I get asked a lot about my favorite destination in Colorado. That is a really difficult question. I tend to fall in love with every place I visit. However, if I had to come up with a true favorite it would be a toss up between the San Luis Valley and the North Fork Valley.
Both have been the destinations of wedding anniversaries including our most recent 20th anniversary. We spent this milestone anniversary in the North Fork Valley in May with Fritzi, our German Shepherd, in tow. The region has always reminded me of where I grew up in Western Washington; rural, fruit hanging on trees, cows in fields (although in the North Fork Valley, it’s more likely to be sheep).
The North Fork Valley is located across McClure Pass from Carbondale, Colorado, and directly southwest of Grand Junction. It consists of the towns of Paonia, population 1,523, Crawford, population 458, and Hotchkiss, population 1,230. All population numbers are from 2020.
I started writing about the North Fork Valley nearly a decade ago, before it was discovered by the likes of 5280. Now, it’s much more well-known than in years past, and remote workers from the Front Range and moving in.
We can verify this fact as we sat by some Denverites at a bar in Paonia. They were remote workers who had just sold their home near City Park in Denver and had moved to downtown Paonia.
As expected, housing prices have risen significantly in this area, which has previously suffered from the boom and bust that comes with coal mines closing, opening and closing. So, long term, remote workers may be good for the economy of the North Fork Valley, even if it does change things a bit.
While change is happening, this is still an area where rural delights can be experienced, scenery abounds and sips of wine come with the sound of chirping birds. The North Fork Valley is a place of serenity, as we discovered (yet again) in May.
The Paonia Community Kitchen was an excellent discovery that we learned about from locals at Paonia United Brewing. A 6,000 square foot commercial kitchen, it’s home to Mountain Oven Organic Bakery & Millhouse serving breakfast and a multitude of baked goods from 8 to 11 a.m. on Friday mornings.
Visiting on a Friday morning, the line was out the door, and for good reason. If I lived nearby, I would be here every Friday morning. We enjoyed breakfast burritos and Ryan indulged in a cruffin (which was so big he just couldn’t pass it up, but the reality is, he wanted one of everything).
New since our last visit, Chrysalis Barrel Aged Beers has opened. Perched in a building on the south side of downtown Paonia, they specialize in farmhouse styles aged in oak barrels, and this is the place for lovers of sour.
We love the cool dark interior and patio area with tree shade. An excellent addition to downtown Paonia, we petted the brewery cat while sipping tasters. Excited to see bombers, which are slowly disappearing from Front Range breweries, Ryan bought a couple for the beer fridge.
Also, new-to-us, we took some back roads east of town that we’d never driven before. It had rained hard the night before and things were muddy, including our dirt road, but the views were breathtaking. There were no other cars but we did have to watch out for the occasional cow in the road.
We hit up Zack’s BBQ in Hotchkiss for lunch on the advise of the owner of the guesthouse I mentioned in Canyon Journeys in Baca County, Colorado. She is from the area and grew up going here. It’s been around since 1974, which is impressive in this day and age.
Beloved by locals, this Hotchkiss restaurant was packed on a Saturday, but service was fast and friendly.
Lastly, we had breakfast at Sweetgrass Paonia, located in the former The Living Farm Cafe in downtown. When we first visited Paonia in 2013, we stayed upstairs in one of the rooms. Now, they are AirBnB rentals.
Great breakfast! Excellent coffee. Highly recommended.
As always, we visit our favorite old haunts during our three-night stay in Paonia. This was not an official HeidiTown trip, but over the years, I have gotten to know Lynn Gilespie, owner of The Living Farm. Lynn even named one of her lambs after me. She has been an invaluable help over the years in writing about agritourism, and her farm is one of my favorite places on earth.
I always stop at her farm when I am in the valley and this time was no exception.
Please visit the farm when you travel to the North Fork Valley. Even if there aren’t lambs to cuddle (and there usually are), there is a farm store. And if you live in the area, they have a CSA. Lynn also teaches gardening online.
Go to thelivingfarm.org to learn more. Do it! This place is special.
We drank some beer at Paonia United Brewing Co., as we always do. Located in a little house downtown, the charm of this place is movie-worthy. Truly a local hangout while we were there, we did end up sitting next to a Brit at the bar who was touring around Colorado, so we chatted the night away with him and the bartender.
We made several stops at Big B’s Delicious Orchard which was about a minute from our motel. It’s technically located in Hotchkiss, but it’s on the border with Paonia.
The property has changed a lot over the years, and it’s become quite the operation. They serve up food, offer camping and glamping, and Delicious Orchards is the site of a lot of live music, especially during the summer. We stopped in for dinner one evening and danced to a live DJ on the next.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you that Delicious Orchards is home of a farm market, orchards and Big B’s delicious cider. Their pommeau is Ryan’s absolute favorite and he always purchases multiple bottles when we’re there. They’ve even met me at festivals around Colorado with it in tow just for us. Sometimes it pays to be the Mayor!
Of course, we visited wineries in the North Fork Valley because that’s what one does in the North Fork Valley. We were visiting a week before the official start of summer, so many places were still closed, but we did manage to enjoy some wine and cheese from the Western Culture Farmstead & Creamery with a damp view at Azura Cellars. At this winery one goes for the wine, and stays for the view.
We also visited Stone Cottage Cellars. We’ve been to this winery in the past, but I’d forgotten what a great presentation they give during their tasting at Stone Cottage. Plus, there is a dog to pet, an incredibly photogenic tasting room and cellar, and views from the mesa. There’s really no better way to spend an afternoon than touring wineries in the North Fork Valley.
Root & Vine Market is always a stop for us when we’re in the area. The views here are outstanding, the landscaping colorful and the deck chairs are comfy. The real bonus is that Qutori Wines is also located here. We stopped in twice, the second time tasting and buying wine.
In fact, we came back from the North Fork Valley loaded down with wine. A visit always results in wine purchases (and hard cider and pommeau purchases). I recommend bringing a big cooler. If you visit during the summer, when fruit is in season and the farm markets open and you will come home with a lot of yummy stuff. I know this to be true because we have.
Where to Stay in Paonia, Colorado
We stayed in the best little dog-friendly motel in Paonia. Redwood Arms is located on Hwy 133, minutes from everywhere you want to be. Although it’s perfectly located, the best part of staying at Redwood Arms is the incredible area in which we could walk Fritzi. We even saw a deer among the trees one evening. Redwood Arms has RV sites so a couple can pull up, hook up, and stay for few weeks. That sounds glorious!
The room was spacious enough for Fritzi’s large crate and super clean. There is a fridge, microwave and television although we never turned it on. Plus, we stayed here for three nights for less than $400.
In a Colorado world where everything seems to be getting uber trendy and expensive, we were pleasantly surprised to find Redwood Arms, and we are recommending it to everyone we know.
There is no doubt that the North Fork Valley has changed since we first visited in 2013, but that’s okay. It is still the land of milk and honey, and although it is not quite the hidden gem that it once was, there is still a peacefulness here that’s hard to attain in other places. Maybe it’s the wine or cuddling lambs, but there’s little doubt that a piece of my heart will always remain in the North Fork Valley.
Cheers to 20 years of marriage! Cheers to us.