When most people think of wine regions to visit in an RV, places like Napa Valley in California or the Columbia Valley in Washington come to mind. Colorado attracts millions of outdoor enthusiasts and ski bums every year, but many people miss out on the hidden treasures that the state has to offer–like its wine.
I was surprised this past summer when I discovered a secret wine region that I had never heard of, despite being a Colorado native. But then again, that’s one of the many benefits of RVing – taking spontaneous detours and experiencing adventures you may have otherwise missed.
In this article I’ll share this secret wine region in Colorado and why it quickly stole my heart. In fact, my husband and I loved it so much, we returned not only once but twice in one year!
Where Is This Colorado Wine Region?
This secret wine region is located in the southwestern part of the state. Driving along scenic highway 133 between Hotchkiss and Carbondale you’ll find the charming little town of Paonia. It’s tucked away in the North Fork Valley. Although it’s relatively remote, Paonia is less than a two-hour drive away from one of Colorado’s most popular ski towns–Crested Butte (when Kebler Pass is open).
Why is This Wine Region Special?
You’ll immediately notice how green and lush Paonia is, which is unique from much of the rest of the state. In addition to its vineyards, the area is more known for its orchards, which produce pears, peaches, apples, plums, and even cherries. Orchards and vineyards are beautiful enough on their own, but when you combine them with sweeping mountain views, it’s absolutely stunning. Paonia sits at the base of 11,400 foot Mount Lamborn and is known as having some of the highest vineyards in North America.
Many of the wineries sit up along the hillside so you can sip your wine while taking in the million-dollar views. What makes Paonia even more special is that these views won’t cost you much to enjoy. Many wine regions can feel pretentious and expensive, but Paonia is far from that. It’s a very quaint and approachable town and we were able to park our RV right on an orchard for only $30 a night.
We camped a few nights at Big B’s Fruit Company and had mountain views from one side of our RV and peach trees on the other. We loved walking out of our RV and going right to the on-site market and cafe with a great outdoor space. The night we checked in they had live music so we sat out and watched the beautiful sunset while listening to the tunes and sipping on their delicious cider.
We loved the laid-back vibe of Paonia and even though it’s fairly small, we found plenty to do and see in our three separate trips there.
When to Visit This Wine Region in Colorado?
The best time to enjoy all that Paonia has to offer is between April and October when the temperatures on average are above 60 degrees and obviously much higher during the summer months. If you’re interested in picking your own fruit at one of the orchards, you’ll want to be sure to time your visit with the harvest. You may also plan your trip around one of the many festivals and events they have throughout the year. Two of their most popular festivals are Cherry Days, which is during the Fourth of July, and their Mountain Harvest Festival in September.
What To Do?
Of course, you’ll want to spend most of your time visiting the different wineries and farms and tasting the goods. Outfit your RV with bar & wine essentials and make it your rolling tasting room. You can even find a tour for your convenience. But, if you’re looking for additional things to do, there are plenty of adventures to be had in the area.
Nearby Paonia State Park is yet another great reason to visit Paonia. Not only is it beautiful, especially if you can catch the wildflowers in bloom or aspen forests changing colors, but it also has a reservoir. So when you aren’t sipping wine or picking fruits you can enjoy boating and fishing, or whatever water sports you enjoy. I was able to get out on my stand-up paddleboard after we had a family picnic on the shore. There are even two small campgrounds inside the park!
There are plenty of trails to explore around town as well. The trails range from 3 to 20 miles and all levels of difficulty. You can enjoy breathtaking valley views as you ride, making it an excellent destination for cycling.
Arts & Culture
I’d also recommend strolling along Paonia’s small but charming main street called Grand Avenue. You can stop in some of the shops and galleries and see why the area is a Certified Colorado Creative District and part of the North Fork Valley Creative Coalition. We were pleasantly surprised to find good food and snacks in the restaurants and cafes. We ate everything from a fancy Italian dinner under a romantically lit tree on a patio to authentic Mexican food with tasty margaritas and breakfast and coffee at the local bakery. We even stumbled upon a couple local breweries, one of which was inside of an old house.
Also on Grand Avenue, you’ll likely notice the historic Paradise Theatre. It’s a non-profit theatre that brings the community together through events, film, and music. A great spot to catch a show after dinner!
If you have a lot of time during your trip, you can certainly fill your days with visiting the neighboring towns of Crested Butte, Carbondale, and Montrose. Each has very different things to offer based on what you’re looking for. You can hit the hiking and biking trails, fly fish, visit a national park, and more! Find an RV park nearby, set up camp, and get exploring.
I hope this article and its photos have inspired you to visit Paonia, Colorado’s hidden gem wine region. If you’re a wine lover like me looking for more wine destinations to visit in your RV, be sure to check out my other favorite spot for great wine in Colorado–Palisade!
Lindsay McKenzie travels full-time in her Winnebago Navion with her husband Dan and their 2 dogs. Originally from Colorado, they have been seeking adventure together for 10 years now and have done a lot of international traveling, including living in Costa Rica. They took the leap into full time RVing after experiencing life-altering news. They viewed the news as a life “detour” and started a travel and inspirational blog called Follow Your Detour. Lindsay has grown more passionate about pursuing her dreams and a leading a fulfilling life, while inspiring others to do the same. She loves that RVing allows her to be in nature and do more of what she loves. You can usually find her on the river fly fishing, hiking to sunset spots, or at a local brewery. (All photos by Lindsay McKenzie, except where noted.)