A wagon at the Buena Vista Heritage Museum.
Buena Vista is a town in Chaffee County, south central Colorado. Although there's not much to the town, its setting between the Arkansas River and Sawatch Range, highest range of the Rocky Mountains, is magnificent, and it is a good jumping-off point for many kinds of outdoor recreational activities.
The Chaffee County Regional Airport is located southwest of town. There does not appear to be commercial service into this airport, however. (Note that if you're hiking in the nearby Sawatch Mountains, which are convenient to Buena Vista, there are many viewpoints from which you can watch planes on the approach to this airport below you.)
Buena Vista is located approximately 94 miles west of Colorado Springs and is reached from there via west on Hwy. 24 to Hwy 285 and then north for approximately two miles. It's just a two-hour drive from western metro Denver via US 285.
Bring your own vehicle, pedals or walking shoes. Also, The Chaffee Shuttle operates by appointment, offering public transportation for the Buena Vista area to appointments, shopping and other destinations. Call for info: 719-395-6231 or [email protected]
Hike, bike, fish, raft, kayak. Base camp and provisioning stop for through-hikers on the Continental Divide Trail and Colorado Trail. Also attracts off-road enthusiasts in the summer and snowmobiles in the winter exploring old mining ghost towns and trails west of town and the Fourmile Recreation Area east of town.
Enjoy soaking in geothermal hot springs at kid-friendly Mount Princeton Resort. Cottowood Hot Springs is clothing optional after dark.
- Fishing: quieter stretches of the Arkansas offer reasonable trout fishing and are accessible via SR 24. Many of the mountain streams entering the Arkansas are also good for trout.
The Arkansas River runs through town and offers white-water experiences ranging from beginner-level to seriously hairy. If you're not equipped to tackle the river on your own, try one of the services in and near town that run rafting trips ranging from a few hours to multiple days in length. Advance reservations are nearly mandatory and are required by some outfitters. Some outfitters (there are others, feel free to add to this list if you have a good experience with one):
- Acquired Tastes Rafting, in nearby Johnson City, +1 800 888-8582, . Convenient to the "Brown's Canyon" section of the Arkansas, one of the real classics.
- Arkansas Valley Adventures, 40671 Hwy 24 north, +1 800 370-0581, . This outfit includes camping facilities where you can spend the night in anticipation of an early-morning start on the river.
- Bill Dvorak's Rafting and Kayak Expeditions, 17921 U.S. Hwy 285 in Nathrop, 1-800-824-3795, . Top quality rafting, kayaking, and fly fishing tours throughout the Rocky Mountain Region. Dvorak Expeditions specializes in Arkansas River excursions, from Brown's Canyon to the Royal Gorge and more.
- River Runners, 24070 CR 301, +1 800 525-2081, . Rafting outfits come and go, but these folks have been around for a long time. Camping on-site also possible here.
- AmericanAdventure Expeditions . Offers whitewater rafting on the Arkansas River. Book a half day, full day or overnight rafting trip.
- Bill Dvorak's Kayak and Rafting Expeditions, . White water rafting, kayaking and fly fishing trips.
Colorado Kayak Supply, one of the country's top-selling paddlesports shops is on Main Street. The Trailhead has all kinds of land lubber outdoor equipment gear rentals and sales plus outdoor clothing, maps, basically anything you forgot to pack for your trip. Both shops have knowledgeable sales staff who live, eat and breathe a steady diet of outdoor adventure and are happy to share tips and advice.
There's about a dozen local restaurants and the only fast-food joint is Pizza Hut. Most restaurants are on US 24 or Main Street, the town's two major thoroughfares. Local favorites include Evergreen Cafe and the Buffalo Bar and Grill or Mother's Bistro for healthier fare. K's Dairy Delite (+1 719 395-8695) is a cool old ice cream stand that serves grilled to order burgers and hot dogs too and issues movie star/famous celebrity names to track your order. Pizza Works is one of the best pizza joints in the Valley and you can get individual slices to go if you're in a hurry.
The Green Parrot and the Lariat are shot 'n' beer kind of no nonsense watering holes that exude lots of local flavor. Don't expect any umbrella drinks or wine tasting bars.
- Best Western Vista Inn, 733 US Highway 24 N, +1 719 395-8009, Toll-free: +1 800 809-3495, Fax: +1 719 395-6025, .
- Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort, 15870 County Road 162, Nathrop (south of Buena Vista, turn west at Nathrop and head for the mountains), +1 888 395-7799, . It overstates the case severely to call this bucolic motel and pool complex a "resort," but for the hot springs enthusiast who doesn't mind rustic and rudimentary accommodations, it can be a pleasant place for a dip. Curious and colorful characters collect here. The link wasn't working in May 2009, and the business may have succumbed to the economic downturn.
- Buffalo Peaks Bed and Breakfast, 28928 Fairway Dr., Buena Vista, CO 81211, ☎ 719-395-3313, . Charming B&B located on 8th hole of the golf course. Terrific views of surrounding mountains and tons of wildlife. Private baths, large rooms, free wi-fi, and delicious breakfast. $65+. edit
Buena Vista is in some of the most beautiful landscape anywhere, and outdoor recreational opportunities abound nearby. Note that the high country nearby is seriously high; to avoid altitude sickness, it's wise to spend a night or two in the lowlands for some acclimatization before undertaking something strenuous.
- Scenic drives: while you're acclimatizing, do some "windshield touring" along Colorado's newest designated scenic route, the Collegiate Peaks Scenic Byway that connects Buena Vista with is sister town and county seat, Salida. If it's open, the road to Independence Pass is a must. Drive north from Buena Vista on US 24, then west on SR 82, which continues over the pass to Aspen. Caution: If you have respiratory problems, get your physician's permission before doing this drive. The pass is at an elevation above 12,000', and while you won't be at the highest elevation for long, don't jeopardize your health to see it. The scenery at the pass itself is astounding, of course, but there are also beautiful spots along the way that don't require quite as much oxygen deficit. Note that this route closes for extensive periods during the winter, owing to snow on the pass.
- Hiking, backpacking and climbing: the superb Sawatch Range, with most of Colorado's highest mountains (including 14,432' Mount Elbert, highest of them all), is directly west of town, and many trails lead into the high country from trailheads nearby. Many of these are reached by extremely rough Forest Service roads that will require a high-clearance vehicle -- not just an urban SUV, but something seriously equipped for the roads. Unfortunately, Buena Vista itself is too small for car rentals; you'll have to arrange rental of an SUV closer to your point of origin. ATV and jeep rentals and tours are available through BV Jeeps, Hgh Country Jeep Trous and All Season Adventures.
- Alpine skiing: perhaps surprisingly, there are no major ski areas in the Sawatch Range itself. The nearest resort is Monarch Mountain  southwest of town near Salida and Poncha Springs. It's one of Colorado's more "family"-oriented ski areas, with a number of fairly easy slopes and maybe not as many double-diamond adventures as at some other sites. Bigger destination resorts such as Copper Mountain is an hour north via US 24 over well-maintained Fremont Pass and and Vail is just a tad further west on I-70. Breckendridge is 1-1/2 hours away via US 285 to Fairplay then head north over Hoosier Pass. Backcountry ski touring and snowshoeing is also popular.
|Routes through Buena Vista