Chaffee County Colorado Ranches For Sale an Overview
Population estimate, 2008: 16,995 16.74 persons/sq. mi.
Square miles: 1015
Approximate driving time from Denver: 3 hours
Commercial Airport: None in county, Denver International within three hours. General Aviation fields at Salida and Buena Vista.
Ski Areas: Monarch Mountain
Major Communities: Salida (5,504), Buena Vista (2,195), Poncha Springs (466)
Elevations: 7,000 to 14,000 feet
Major streams: Arkansas River
Average ranch/farm size: 356 acres (NAICS, 2007) vs. Colorado average 991 acres
Pros: Impressive mountain scenery, moderate climate.
Cons: Large ranches are scarce.
Chaffee County’s slogan of “Now This is Colorado” captures well the scenic grandeur of the upper Arkansas River valley. Many of Colorado’s highest peaks in the Sawatch Range sweep up in spectacular fashion from the “low” country along the Arkansas River at about 7,000 feet to well over 14,000 feet. A semi-arid climate on the valley floor is suited to pinon pine and juniper forests, giving way to aspen and spruce and fir forests at elevations above 9,000 feet. Extensive tracts of San Isabel National Forest land flank both sides of the broad valley of the Arkansas. A relatively mild climate, coupled with a signature mountain backdrop makes Chaffee County an increasingly popular choice for retirees, recreationists and “gentlemen ranchers.”
Once sustained by a mix of railroading, mining and farming and ranching, Chaffee County is rapidly transitioning to a recreation and retirement-based economy. Very large acreages were never common in the county, and today smaller-to-moderate-sized ranches or “ranchettes” are the norm. In addition, higher-end subdivisions are becoming more common. Given the mild climate of the area, growth and land values are likely to increase steadily. River and stream frontage property, of course, comes at a premium.
Hunting: Mule deer thrive in the mild climate of the pinion/juniper forests in the lower portions of the valley. With much ranch and farm land in this section, some of the best bucks are found frequenting private property for most of the year. Elk live in the foothills of the Sawatch Range in the summer, retreating to the lower country for winter range. On the steep slopes of the Sawatch, elk hunting is more challenging geographically than in many other areas of Colorado. The county also supports small herds of bighorn sheep and even mountain goats, and a few licenses are issued on a lottery basis for these species every year.
Fishing: The Arkansas River is one of Colorado’s best brown trout streams, with strong populations of wild fish in the 10- to 15-inch range. In addition, a rainbow trout population appears to be on the increase in the Arkansas. As the effects of historic mining are in the process of being cleaned up near Leadville, the productivity of the river has increased proportionately. Spring blue-winged olive and caddis hatches are famous and heavily-fished. The Arkansas in Chaffee County is large enough for float fishing, so private land adjoining the Arkansas does not necessarily equate to private fishing on this river. Arkansas River tributaries (most draining from the west) are often rocky, swift and less productive than the main river. They hold brown trout, rainbow trout and brook trout of smaller size.