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If you are planning a Colorado Road Trip this year, visit Buena Vista – read on to find out the best things to do in Buena Vista CO…
Buena Vista, or BV as it is affectionately called by locals, is one of my absolute favorite mountain towns in Colorado and there are so many things to see and do there. I’m always surprised how under the radar it still is for out-of-state visitors. It gets left off many Colorado itineraries but should be on all of them in my opinion.
Buena Vista is nestled between the Collegiate Peaks and the Arkansas River at almost 8,000 feet above sea level. The area was first settled by the Utes in the 18th century but the town itself was formed in the 1880s. The name means “beautiful view” but what makes it unique is its pronunciation. It is pronounced “byoo-na vista” instead of the Spanish “bwee-na veesta”.
This adorable mountain town is conveniently located – it’s only a little over two hours from Denver, there are numerous hiking trails close to town including numerous 14’ers (14,000-foot peaks), a number of interesting ghost towns to explore, some of the best whitewater rafting in North America, a cute town center to explore, and two excellent hot springs nearby. Seriously – what more could you want!?
So yes, Buena Vista is awesome and you should visit. Here are the best things to do in Buena Vista, CO…
Things To Do in Buena Vista CO
Explore the Town Center
Buena Vista is made up of two parts – the historic downtown and the South Main neighborhood. Both are great for strolling with excellent shopping including outdoor stores, unique gift shops, and eclectic boutiques. The beautifully restored buildings in the historic downtown are pretty photogenic too.
There are also a number of great cafes, restaurants, and bars in town including The Lariat, Eddyline Brewery, Deerhammer Distillery, Brown Dog Coffee Company, Buena Vista Roastery Cafe, and the Buena Viking Food Truck.
Eat a Burger at The Buena Viking
Of all the places to eat in Buena Vista, definitely don’t miss The Buena Viking food truck. Their elevated burgers are phenomenal and are very popular with locals and visitors alike.
My favorites are The Powder Day with goat cheese and honey, and The Asgard which is an excellent vegetarian choice with a balsamic marinated Portobello cap as the patty.
The burgers are best enjoyed by sitting in the sun at one of their patio tables.
Visit Nearby Ghost Towns
If you are like me and love visiting old, abandoned mining towns – then Buena Vista is one of the best places to do this in the country.
St Elmo is one of the best-preserved ghost towns in the American West and it’s only a 40-minute drive from Buena Vista. You can take a self-guided walk to explore the 43 remaining buildings in the town including a saloon, a courthouse/jail, a mercantile, and private homes.
Summer is an excellent time to visit if you love hummingbirds and chipmunks – you will see loads around the General Store where they feed them, but fall is perhaps the most stunning with golden aspens surrounding the town.
There are four more ghost towns just north of Buena Vista in Clear Creek Canyon: Beaver City, Vicksburg, Winfield, and Rockdale. Vicksburg and Winfield are the best-preserved and there are a number of historic buildings you can check out, and you can even look inside some of them on select summer weekends.
Hit the Hiking Trails
One of the best things to do in Buena Vista CO is to hit the hiking trails. The town is surrounded by mountains so there are lots to choose from. If you are looking for something quick and easy near town, you can access numerous trails including the Barbara Whipple trail just over the river, within walking distance from the downtown.
Other trails in the area I love include the Ptarmigan Lake trail, the Hartenstein Lake trail, and the Inter Laken Resort trail in nearby Twin Lakes to an abandoned resort.
Bag a 14-er
Chaffee County where Buena Vista is located, has the highest concentration of peaks over 14,000 feet high in the state and there are 15 that can be easily reached from Buena Vista.
If you want a challenge and are in reasonably good shape, I highly recommend hiking one of them – it’s a Colorado adventure you will never forget. I have hiked four of the Colorado 14’ers and it is hard but so rewarding!
Soak in Natural Hot Springs
One of the absolute best things to do in Buena Vista CO is to soak in one of the nearby hot springs. There are two hot springs close to Buena Vista – Mount Princeton Hot Springs and Cottonwood Hot Springs. Mount Princeton is a historic resort that has been welcoming guests since 1897 and is a firm favorite with Coloradans.
There are two large pools by the creek, an infinity pool, and a waterslide pool, and when the creek is low enough (usually mid-summer through winter) there are numerous natural rock pools alongside the creek which are my absolute favorite.
Cottonwood Hot Springs has more of a hippie vibe and they work hard to be as sustainable as possible. There are five pools varying in temperature from 94-110 degrees, and all of the pools have naturally occurring minerals with no chemicals added.
Soaking at either hot springs is the perfect way to relax after a day of adventure and both hot springs have accommodation options.
Try the Local Beer
One of my favorite things to do in Colorado is to go brewery hopping. Colorado is home to some of the best beer in the world and is known for its inventive and interesting brews.
