Sheltered beneath the towering shale cliffs known as the Bookcliffs, Rifle, Colorado is the doorway to some of the Colorado River valley’s unique and magical locations and has in recent years become a mid-valley hub of business and recreation. While many variations of the story behind the name Rifle are told, most agree the name came from a surveyor or trapper leaving his rifle alongside the creek which gave the town and Rifle Creek their name. Regardless of how the name came about, the name suits this town founded in 1882 as it was ranked #17 of the top 200 Towns for Outdoorsmen in 2008 by Outdoor Life Magazine, and #27 of America’s Best Hunting and Fishing towns in 2009.
Running East to West outside Rifle and all the way into Utah, the shale and sediment Bookcliffs resemble an open book are home to the Roan Plateau, a place where hidden waterfalls, forests and canyons wait to be discovered. The JQS trail north of Rifle not only opens up this wildlife abundant wilderness to avid sportsmen but also provides mountain bikers and four-wheeler’s an excellent mountain trail. Clear mountain streams on top the Plateau lure anglers with native Colorado River cutthroat trout and superior sights like East Fork Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in Colorado, entice hikers into the deep canyons where a near sacred awe of our Earth can easily surround you.
One of the most beautiful and diverse recreational areas in western Colorado can be found a short drive north of Rifle on Hwy 13 to State Road 325 taking you into the Rifle Gap and Rifle Mountain Park area. The natural gap between the cliffs inspired well known artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude to hang an orange curtain across the entire gap in 1975. The 142,000 square foot Valley Curtain, locally referred to as “Christo’s Curtain” brought national interest to this beautiful recreational area. Past the Rifle Gap State Park, Rifle Falls State Park provides an interesting hike through the woods and natural caves, winding up to the top of the water falls.
Rifle Mountain Park was land donated to the city of Rifle to give local residents a protected, recreational area to camp and picnic. The narrow limestone canyon of Rifle Mountain Park and spectacular ice caves were “discovered” by outside rock climbers in the early 1990’s and has since become a popular world-class rock climbing destination with routes both easy and extreme. The area is popular year around as from May to October Rifle Mountain Park is a haven from the heat for campers, rock climbers and hikers and from December to March the Park attracts ice climbers and hikers who want to explore the ice caves and frozen waterfalls. Snowmobilers head to the Park for the miles of trails into the White River National Forest.
Rifle, Colorado has not only survived but prospered through many economic ups and downs including the oil shale boom of the 1970’s and 1980’s to “Black Sunday” in 1982 when Exxon pulled out and thousands were suddenly out of work. The latest natural gas boom has dipped and revived but when it is all said and done, Rifle will continue to survive off the unique local economy built around ranching, tourism, hunting and fishing that seem to keep this Colorado Valley active and alive.
Located along the I-70 corridor with quick, easy access to western Colorado’s most popular hunting and fishing areas, Rifle should definitely be a stop on your Colorado route of discovery. The beautiful Colorado River flows through the town, separating the historic downtown and the booming business area south of the river. Downtown Rifle retains the air of an old west town with the careful blend of historical buildings and modern additions to the town.
The Main Street, which is actually 3rd Street, has small country cafes, saloons, and unique shops. Millers Dry Goods has been providing western and contemporary clothing since 1922, and Mary’s Wondrous Things has a treasure chest of artistic gifts, books and home furnishings. Thai Chili’s, Sammy’s on Park Avenue (Rifle Brewing Company), and Rib City head up a large variety of places to fill your belly before a night on the town at the Winchester Nite-Club or Sports Corner Saloon. Once your weary head needs a pillow Rifle offers hotels on both sides of the river including America’s Best Value Red River Inn, Hampton Inn and Suites and La Quinta Inn and Suites all on the south side of the river next to I-70. If you’re not sure of where to eat, sleep or play, ask a local. The answers are sure to be as diverse and interesting as Rifle itself.