Most locals will agree – Buena Vista is one fantastic Colorado mountain town. Nestled at the base of the mighty Sawatch range, there are plenty of awesome things to do in Buena Vista.
From delicious eateries to mighty mountain hikes, Buena Vista (pronounced “Bew-na Vista”) has a wide range of awesome activities for any kind of adventurer.
From rafting or fly fishing along the Arkansas to relaxing at one of Colorado’s best hot springs, you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to things to do in Buena Vista.
I take at least three trips out this way a year. Located just 2 hours and 15 minutes from Denver, Buena Vista is one of the most amazing weekend getaways from Denver.
Easy access to camping, hiking, and getting outside make this a pristine place to spend a day (or three).
I’ve lived in Colorado for the past 12 years. I’ve literally stopped counting how many times I’ve visited Buena Vista. For me, it’s an awesome way to spend a weekend out in the heart of the mountains.
As an outdoor writer, I’ve literally been paid to scour Colorado’s best mountain towns for epic, local adventures. It’s been my mission to bring you the best things to do in Buena Vista and Colorado at large so you can travel like a local, not a tourist.
About this Guide to Things to Do in Buena Vista, Colorado
Inside this guide to things to do in Buena Vista, Colorado you’ll get expert advice and pro tips for enjoying this magical mountain town. Learn how to beat the crowds and find your own slice of mountain paradise.
Inside you’ll find:
- How long to stay
- When is the best time to visit Buena Vista, Colorado
- The best things to do in Buena Vista
- Additional Colorado planning resources
How Many Days Should I Spend in Buena Vista?
Two nights gives you one full day, plus some time for additional activities the day you leave. Since this is one of the most amazing Colorado getaway destinations, three nights will give you a real feel for the whole area and allow you to really experience Buena Vista.
However, if you’re short on time, an overnight plus a full day is an easy add to any Colorado road trip itinerary or as a quick weekend away from Denver.
When is the Best Time to Visit Buena Vista?
Summer is undoubtedly the best time to visit Buena Vista, since most of the dirt roads are open and the wildflowers are blooming. However, this is also the most crowded time to visit BV.
Fall is another excellent time to visit, since Buena Vista is home to some of the best fall hikes in Colorado. However, you’ll still have large crowds during the peak leaf-peeping season (mid-September).
October and November are cold, but still a great time to visit if you want to ditch the crowds.
Winters are cold (and often windy) but the scenery is charming. If you aren’t camping and you want to cozy up in a cabin and soak in the hot springs, then winter is your jam.
Spring weather tends to be muddy, unpredictable, and snowy. It’s not the best time to come and visit BV, but if you want the place to yourself then spring is it.
Local Tip: The traffic on 285 and I-70 get REAL during the summer and even more crowded for fall. Plan accordingly. Leaving earlier will always help you steer clear of traffic.
The Most Amazing Things to Do in Buena Vista
Ready to soak up all that mountain magic? Check out the local list of the best things to do in Buena Vista.
Conquer a Colorado Fourteener
The Sawatch Range has the highest concentration of 14,000-plus-foot peaks, which makes Buena Vista a premier mountain town for adventurous folks who want to try their luck at a Colorado 14er.
If you’re new to summiting 14ers, a great choice to get your badge is by giving Huron Peak a try – it’s one of the easiest Colorado 14ers and a stunning out and back trail which will have you hiking through vast forests, streams, and uphill switchbacks.
A must-do fourteener is Mount Elbert. Standing high at 14,440 feet, Mount Elbert is the highest point in Colorado. Bagging this peak is one of the best things to do in Buena Vista for those who don’t mind a challenge.
The reward for making it to the top? The most epic vistas of the Sawatch Range as well as getting to stand high above all the other peaks in the state.
Local tip: Start very early in the morning as thunderstorms roll in during the afternoons, especially around the summertime.
Spend Your Days in the Wilderness of the Colorado Trail
Backpacking in Colorado should be on everyone’s bucket list, and Buena Vista offers one of the most picturesque trails in the state. The Colorado Trail is a 486-mile antic that traverses eight mountain ranges and six different wilderness areas.
To backpack the entire trail end to end (Denver to Durango), you will need at least four weeks to spare, but you can also choose a section if you’re not necessarily super keen to spend that long in the wild.
The trail is pretty easy to follow, with markings all over (but you’ll still want to bring a map, just in case). Moreover, a permit to backpack the trail is not required, and other than Waterton Canyon, there are basically no restrictions on camping, wahoo!