Eddyline Brewery is Buena Vista’s local brewery and it is a good one. There are branches in the historic downtown and South Main, both of which boast spacious patios for long summer days with cold Colorado beer. They have a great selection of beer including a number of sours and IPAs, as well as cocktails, and a delicious pub fare menu.
Another place to sample local Colorado beer is The Slammer, a craft beer and whiskey bar housed in a historic jailhouse in the historic downtown.
Go White Water Rafting
Buena Vista is one of the best places to go white water rafting in the country with easy to challenging rafting trips on the Arkansas River that runs right through town. I did a rafting trip through Browns Canyon National Monument and it was both scenic and super fun.
If you have ever considered trying white water rafting – Buena Vista is one of the best places!
Go Mountain Biking
Another fun outdoor activity in Buena Vista is mountain biking. There are numerous mountain biking trails close to town for all skill levels and you can hire bikes from Black Burro Bikes in town.
More Things To Do Near Buena Vista CO
Wander Salida’s Historic Downtown
Nearby Salida is another beautiful Colorado mountain town that is definitely worth a visit. It is home to the largest National Historic District in Colorado with 136 preserved buildings, and like Buena Vista, Salida also sits on the banks of the Arkansas River. The river is generally calmer here than in BV – perfect for a dip on hot days.
Further your craft beer exploration in Salida with visits to Soulcraft Brewery, Tres Litros Beer Company, and Moonlight Pizza and Brewpub.
Drive Independence Pass To Aspen
One of the most beautiful drives in Colorado is over the 12,095-foot Independence Pass from Twin Lakes to Aspen, especially in the fall. You could drive over the pass and spend some time in Aspen as a day trip, stopping at Independence ghost town, and at the continental divide viewpoint at the top of the pass.
Aspen is a lovely town to spend a few hours or more with a walkable historic downtown, extensive dining options, and numerous hiking trails close to town.
Explore the Mining History in Leadville
Leadville is perhaps my favorite Wild West town in Colorado and it almost feels like you are stepping back in time to the gold rush days when you are strolling along the main street.
To explore the mining history of Leadville, there are a number of historic sites and attractions that are definitely worth visiting, including the Matchless Mine and Baby Doe’s Cabin, The National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum, and the Healy House Museum and Dexter Cabin.
There are also a number of hiking and biking trails around the town and you could easily spend a full day here or longer.
Visit Crested Butte Via Cottonwood Pass
Crested Butte is one of my favorite mountain towns in the U.S. and has an absolutely stunning mountain setting and a pretty downtown of colorful, restored historic buildings. There are numerous hikes close to town and it is one of the best places to see colorful wildflowers in mid to late summer.
To get there in summer and fall, you can drive over the scenic Cottonwood Pass – it is particularly beautiful in the fall when the aspens shimmer golden.
Plan Your Buena Vista Vacation
Getting to Buena Vista
The best way to get to Buena Vista is to drive there – it is a two-hour and 15-minute drive from Denver. You can also catch a bus with Bustang, there is one bus per day each way.
Where To Stay in Buena Vista
There are numerous places you can stay in and around Buena Vista. If you have camping gear, camp for free at Clear Creek Reservoir Campground which only has pit toilets. If you want more camping facilities including showers you can stay at Chalk Creek Campground and RV Park or Snowy Peaks RV Park.
Mount Princeton Hot Springs and Cottonwood Hot Springs have everything from camping to private rooms, and Cottonwood has affordable hostel dorm rooms also. Rates include the use of the hot springs.
Closer to town, you could stay at the rustic chic The Inn, the classy South Main Residences by Surf Hotel, or the luxurious Surf Hotel & Chateau.
For vacation rentals, stay in this cute one-bedroom in the trendy South Main district, Five Peaks cabin with mountain views, or this sweet cabin in the heart of BV.
If you liked this – check out some of my other Colorado posts:
- 15 Best Colorado Mountain Towns to Visit Any Time
- Ultimate Colorado Road Trip Itinerary to See the Best of the State
- 15 Best Colorado Hot Springs For True Hot Springs Enthusiasts
- 10 Best Hidden Gems in Colorado
- The Perfect 3 Days in Denver Itinerary
- 14 Best Denver Suburbs To Visit and What to Do, Eat, and See There
- 11 Best Mountain Towns Near Denver (1 Hour or Less)
- Absolute Best Hikes in Golden To Work Up a Sweat
- Visit Telluride: The Best Mountain Town in Colorado
- Hike from Aspen to Crested Butte: The Best Hike in Colorado
- 15 Fun Things To Do in Golden CO That Won’t Break the Bank
- Experiencing Cannabis Culture in Denver with a Cannabis Tour