With a name that translates to “beautiful view,” you’d expect Buena Vista to be a pretty place. But the natural grandeur here exceeds all expectations. Surrounded by the Arkansas River to one side and the impressive snowcapped Collegiate Peaks on the other, Buena Vista is truly one of the most scenic areas anywhere. But it’s not just something to admire from afar exclaiming “wow!” BV is an active, outdoorsy town that makes an epic basecamp for winter adventures. It has far more backcountry landscape than ‘cityscape,’ so there are far more places to discover in this bold wild area than we could list here. We’ll give you a good start, though, so you can hit the ground running – or snowmobiling or cross-country skiing – and not miss a thing. Whether delving deep into the local scene or soaring high into the mountain peaks, you’ll never forget your time here in the land of the beautiful views.
Snowmobiling in Buena Vista puts the win in winter. Fast, exhilarating, this is the ultimate way to cover more ground. More ground, more beauty, more adventure… You’ll run out of daylight before you run out of trails to ride here. From novice to extreme, riders can explore both groomed trails and unmaintained routes. The Buena Vista Snow Drifters organization maintains 130 miles of groomed backcountry trails on various terrains. Get that Rocky-Mountain-high feeling by riding on mountain trails topping 12,000 feet. Taylor Park Trading Post is a favorite destination ride, as is the historic “ghost town” of St. Elmo. The snowy passes – Tin Cup Pass, Hancock Pass and Cottonwood Pass (to the Continental Divide) are nirvana for sleds. To see little-known natural powdery playgrounds, let local tour guides lead the way. Experts can help you test your skills, push your limits or learn new skills. Take things up a notch by going on a multi-day group tour with three days of guiding, lodging and meals. Let it snow!
NORDIC CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING
With so much beautiful backcountry to cross, Buena Vista is a cross-country skier’s paradise. As you schuss through these miles of trails in the San Isabel National Forest, you’ll be surrounded by the greatest concentration of 14,000-foot mountains in the state. It’s also a historically significant area as the sport of backcountry skiing began in the U.S. in 1942 just north of here. During WWII the US Army established Camp Hale where the 10th Mountain Division, an elite ski corps of commandos, trained in preparation for fighting in the European Alps. Make your own family history by taking a group ski trip. Explore the expertly-groomed packed Nordic ski trails around Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort, Cottonwood Lake and the Collegiate Peaks Campground. Try the Avalanche Trail or Raspberry Gulch on the Colorado Trail. Make tracks in the Fourmile Recreation Area, a 100,000 acre wilderness of public lands. Consider taking a guided ski excursion so the local experts can show you all the ideal tracks.
Snowshoeing is a classic winter experience enjoyed anywhere there’s snow. Close to town, shoe through BV’s public parks, such as McPhelemy Park or Columbine Park. Across the river, trek on the Midland Trail System and the Barbara Whipple Trail System. Get away from it all in the 100,000 acres of Four Mile Recreation Area. In a world of “No Trespassing” signs, Four Mile is refreshingly different; it’s all public land area maintained by both the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Snowshoe amidst extraordinary rock formations and views of the Collegiate Peaks. Or get your heart pumping while shoeing on the Avalanche Trailhead near Cottonwood Pass or the Browns Creek trailhead, located southwest of BV. This area promises many easy-to-navigate trails meandering through forests. One snowy step at a time.
Keep the hiking boots out and ready year-round here. While the high mountain trails and bagging 14ers may be largely off-limits to hikers in winter, there are still plenty of open trails. The area’s remarkably varied terrain ensures that many lower elevation trails will stay dry enough for excellent hiking. Head east across the Arkansas River to explore the Barbara Whipple Trail System and the Midland Trail System. Hiking is also excellent in BV’s Four Mile Recreation Area. Trek along castle-like remnants of the Wall Mountain Tuff, the result of lava flow from an explosive ancient volcanic eruption. Hike along the Great Unconformity, where 1.7 billion year old Precambrian granite joins with the Paleozoic sedimentary rocks. Until the mid-1800s, it was truly the “home where the buffalo roamed;” but now be on the look-out for other abundant wildlife including elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep and more. Check the BV Community Trails, Parks and Recreation map for routes and information.
Year-round mountain biking is not just possible here, it’s phenomenal. This climate zone has an unusual ecosystem with plenty of ups and downs, just the way you like your riding. Even as the seasons change, the tires don’t stop rolling. It’s just time to make an altitude adjustment. The valley floors tend to stay dirt-covered even when the mountains get snowcapped thanks to the ‘banana belt’ trait the whole Upper Arkansas Valley enjoys. Bikers of all levels can warm up for a big ride on the Buena Vista Pump track at the end of East Main Street. For a gnarly uphill grind, ride to the 9,556 foot summit of Midland Hill in the Midland Trail System. Even beginners will love pedaling through four old Colorado Midland Railroad Tunnels and the Arkansas River Trail. BV is one of the most bike-friendly towns you’ll ever encounter, so finding all the pedal-possibilities is as easy as asking the experts at the numerous bike and outdoor gear shops.