Get Adventurous and Try Free Camping
The entire area surrounding the Sawatch Mountain Range (Buena Vista, Salida, and Twin Lakes) is the perfect camping playground if you’re keen to rough it up and enjoy some of the most scenic and totally free camping spots near Denver. Not only does the fact that most of the land is publicly owned mean that you can set camp pretty much anywhere, but it’s also a prime spot for beautiful night skies that will only make your visit to Buena Vista a whole more special.
For free camping, all you have to do is drive down one of the many dirt roads in the area and find an established post. As usual, make sure you follow the Leave No Trace mantra. These free camping sites are usually first-come-first-serve and have virtually zero amenities, so make sure you come prepared for a night in the wilderness.
Recommended Campgrounds: Some of my favorite spots to set up camp near Buena Vista are Cottonwood Pass, Chaffee County Road 390, Winfield camping area, and Browns Creek.
Raft One of the Longest Rivers in the USA
Beat the heat and get your adrenaline pumping with some epic fun on the waters of the Arkansas River. Buena Vista’s Brown Canyon National Monument is famed for offering some of the best whitewater rafting in the entire world, and you’ll find some seriously top-tier options for both seasoned paddlers and families alike.
Go Fly Fishing at Twin Lakes
Home to large reservoirs, alpine lakes, and small streams, Buena Vista and its surrounding areas are considered some of the best spots in Colorado to go fishing. One of the must-visit locations for fly fishing enthusiasts is Twin Lakes, which is located at the base of Mount Albert and offers great opportunities to catch rainbow, brown, and cutthroat trout with trophy lake potential.
Drive to Cottonwood Pass for the Most Gorgeous Vistas
Driving to the top of the dazzling Cottonwood Pass is one of the most scenic drives in Colorado. Take County Road 306 out of Buena Vista toward Almont to drive down the highest paved mountain route over the Continental Divide.
From Buena Vista, the road climbs over 12,000 feet to the summit and then winds down towards the incredibly scenic Taylor Park Reservoir.
The road is usually open from May through October and while it’s absolutely gorgeous during the summer, if you happen to be visiting during the falls, you’ll be treated to a spectacle of colorful Aspen groves.
Go on a Biking Adventure
Buena Vista is considered a mecca in Colorado for bike trails and rides are literally located right out the door. While there’s an endless list of trails to choose from, one of the best ways to get you in gear is to drive 24-miles from Buena Vista to Salida.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, however, you can test your mountain biking skills with the Monarch Crest Trail, which will treat you to a variety of rides down once you reach the Crest. For the real deal, try the technical downhill from Monarch’s Crest via Green’s Creek Trail, which is steep singletrack and the ultimate challenge for technical riders who want to test their skills.
Enjoy the Local Eats
I don’t know about you, but aside from adventuring the outdoors, my other favorite thing to do is eat great food. Buena Vista is home to some seriously scrumptious local eats that you won’t be able to get enough of. To get you started with the menu, check out The Buena Vista Roastery Cafe, Eddyline Brewery, and Simple Eatery.
Explore the Area on a Hike
If conquering an advanced 14er isn’t exactly your goal, Buena Vista offers a number of beginner and intermediate hiking options, all of which come with gorgeous views of the Collegiate Peaks, beautiful alpine lakes (don’t miss out on Twin Lakes!), or the mighty Arkansas River.
Hiking is definitely one of the best things to do in Buena Vista if you really want to get close and personal with the mountains, so make sure to add at least one hike or two into your itinerary.
Local tip: Even though the trails are relatively easy, they can be challenging at first due to the high altitude so acclimatize properly. Make sure you stay hydrated throughout the journey and take it slow while hiking.
Relax Your Muscles in a Hot Spring
One of the best things to do in Buena Vista after exploring its mountain goodness is to soak in a hot spring to unwind after a day out in nature. Some of the can’t-miss hot springs are:
- Cottonwood Hot Spring – Natural and historical when you consider they were first enjoyed by the Ute Indians. These hot springs are renowned for their therapeutic and medicinal properties, which makes them the perfect escape if you’re in dire need to relax your muscles after a long hike.
- Mount Princeton Hot Springs in Nathrop – Located right between Salida and Buena Vista. It boasts some of the best hot springs in the locale. What makes the place so unique is that you can literally make your own pools in the river by stacking rocks.
- Charlotte Hot Springs – A luxury resort offering a quiet retreat and perfect if you’d like an overnight escapade. It’s the ideal spot for couples or those looking for pet-friendly accommodation in Buena Vista.
Additional Planning Resources
Ready to explore Colorado like a local not a tourist? I’ve got you covered with these amazing Colorado travel resources:
- How to Hike Like a Pro in Colorado
- Colorado Camping 101
- Incredible Free Camping in Colorado You Can’t Miss