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After Your SEI Solar Training in Paonia, Colorado - Explore Colorado's Wild Side

Posted by: chris
April 19, 2013

Blog by Tawnya Parker - SEI Training and Workshop Coordinator

Depending on the time of year you come to Paonia for a lab week you may have the opportunity to partake in a wide range of events or activities, from weekly free concerts in the Park, to touring numerous local wineries, and fishing in trout-filled waters. U-pick at the organic fruit orchards (apricots, cherries, peaches, pears or apples) is popular, and our friends at Delicious Orchards will lend you a basket to go out and pick or pour you a glass of local wine in their tasting room (

Something delicious is always in season, making the local farm to table food scene one of the best in the country, and several annual special events revolve around harvesting local produce, such as “Cherry Days” and “Mountain Harvest Festival.” Paonia is also alive with music, with frequent performances at Revolution Brewery and the Paradise Theater, which brings a wide variety of entertainment into town (

Paonia, Colorado
Paonia is a fun mountain town, and one of Colorado’s quiet gems. Located on the Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains, it is just the way we like it, off the beaten path, abundant in fresh local organic food, wine, and beer, and full of interesting folks. And if you like to explore beautiful trails, canyons, and mountains, you are in luck. Wildlife is plentiful and if you’re cognizant of your surroundings on a hike you may see some - all one has to do is remain quiet, and the world around you will return to its natural sounds and movements. And I’ve got a list of hiking spots that will take your breath away even if you don’t see wildlife!

You’ll still have enough daylight in the evenings if you leave right after class with a group of your classmates for your afternoon adventure. The week will go fast so make a plan early on. And many students plan on (or end up!) staying an extra weekend to have the opportunity to truly explore the area.

Black Canyon National Park:
Within 45 minutes of Paonia, the North Rim of the Black Canyon is one of the most unexpected surprises you will find in a while. There are several options to view this beautiful canyon, one of which is to drive to each viewpoint and walk out to the edge of the canyon for an amazing vista down to the Gunnison River, roughly 2,700 feet below. Bring your camera for some spectacular pictures.

Another option would be to hike the North Vista trail, which starts to the left of Ranger station and will take you by Explanation Point (7,700 feet) and beyond. Both options are spectacular. To read more go to

Lost Lake:
About an hour from Paonia, this gorgeous lake (at roughly 9,000 feet) is set against the breath-taking back drop of the Beckwith Mountains. A hike around the lake is approximately three miles and if you feel like hiking up to three lakes or Beckwith Pass (at 10,000 feet) you will pass through a spectacular aspen grove. Around September all the aspens will be turning an amazing shade of yellow that you won’t soon forget.

Erickson Springs:
Roughly 30 minutes to the trail head on the road to Kebler Pass. This hike parallels North Anthracite Creek and offers great fishing opportunities and the chance for sighting wildlife. Anthracite Creek has rainbow and brown trout; smaller creeks upstream have cutthroat and brook trout. There are several hikes in the area.

Mt. Lamborn Trail:
Mount Lamborn is the backdrop to our campus and peaks at over 11,000 feet. If you have 10+ hours to spare and a four-wheel drive vehicle to get you to the trailhead, you are in luck – it’s an annual hike for me, but not one I want to do every weekend. This hike is worth doing if you have the time and a good pair of hiking boots, and the views from the top are ridiculously amazing!

Mountain biking:
Jumbo trails*…what can I say… As a mountain biker, this is one of my all-time favorite places! If you enjoy the lung-burning thrill of high-elevation, uphill, single-track riding, I’ve got the place for you. Jumbo Mountain is a special spot with amazing uphill and rewarding downhill. There’s about 1,500 feet in elevation gain and most of it is in the last two miles. You can make a loop ride up to 8 miles, or keep it as short as 1 mile. *Note: not for beginners

If you want to ride but aren’t comfortable with technical trails, try a road ride on some of the meandering roads that head off towards Hotchkiss or Crawford.

Airport hikes:
If you are thinking you only have time to visit one place before you fly out, and have the time and inclination to make a stop on your way to the airport, here are a couple of options. Just remember to plan in some extra time so you don’t miss your flight!

Note that the Denver airport is 4.5 hours away from Paonia; Aspen airport is around 2 hours away; Grand Junction airport is 1.5 hours away; and Montrose airport is 1 hour away. Grand Junction is the most commonly used and often the cheapest airport to fly into and out of.

Colorado National Monument: On the edge of Grand Junction, CNM has a fantastic scenic 30 mile driving loop or bike ride. There are numerous hiking options, and one that is not to be missed is the half-mile Otto’s Trail with spectacular views of the rock formations in the area.

Rocky Mountain National Park: A couple hour drive North of the Denver Airport, this park provides an epic tour of classic Colorado high mountain terrain. It is not uncommon to see migrating elk and deer in the meadows; they are still wild animals, so don’t get too close. One of the more dramatic views is on the upper portion of trail ridge road where elevations top out above 12,000 feet, offering spectacular views of the mountain range. There is a plethora of fantastic hikes throughout the park, with enough variety to offer accessibility to every ability. One can expect to see waterfalls, high mountain lakes, aspen groves, and occasional wildlife (if you go far enough on the trail).

South Rim of the Black Canyon: Fifteen miles from the Montrose airport, one can access the south rim of Black Canyon National Park. There is a spectacular driving tour and short hikes. Bring your lunch and enjoy the view. Cedar Point is a short walk with expansive views of the canyon walls and raging river below.

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