In a town where bikes are nearly as prevalent as cars, it was inevitable that bike lovers would find a super-fun way to adjust to the elements. Thanks to Fat Bikes, the riding never ends – it just gets bigger and bouncier. The “fatty-phenomenon” involves cruising on snowpacked trails and plowing through powder without slipping or getting stuck. These off-road bikes with their over-sized tires (more than twice as wide as a mountain bike tire) are made specifically for taming snow, mud and sand. In the winter, take a Fat Bike anywhere you’d normally take a mountain bike. For the snowiest rides, explore the challenging high-altitude trails in the San Isabel National Forest taking you through the greatest concentration of 14,000-foot mountains in the state. Discover the stunning scenery around Mt. Princeton, the Collegiate Peaks Campground and Cottonwood Lake. The Avalanche Trail, an eight mile ungroomed area at the foothills of the Sawatch Range and Raspberry Gulch on the Colorado Trail also welcome Fat Bike action. Explore the trails along Cottonwood Pass and in the Fourmile Recreation Area, as well. Visit local bike shops for rentals and gear.
This is the time of year for fly-fishers to think slow and deep. That’s where the trout are playing hide-and-seek in wintery rivers, creeks and lakes. The Arkansas River, Colorado’s longest river, forms just northwest of Buena Vista. These pristine Gold Medal waters continue to flow right along BV’s eastern edge. A river with many personalities, it meanders peacefully in valleys then gets downright excitable with riffles and rapids. Avid anglers can walk and wade via numerous public access sites like the Buena Vista Recreational River Park and Ruby Mountain area. Fishing in Browns Canyon, now a designated National Monument is a pristine 12-mile section best accessed by a float boat. Experienced local guides are available to take anglers through this fishing ‘bucket list’ environment. But the river doesn’t have the fishing monopoly. The rainbow-stocked Clear Creek Reservoir along Highway 24 (15 miles north of BV) is a clear favorite. Creek fishing in Chalk Creek, (near Mt. Princeton) and Cottonwood Creek with its North, Middle, and South Forks are also hot spots. Alpine lakes such as Cottonwood Lake and Harvard Lakes are an angler’s dream, as well. Check current Colorado fishing regulations and obtain a fishing license online or at a local outdoor gear store.
BV boasts two distinctive town areas – historic downtown and the South Main neighborhood. South Main is a unique planned multi-use community revolving around the kayaking and outdoors lifestyle. Eclectic and compelling, its streets are lined with independently-owned boutique shops and art galleries featuring handcrafted creations and items you won’t find anywhere else. Homes and businesses are intertwined between shops to give this decade-old development an invigorating vibe with unexpected finds on every corner.
Historic downtown radiates with genuine community-minded small town charm. Its wild-west roots show in the turn-of-the-century architecture. True to its outdoorsy reputation, Buena Vista has more stores specializing in outdoor adventure gear than most any other kind. Find everything you need for mountain exploring in a handful of different specialty shops. Downtown also has seven art galleries ranging from a blacksmith, painting, pottery, jewelry, fine art, glass, yarn arts and. home décor. There are also gifts, books and consignment stores, too. Bring your own cloth shopping bag to fit in with the “live green” atmosphere.
You’ll notice something right away about the food culture here. It’s very low on “junk food” and very high on delicious, healthy, organic, and local ingredients. Restauranteurs support local agriculture as much as possible, even getting cheese and milk from the local Jumping Good Goat Dairy. After all, the foodies here realize that food is fuel – ready to fortify all those surrounding winter adventures. Downtown BV has seen an exhilarating renaissance in the past few years, with many innovative new establishments adding to some long-time favorites. The downtown and highway corridor area has about 15 independently-owned restaurants ranging from American to Mexican to pizza to steak. It also has four coffee shops, a bakery, five ice cream shops, and food trucks, too. The South Main area has a coffee shop, ice cream and treats shop, the cornerstone Eddyline Restaurant at South Main and Wesley & Rose Lobby Bar in the Surf Hotel.
When it comes to libations, you won’t get thirsty – and definitely not bored – in BV. A local award-winning distillery, a craft brewery, and several bars all exude the spirit of the mountain west and the sense of community this town is famous for. Warm up from the inside-out at Deerhammer Distillery Company, located on historic Main St. Try their cornerstone spirit, the artisan Deerhammer American Single Malt Whiskey and/or gin and creative craft cocktails in the small and rustic distillery. Its mountain-chic decor has rough-cut wood and elk and deer antlers covering the ceiling, making it the perfect locale for topping off a blissful backcountry day.
Eddyline Brewing Company brews award-winning beers specifically to pair with outdoor adventures. They have two locations, their restaurant located across from River Park in South Main and their taproom on US 24 decorated with murals that set the scene for adventure.
Downtown rocks with venues that give the flavor of the old Wild West when this town was full of prospectors, pioneers and ranchers. At Jailhouse Craft Beer Bar and The Lariat, it’s not a kitschy theme for these saloons; it’s a real legacy.
LOCAL CONTACT GUIDE
Buena Vista Mountain Adventures • www.BVMountainAdventures.com
Burandt’s Backcountry Adventure • www.burandtsbackcountryadventure.com
Buena Vista Snow Drifters • www.snowmobilecolo.com
Rocky Mountain Adventure Rentals • www.rmar1.com
All Season Adventures • www.allseasonrentals.com
The Trailhead • www.thetrailheadco.com
Monarch Snowmobile Tours • www.snowmobilemonarch.com
CKS Main Street • www.cksmainstreet.com
Friends of Fourmile • www.garna.org/friends-of-fourmile
BV Parks and Recreation • www.buenavistaco.gov
Boneshaker Cycles • www.boneshakerbv.com
Black Burro Bikes • www.blackburrobikes.com
Ark Anglers • www.arkanglers.com
Eddyline Brewing Company • www.eddylinebrewing.com
Deerhammer Distillery • www.deerhammer.com
The Jailhouse Craft Beer Bar • www.thejailhousebv.com
Lariat Saloon • www.thelariatbv.com
Simple Eatery • www.spoon-it-up.com