Meet the Mountains - Buena Vista & Salida, Colorado Vacation


Meet the Mountains

If you’re a “peak bagger,” you already know this area well. That’s because Chaffee County holds a unique distinction. It has the highest concentration of mountains over 14,000 feet (or 4,266 meters) in Colorado and the nation. Colorado officially has 54 fourteeners, with 15 of the majestic peaks found in the Sawatch Range in the Upper Arkansas Valley. A dozen of these are between the “Now This is Colorado” county lines. This 100-mile range also includes more than 300 peaks over 12,000 feet, elevating the area to one of the most dramatically scenic in the state.

The Ute word, “Sawatch” translates to “the blue-green waters of the earth,” a poetic description of this flowing “sea” of mountains. The peaks are within the San Isabel National Forest and the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness that includes the famous Colorado Trail and 100 miles of trails. This adventurer’s paradise is also right in Salida and Buena Vista’s backyard. That means your pre-and-post summit activities can include hot springs, craft breweries, distilleries, art galleries, live music and remarkable meals at independently-owned local restaurants.

Hiking and climbing at 14,000 feet is no joke


Most of the fourteener routes involve Class 2 scrambling or climbing. Only a few fourteeners have hiking routes to the summit. Determine your route based on your ability and others in your group. Roads to the trailhead can oftentimes be a journey on their own, so make sure your vehicle can safely travel to the trailhead. Check the weather forecast ahead of time and plan appropriately.


Summertime in Colorado’s high country means afternoon thunderstorms, so check the weather beforehand, plan an early start, have a group turnaround time, and be back below tree line by noon. Cell service is spotty to non-existent in the backcountry, so plan for alternative communications. Remember, summiting is optional but returning to the trailhead happy and safe is mandatory!


The old saying goes that if you don’t like the weather in Colorado, then wait five minutes. The weather at 14,000 feet can be radically different than at the trailhead, so make sure your pack includes extra layers, plenty of water, food and the 10 Essentials to get you through an unplanned night.


Virtual Tour Of The 14ers In The Sawatch Mountain Range

Search and Rescue

Chaffee County has two Search and Rescue organizations. These are all volunteer organizations operating under the direction of the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office. Their mission is to provide search and rescue services, as well as outdoor safety education, at no cost to the public.
Please consider purchasing a COSAR Card to ensure Colorado’s search and rescue teams are reimbursed for your rescue.

Chaffee County
Search and Rescue – North
P.O. Box 1671
Buena Vista, CO 81211


Chaffee County
Search and Rescue – South
P.O. Box 313
Poncha Springs, CO 81242


Collegiate Peaks

Half of Chaffee’s peaks make up the subset of the Sawatch Range known as the Collegiate Peaks, all named after Ivy League colleges.


MT. HARVARD 14,420′

Named in 1869 after the first Harvard Mining School class came with their geology professor Josiah D. Whitney on an surveying expedition. This peak measures third tallest in the state, but is the highest of the Collegiate Peaks and its summit is the county’s tallest point. Lying high in the Horn Fork Basin above Bear Lake, the summit is distinguished by spotted and striped granite blocks. Because it’s just two miles from Mt. Columbia, the two are often climbed together.


MT. COLUMBIA 14,073′

Climber Roger Wolcott Toll named this peak in 1916. Toll attended both Denver University and Columbia University before embarking on a distinguished career in the National Park Service. Below the south slope are picturesque beaver ponds on Frenchman Creek. Summiting via the difficult East Ridge Trail is only accessible March-November.



Rising prominently west of U.S. 24, this peak was named in 1877 by Henry Gannet, chief topographer in a Wheeler-led government survey. William Libby, a Princeton University physical geography professor, and his students were reportedly the first to officially summit this peak. Getting to the trailhead requires a 4-wheel drive vehicle. Princeton is notable for the distinctive Chalk Cliffs and for the post-summit relaxation at the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs located at its base.


MT. YALE 14,200′

Named by the same Harvard group because Yale was Josiah D. Whitney’s alma mater. Despite this tie with Harvard, the bigger rivalry is with Princeton. The two peaks are just a few feet apart in height so it was once tradition for alumni of both schools to come here and pile rocks on top of their summits to fight for bragging height-rights. Accessible from July-September, the Mt. Yale Summit Trail is recommended for only the most experienced hikers.


MT. OXFORD 14,153′

The last to join this scholarly group, it was named in 1931 by Rhodes Scholar John. L. Jerome Hart, a Denver lawyer and climber who studied for a year at Oxford University. This peak is known for vast sweeping views of basins to the east but has no surface water so hikers must carry their own. It is often climbed in the same trek with Mt. Belford.


MT. BELFORD 14,197′

The last to join this scholarly group, it was named in 1931 by Rhodes Scholar John. L. Jerome Hart, a Denver lawyer and climber who studied for a year at Oxford University. This peak is known for vast sweeping views of basins to the east but has no surface water so hikers must carry their own. It is often climbed in the same trek with Mt. Belford.

Native American and Spanish Influences


MT. ANTERO 14,269′

Dramatically visible from U.S. 24 between Buena Vista and Salida, this prominent peak was named in honor of Chief Antero of the Uintah band of the Ute tribe. Antero is Colorado’s 10th highest peak. Its slopes contain a hidden wealth of gems and minerals that have attracted miners and rock hounds for many years. The most sought-after finds are aquamarine rock crystals and smoky quartz.


MT. SHAVANO 14,229′

Named in honor of Ute tribe Chief Shavano, this peak is easily visible from Poncha Springs and Salida, Mt. Shavano is distinguished by its “Angel of Shavano” natural formation. Just after the heaviest of winter snow melts, a figure of an angel with outstretched arms appears in a snowfield on the mountain’s face. Local legends vary but the gist of the story is that a young goddess was turned “frozen” by the punitive god Jupiter. Her fate led to becoming a symbol of hope for the valley she watches over.



Shavano’s closest southeast neighbor, this peak was named for a Ute tribe that once roamed the area. Because of the mile and a quarter ridge connecting Tabeguache to Shavano, they are often climbed together. It is a tough one to pronounce but we recommend the pronunciation by mountaineer Louis Dawson of “tab-uh-wash,” with the accent on the first syllable.


MT. HURON 14,005′

Huron Peak, named after the Huron Tribe just squeaks by to qualify as a 14er. and lies about 18 miles west-northwest of Buena Vista. It has the reputation of being one of the easier of the Sawatch 14ers to summit, but “easy” in the case of any mountain of this size is a relative term. Lying about 18 miles west-northwest of Buena Vista, the peak is near the famous Three Apostles, a trio of 13ers.



This peak’s name means ‘silver’ in Spanish. The first recorded summit was in 1921 by Colorado College alum Albert Ellingwood. The long northeast ridge is named for this pioneering climber. A rugged peak known for spectacular views, steep slopes and sweeping ridges, is the fifth highest mountain in Colorado.



Thanks to miners from the “Show Me” state, this peak now honors the state of Missouri. Located about 15 miles northwest of Buena Vista, it is separated from Mt. Belford and Mt. Oxford to the east by Elkhead Pass.

Sawatch Range 14ers

*Elevations of 14ers are often adjusted and vary according to the source. The ones used here are courtesy of the Traihead Company in Buena Vista and believed to reflect the latest surveyor measurements.

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Buena Vista Chamber of Commerce
111 E Main St
Buena Vista, CO 81211

Salida Chamber of Commerce
406 W Rainbow Blvd.
Salida, CO 81201

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