Colorado Unspoiled: A Day Trip to Paonia

February 19, 2020

Paonia in the fall is an idyllic place, a place where you can pick apples right off the tree and eat grapes from the vine that taste like grape jelly and drink hard cider and eat organic garden-fresh veggies. It’s a place where bluegrass music sounds better and tie-dyes seem cool again and a young dance troupe can make you choke up. Best of all, you can go wine tasting—without having to leave the beauty of fall in the mountains behind.

The drive itself is worthwhile, with some of the most prime foliage viewing around. Head down valley to Carbondale and jump onto Highway 133 and up the Crystal River Valley, where the open flanks of the lower valley fold into a tight canyon with sheer rock walls and funnel into a tiny basin surrounded by mountains that are big by Colorado standards. Ascend the steeps of McClure Pass; there are switchbacks so driving up it feels like taking off in an airplane, slowly gaining elevation until the earth drops out beneath you, thousands of feet down to the valley floor.

On the other side lies Delta County where the idyllic and North Fork Valley is a relic of a more unspoiled Colorado, one without resort development, traffic, and ski resorts. Paonia has a distinct mountain-country-old-timey vibe; You only get one bar of cell phone reception, an anomaly harder and harder to find places where you can truly disconnect these days.

Turn your phone off, throw on your comfiest pair of jeans and head on over to a side of Colorado that will never, ever change.

A Few of Our FavoriteThings to Do:

For the whole family: Big B’s Delicious Orchards
It’s not a trip to Paonia without a stop a Big B’s, especially if you have kids. Cruise the orchards and pick your own apples, grapes, peaches (depending on the season), and explore the pumpkin patch. Do a little wine or hard cider tasting and grab some lunch at the café (the tamale plate hits the spot) while the kiddos play on the giant tree swings. Before you leave, stock up on fresh produce and locally made products at the Orchard Store. Camp for the night, especially in the summer during the Saturday music in the orchard series.

For wine lovers: Azura Cellars & Gallery
Named for the sailboat that carried them safely around the world, winemakers and art lovers Helen and Ty Gillespie have mastered the art of high-altitude grape growing. Explore the vineyards and enjoy a variety of reds including a pinot noir (one of the only places in Colorado to successfully grow and bottle this delicate grape). Soak in the sun and views on the patio or peruse the owner-curated art gallery for a dose of sophistication and culture in this remote mountain valley.

For beer drinkers: Paonia United Brewing Company
It’s no surprise that a town that prides itself on homegrown everything would have its own brewery offering small-batch handcraft beer. Swing by for a pint, live music, community events, local art, local fare and good company. Sample 11 different beer varieties on tap, made on site and served with a friendly, down home Paonia smile.

For a swingin’ good time: Mountain Harvest Festival
If you need an excuse to visit Paonia and want to get a real taste of the town’s flavor (literally and figuratively), the Mountain Harvest Festival, (September 26-29, 2019) is the one. This annual celebration features music of the North Fork Valley (read: a lot of bluegrass) local arts and crafts, and fun traditions like the Great Chili Cookoff, Grape Stomp, Farm Tours and Saturday Sundown Swing.

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