the Holiday Art Fair, which is the best place to pick up one-of-a-kind presents.
Fuel up at The Living Farm Cafe, a farm-to-table experience where the lamb enchiladas are to-die-for. Or try Berg Harvest Farm and Mercantile, where the Veggie Lovers pizza is covered in fresh mushrooms, bell peppers and red onions. Have a Brie panini at Remedy Juice Bar and Cafe and wash it down with a Green-Eyed Lady cold-pressed juice.
One-of-a-Kind Places to Stay
One block from downtown, the Bross Hotel is housed in a 112-year-old historic red-brick building. After checking into your room, pop a squat in one of the rocking chairs on the porch. The Wisehart Springs Inn looks like a fairytale with its stone-turret entrance, but the real beauty lies in the Mountain View Room where you get panoramic views of Lamborn Mesa. Eleven minutes from downtown, the Agape Farm and Retreat is a refuge from the hubbub of life — stay in the property’s yurt for something different.
Orchards brimming with mouthwatering produce, Gold Medal trout fishing and only-in-Colorado events are just the beginning of the fun in this agriculturally rooted enclave.
Hotchkiss is also home to world-class wineries. Make your first stop The Storm Cellar, a boutique winery producing high-elevation white wines and rose. Leroux Creek Inn is a touch of Provence in the North Fork Valley. Sip on the 2010 Chambourcin, which won a gold medal at the Sonoma Country Harvest Fair; and stay at their bed and breakfast. Mesa Winds Farm & Winery is a lush farm with a dry, refreshing pinot gris.
If you need some substance, Ela Family Farms sells its certified organic peaches, apples and cherries, along with jams, fruit butters and other products, and hosts tours, and Big B’s Delicous Orchard has award-winning hard cider, a store stocked with loads of locally made products and a cafe (they also have opportunities to pick your own fruits and veggies and on-site camping). Do a bit of shopping at the Creamery Arts Center, whose gift shop hosts local artists, and the Farm Runners Station is the perfect spot to get picnic supplies for your outdoor adventures.
Go for a family swim at the North Fork Pool, where the mountain peaks surround the inviting waters. The Gunnison River Pleasure Park is the entrance to Gold Medal fishing on the river. Catch wild rainbows and German browns before jet boating, rafting and camping.
PJ’s Neighborhood Pub is a place to sit back and relax while you chomp on their Maple Chili Bacon Wrapped Chicken Bites, served with a hickory barbecue sauce. The wood-covered front porch of Pat’s Bar and Grill might make you feel like you’re in a Western film, but the menu boasts savory classics. Zack’s BBQ has been smokin’ in the Rockies since 1974, and their original pit-fired beef is mouthwateringly good. Sit on the patio at Taco Hut while snacking on Butch’s Burrito — your choice of meat smothered in red or green chili and topped with cheese, lettuce and guacamole.
One-of-a-Kind Places to Stay
The old-school Hotchkiss Inn Motel has comfy rooms and a tasty breakfast. Colwell Cedars Retreat has the Viola guesthouse, a hideaway with a full kitchen that’s great for writers, artists or those looking to connect with nature. Or spend a night under the valley’s pitch-dark, star-speckled skies in a teepee at the North Fork Tipi Haven.
Encounter wonderfully wild landscapes, comforting eats and unparalleled Rocky Mountain hospitality in Hotchkiss.
Some of the steepest cliffs, oldest rock formations and craggiest spires in North America greet you as you enter Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, about 25 minutes from Crawford. Crawford State Park is open to anglers, boaters, hikers and water-sports enthusiasts (you can even scuba dive!). Along the western fringe of the West Elk Mountains resides Needle Rock. Climb to the top for out-of-this-world views. If you aren’t a climber, visit as the sun sets — the geologic wonder is stunning cast in glowing orange light.
To get a small-town feel, attend Crawford Pioneer Days in June, complete with a baking contest, pancake breakfast, parade, fireworks extravaganza and more.
Stop for a bite at Diamond Joe Cafe and Saloon, where home cookin’ will satisfy your appetite. Originally opened by rock and blues legend Joe Cocker, Old Mad Dog Cafe serves up juicy burgers and has an old-fashioned ice cream fountain. Or try Holy Smokin’ BBQ, a food truck dishing out some of the best brisket in Colorado.
One-of-a-Kind Places to Stay
Near Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Bid-U-Well Guest Ranch has 122 acres of pastoral charm with the bonus of a full ranch-style breakfast. Ideal for a family vacation, Smith Fork Ranch’s River House sits among the cottonwoods and spruce on the bank of the creek. If staying in the heart of downtown Crawford is more your thing, the Hitching Post Hotel has country-chic decor and a farm store. Meanwhile, Stone House Inn, built in 1907, has two cozy rooms and a bucolic appeal.
This article originally appeared on Colorado.com. Visit the site to learn more about things to see and do around Colorado.