This summer, while most Denverites will look for a quick trip near the foothills or in Summit County, go against the traffic and head south for a weekend getaway in Del Norte. Located roughly four hours southwest of Denver via HWY 285, the small mountain town hosts everything a Coloradan would need: a wide variety of outdoor activities, a historic downtown, a brewery, distillery, shopping and enough charm to make sure you don’t forget you’re in Colorado.
At one point in time, Del Norte was a town of 10,000 and was vying to be the capital of Colorado but now with its modest population of 1,500, it welcomes travelers with its Old West spirit and friendly locals. Where the Rio Grande River meets the mountains, Del Norte rests as the gateway to the San Luis Valley and your next Colorado weekend getaway.
Where to Stay
While there are several places to stay in town, a stay at the historic Windsor Hotel is a true treat. The Windsor Hotel is unofficially the oldest hotel in Colorado. It can’t quite claim itself as the oldest due to its 20-year closure for renovations after a local doctor bought it for $35,000, 24 hours before it was set to be demolished. Donated to the historical society (but now run by four business partners), they saved what they could during the renovations by keeping some of the original details, such as the brickwork in the back, the tin ceiling and the wood floor in the parlor.
Dating back over 150 years ago, the hotel has welcomed famous guests over the years, such as Susan B. Anthony and a few not-so-welcomed guests. As with any historic hotel in Colorado, the Windsor Hotel is said to be haunted. There are several stories to tell, one of which is of a woman named Mod who came to Del Norte to get married. But soon learned her soon-to-be husband left her for another and killed herself at the hotel in room 209.
Boasting 20 rooms and suites, three of which were the building’s original offices, each is designed to capture the spirit of the west with its antique furnishings and is restored to its former glory while still providing today’s modern amenities. Plus, with its location in the center of downtown, almost everything is within walking distance of the hotel.
Where to Eat + Drink
For such a small town, you will not come up short in finding places to grab food and enjoy a cocktail. Whether you are staying at the Windsor Hotel or not, this is a great place to start your culinary journey in Del Norte. Home to what some locals call “the best food in the Valley,” the Windsor Dining Room is easily the best place in town for dinner. Guests can expect an informal dining area with an extensive wine list, full bar and a selective menu of seasonal dishes that include locally-sourced ingredients.
As an extension of the restaurant, the hotel hosts an onsite food truck as well, 1874 (the year the hotel opened). They serve breakfast on the weekends and lunch every day with options including street tacos and burgers. Enjoy your food outside on the garden patio, which used to be the area that lodged the ice house and the town’s morgue.
Then hop on over to the hotel’s own distillery, 1874 Distillery. Opening up just nine months ago, they have already made a name for themselves as the “place to go to grab a drink.” Open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, they are the only distillery in the San Luis Valley. Join them on Sundays for their bloody mary bar after your yoga class at Studio 625 next door.
Aside from the Windsor Hotel’s food and drink options, be sure to also stop in for a sweet treat at the Mennonite bakery, Raisin’ Rye. Grab a pizza and beer at the local brewery, Three Barrel Brewing. For classic Tex-Mex and a nice patio for sipping on margaritas, try Chavolos Mexican Restaurant. Grab a breakfast burrito and coffee on the go at The Perks Coffeehouse and pack your picnic lunch with a sandwich from Simple Foods Market.
What to Do
Located on the banks of the Rio Grande River and surrounded by the Rio Grande National Forest to the west and the San Luis Valley to the east, Del Norte sits at the intersection for all outdoor activities, from hiking and biking to fishing and water sports.
As the only place in the U.S. where three trans-America biking races intersect, Del Norte is a haven for cyclists. The Pronghorn trail system, Stone Quarry trails and Penitente Canyon (just to name a few) all provide excellent single-track for novices and experts alike. Penitente Canyon is also home to one of the best sport-climbing areas in the state with over 300 bolted routes!
With 1,300 National Forest trails, hiking in the area is easily accessible with approachable trails such as the La Garita Arch (Natural Arch Trailhead), Lookout Mountain and the Penitente Canyon Loop. Challenge yourself with the Middle Frisco Trail at 12 miles or a short one-mile trek to see the largest tree in the Rio Grande National Forest (located near the town of South Fork).
Cool off this summer and take to the waters of the Rio Grande River. For anglers, cast a line into the 20-mile gold waters section of the river, between Del Norte and South Fork — the longest stretch of gold waters in the state that boasts the best trophy trout around! Or splash around this summer at the Del Norte Riverwalk. The recently-completed multi-million dollar project transformed the town’s riverfront with the addition of a surfable play wave and boat access. The observation deck is perfect for fishing and watching whitewater experts test their talents.
Beyond its outdoor recreational opportunities, Del Norte features a historic downtown where visitors will find a few select shopping opportunities including a unique gift and flower shop: Almost Home Flowers and More and specialty stores such as Haefelis Honey.
But the showstopper in town is the recently-opened General Specific Store. Corey Hubbard, the store’s owner and treasure hunter, recently planted roots here in Del Norte after traveling the world for years, opening up just last year. This is most certainly not your random pile of discarded antiques, but rather a well-merchandised store of unique vintage goods that makes shopping here an event in and of itself. Be sure to stop in, browse, say hi, find your hidden gem, and if nothing else, you’ll be guaranteed to walk away with a new friend in Del Norte.
For more about Del Norte and how you can plan your next Colorado weekend getaway, visit them at delnortecolorado.com.
All photos courtesy of Jessica Hughes.