The Real South Park - A Fun Daytrip from Colorado Springs
Hidden high in the Rockies, about 90 miles from Colorado Springs or Denver, is the tiny mountain community of Fairplay. Originally settled by gold miners in the 1800s who were fed up with the unfair practices in the surrounding area, they aptly chose their new town name.
The real South Park actually refers to one of the 5 basins that make up the Colorado mountain range: North Park, Middle Park, South Park, Estes Park and San Luis Park. Fairplay has dubbed itself the Fly Fishing Capital of the World. Fishing the public & private Gold Medal waters of the many local streams including the Middle Fork of the South Platte is certainly a favorite summer activity. Do you see the Brookie below?
The 3 town schools are housed in one campus.
- Edith Teter Elementary is an original 1880s school house, one of the oldest still active schools in Colorado. Its bell tower is a well recognized landmark.
- Silver Heels Middle School is named after a beautiful dance hall girl who nursed many of the gold mining community during a smallpox outbreak. Contracting the disease which disfigured her face, Silver Heels suddenly vanished, leaving brokenhearted miners behind.
- The real Southpark High School is named after the high alpine basin that it's located in.
Burro Days -an extremely popular annual event, is a summer foot race where Burros are coaxed on a 30 mile route to the 12,000 ft summit of Mosquito Pass and back. This has to be Fairplay's favorite celebration - they pull out all the stops - vendors, entertainment, food, pancake breakfast, llama races, pack dog races, and kiddie events.
The historic Real South Park City Museum is well worth the nominal fee. It's a truly fascinating glimpse into the incredibly resilient hard-scrabble pioneers who forged this still very rustic western hamlet. We go there every summer to more closely study the exhibits and let ourselves get "lost" in another time.
The South Park National Heritage Area was so designated by Congress in 2009 to recognize the unique and valuable history of this piece of Americana.
SO LET'S GO:
From Colorado Springs take Hwy 24 west past Hartsel to Hwy 9 to Hwy 285. Once you arrive at the only stop light in town turn west into Fairplay. You're now in the heart of the real South Park facing the Majestic Fourteeners of the Continental Divide, a breathtaking vista anytime of year. At almost 10,000 feet in elevation, this is a great way to spend a hot day in July (temps are usually 20 + degrees cooler than the front range). If you decide to make a weekend of it, there are several hotels as well as the lovely log home Mountain Comfort Bed & Breakfast.
Coffee shops are very popular here, perhaps because it's usually chilly year round. The Java Moose serves great Java along with signature sandwiches. The Chocolate Moose offers sweets along with their Joe. The Cream & Steam and the Silver Spoon both offer ice cream with their brew selections.
Fairplay is about as opposite to the ski resort towns as you can possibly get. But because it's only 18 miles to Breckenridge, Fairplay makes a great place to base camp yourself to go play in Summit County on the slopes. You'll escape the crowds of tourists, traffic jams, noise, and most importantly, the spendy prices that you find at resorts! Prather's the quaint, new grocery in town is charmingly recalls the old neighborhood IGA, but it has an incredible cheese selection and Daz Bog kiosk second to none!
On Front St, one street south of Main St, you'll find a gem of a shop - Colorado Mountain Hat Company. There couldn't be a more perfect setting for this place. These guys still make hats the old fashioned way! We're talking about handmade, custom fitted beaver felt creations. They use original vintage wooden forms to measure the shape of your head, then you pick the color and grade of felt that you like and in a few weeks - you will be presented with a one-of-kind chapeau right out of the Old West. If you've see a hat on TV that you pine for, they'll make it for ya. "Lonesome Dove" styles are a common request for them.
When it comes to food,
The Brown Burro is the place to get your breakfast. George gets your eggs perfect every time! (over medium, no runny whites for me)
- Pizza Hut and Subway are across the street from each other on Hwy 285 - who needs those explained?
- The real Southpark Bowl is a quirky place to hit the lanes. Sometimes it's just so darned beautiful (or blizzarding) outside, your eyes can't take it anymore. So take the family bowling and be sure to ask for Dorothy's Tamales (which were featured on Food Network's - Best Thing I Ever Ate.)
- BBQ at Mason's High Country BBQ is crazy good. The spicey pulled pork is a hit and the "Happy Bear" dessert sweet potato is a great finish. Be careful or Zelda will talk you into trying the "Make Your Ass Grow" potatoes - and she isn't lying!
There's much more to the real South Park, but you'll just have go there and see it for yourself!