Where to Glamp in Colorado’s North Fork Valley
This summer, rather than just going to farmers markets, I found myself romanticizing the idea of staying on a farm as a relaxing getaway, petting cute livestock, and leisurely picking fruit off the trees for a snack. fresh.
So I planned to glamp in mid-August at a farm in Hotchkiss, just as the West Slope harvest season was beginning with the ripening Colorado peaches.
Hotchkiss, Paonia and Crawford form the North Fork Valley and are grouped together with the Western Slope as a whole being the orchard center of the state and where many foods grow well in the high desert climate. (Harvest began around September 1, with pear and apple picking scheduled for around the middle of the month. Check before you go.)
My AirBnB hostess at Bath Haus Farms recommended I stop by nearby Paonia to check out Pickin’ in the Park, a weekly summer event where food trucks and local breweries set up shop while visitors listen to live music at Paonia city park.
I got my first taste – literally – of what the North Fork Valley has to offer when I ordered from the Southern Belle food truck. “Tomatoes are from Abundant Life Organic Farm,” I was told without asking where the ingredients for the cookie sandwich came from. I was here partly to go to the source and pick my own fruits and vegetables.
I drove southwest 10 miles to Hotchkiss where I found my glamping tent just off a dirt road on farm property. Above me was a night sky filled with stars, and ahead of me was a dark path leading to the posh outhouse with an outdoor shower.
After falling asleep to the sound of crickets screeching, I woke up the next day to the classic cock-a-doodle-do of a neighbor’s rooster with intermittent bleating from that farm’s goat. My tent had a wooden deck with stunning views across the valley to the north. I opted for the one-mile hike around the farm property which took me past pear trees (a reminder that harvest season will have many cycles), around a retention pond fed by a natural source, and return to the vegetable garden.
As I passed the main house, owner Kaitlin Bath came out and invited me to join her in picking tomatoes. “I picked up 50 pounds yesterday,” she said. Farm guests can choose to participate in this activity, depending on the season, and the kids really like to throw what can’t be eaten by humans over the fence at their chickens and ducks.
As we picked various ground tomatoes (so sweet!), heirloom tomatoes (so pretty!) and basic red tomatoes to make marinara sauce later, we talked about my urban pumpkin vines, the garden spider resident (so big!), and peach salsa possibilities.
Bath had a tip about picking peaches, so I headed to a nearby Bloomstone Farm. Generally, I prefer hotels over Airbnb accommodation options, but for a farm there is an advantage to getting local information like this. Bloomstone was an established orchard recently taken over by new ownership, so the ‘pick your own’ arrangement was not widely publicized and we had it to ourselves. Those trees were practically dripping with peach trees; we filled box after box for a fair price.
While we picked fruit, the sheep on the farm wandered around munching on the clover and keeping the underbrush manageable, but they weren’t interested in the peaches for lunch.
For my own lunch, I headed back to Paonia and the delicious orchards of Big B. This one-stop farm has it all: U-pick fruits and vegetables; A coffee; a bar with hard ciders and other drinks; a shop with locally made products, including wines; a playground for children; a variety of accommodation and camping options; and live music some nights. You’ve probably seen (or sampled) Big B juices at your local grocery store. I couldn’t resist picking more peaches here and buying some locally grown corn and green beans.
I could have happily stayed for the scheduled live music at the Big B a few hours later, but I had some goats to encounter. Western Culture Farmstead & Creamery is a small goat farm in Paonia where they make exquisite goat cheeses as well as scented lotions and soaps made from goat’s milk. You can schedule a visit, or try your luck like I did, and then be invited to walk among the goats. Owner Suanne Miller told me, “Just scratch them under the chin; they love it!”
Just before an afternoon summer thunderstorm, I explored Black Bridge Orchard on the north end of town, which still had blackberries and raspberries to pick. There are more wines and other delicacies for sale in the shop here too.
Back at Bath Haus Farm, I was able to relax in my tent for a while before joining Kaitlin Bath as she and a friend made a delicious tomato sauce and chopped peaches for a peach salsa. Sun dried tomatoes were brought in from the rain and we had a debate about using cumin in the salsa.
My hosts had recommended dinner at Mesa Winds Farm & Winery, just down the small country road lined with rows of orchards at various farms. This small but sophisticated dining experience focused on what is grown in this region, including a sampling of wines from Sauvage Spectrum in Palisade.
Dessert? A ricotta and peach cake made with local peaches from Osito Farm. Also on the menu were Mesa Winds lamb, Western Culture Farmstead goat feta and Gray Acres pastured chicken, all sourced from nearby farms and ranches.
With more time, I would have happily spent the next day visiting all the farms in the area. Instead, I stopped by the Abundant Life Organic Farms store, which is an honor system walk-in cooler where you can select seasonal strawberries, raspberries, melons, tomatoes and more.
Throughout the North Fork Valley, there are plenty of drop-off points to buy locally grown and made food, as well as U-pick orchards, berry patches, farms, and flower fields. You can decide how much farming you want to do and how much sampling you want to enjoy.
IF YOU ARE GOING TO
To get the most out of your visit to the North Fork Valley during harvest season, I recommend:
- Bring an empty cooler that you can fill with perishables like fresh berries, goat cheese, juice, and other treats that you can’t resist bringing home. Even if you plan to freeze your produce once you get home, you want to prevent it from spoiling along the way.
- Bring sunscreen, a hat, and your water bottle for your own picking time. These experiences are pretty independent and before you know it you’ve walked half a mile through an orchard on a hot summer day and now you have to walk away with a basket full of apples or peaches or both. .
- Bring money. While most established self-pick farms and orchards readily accept credit cards, you may find honor system cash registers or small vendors that aren’t set up for digital payments.
- Plan your visit around a specific local activity such as live music, a workshop, a specific harvest (such as peaches, lavender, apples, pears or your favorite vegetable), dinner or a farm visit . For example, plan to go to the Mountain Harvest Festival on September 24 with tours of area farms or the Vegetable Tasting Event on September 27 at the Arbol Farmers Market.
- Make time to go to Colorado’s least visited national park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison. This impressive gorge can be accessed via the town of Crawford (the North Rim, which is closer when you are in Paonia and Hotchkiss) or Montrose (the South Rim). You’ll see more farm country on this 40-minute ride and can opt for the 1/3 mile Chasm Trail or take a longer hike.
- Stay on a farm. You can find a list of local wineries, farms, and ranches that offer accommodations on the Valley Organic Growers Association website (vogaco.org). Not all of these places have their own website, so the directory is useful for finding these hidden gems.
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