Buena Vista is a Colorado destination known for its spectacular whitewater rafting in summer, but you will also find many fun things to do in Buena Vista without having to wear a lifejacket. In this article, I’ll break down all the best activities (for summer and winter).
Like many Colorado destinations in the mountains, Buena Vista has a storied mining history. You can even explore old tunnels, built by a railway company to move mining supplies and ore through the mountains.
Whether you’re interested in the history of the area, or want to spend the day outdoors hiking, mountain biking, or on the water, you’ll find something to do in Buena Vista! And if you’d rather skip all that and just pet some adorable goats – well, that’s on the list, too.
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Best Things to Do in Buena Vista
Visit Cottonwood Hot Springs
Warm up in hot springs!
Cottonwood Hot Springs features five soaking pools, ranging in temperature from 80-104°. It’s one of the many hot springs across Colorado and is cheaper and often less crowded than nearby Mt. Princeton hot springs. It’s also much simpler with fewer features, but it’s a great place to soak after a day in the cold outdoors or a day hiking!
Paddle at Buena Vista Whitewater Park
Surf in a landlocked state
Paddleboarders, kayakers, and yes, even surfers, can take on the waves of the Arkansas River at this whitewater park. The artificial features have names like the Uptown Wave, and the LoDo Wave. The Buena Vista river park is part of a bigger rec area that includes mountain biking trails, a dog park, hiking, and has changing rooms, boat ramps, and bathrooms in the parking area.
📚 How many classic Colorado experiences have you had? Check out my fun list of things to do in Colorado and see how many activities you’ve still got on your Colorado bucket list!
Raft Browns Canyon National Monument
See jaw-dropping gorges by foot or raft
Browns Canyon is between Buena Vista and Salida, and features gorges and forests of piñon trees. You can go hiking, whitewater rafting, and you can use the ATV and mountain biking trails throughout the area.
Best Things to Do in Buena Vista In Winter
Soak At Mount Princeton Hot Springs
Take a long soak in the hot springs!
Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort is one of the larger, nicer hot springs in Colorado. Because of that, it’s also more expensive and can be more crowded. If you’re staying at the resort, you get complimentary access to the pools – day guests are first come, first served.
Go Ice Fishing At Twin Lakes
Try a popular local sport
Once the ice is thick enough, you’ll see shanties all over Twin Lakes, set up for frigid-weather fishing! Try your luck at catching rainbow or brown trout out on the lake.
Drink Up At Buena Vista Roastery Cafe
Grab a cup of coffee and people-watch
Buena Vista Roasters roasts coffee in small batches, so it’s ready and fresh when you grab a cup. They feature beans from growers around the world, and they also have breakfast and light lunch food.
👉 Pro Tip: Main Street is full of cute shops – set aside time to wander and browse before or after coffee!
Pop by another one of the most beautiful mountain towns in Colorado
Leadville is about a half-hour drive from Buena Vista, and has lots of activities in winter or summer! You can see our complete guide to what to do in Leadville. Whether you want to shop, learn about area history, or get outdoors there’s something on that list of things to do in Leadville for everyone.
👉 Staying Overnight in Leadville too? Check out my list of the best places to stay in Leadville.
Sample At Deerhammer Distilling Company
Stop and sip
📍 Map It: 321 E Main St, Buena Vista, CO 81211| Website | Hours: 4 pm – 9 pm Wed & Thurs, 1 pm – 9 pm Fri, 12 pm – 9 pm Sat, 12 pm – 6 pm Sun, closed M & Tu | Entrance: $15, adults, $10 ages 13-21 and non-drinkers
Sample some local whiskey and take a tour at Deerhammer Distillery, in the heart of downtown. Try a single malt, or their new 4-grain bourbon.
Snowshoe At Cottonwood Pass
Get some winter exercise
Cottonwood Pass gets lots of snowmobilers, and you can cross-country ski or snowshoe on groomed snowmobile tracks. The trail to Hartenstein Lake is also a beautiful one.
Note that, while there is no downhill skiing in Buena Vista itself, if you’re willing to drive an hour you’ll find several nearby Colorado ski resorts including Monarch Mountain and Ski Cooper.
👉 Pro Tip: When you’re outside for long periods of time in the cold, hand and toe warmers can make life so much more pleasant!
Things to Do in Buena Vista In Summer
Tour Jumpin’ Good Goat Dairy
Meet the producers of delicious cheese
📍 Map It: 31700 US-24, Buena Vista, CO 81211 | Phone: (719) 395-4646 | Website | Hours: Store: 10 am – 5 pm daily, Closed Sundays; Tours: 11:30 am Wed in season | Entrance: Store: Free; Tours $8, adults, $5 under 15
See how Dawn Jump and her team produce award-winning artisan goat cheese in the shadow of the Rockies. If you visit in summer, tour the farm and meet the goats. If you visit on a non-tour day, chances are you’ll still see the goats out front, and you can talk to staff about how the cheese is crafted and what to pair it with.
Explore Buena Vista Heritage Museum
Learn about the Buena Vista’s history
📍 Map It: 506 E Main St, Buena Vista, CO 81211 | Phone: (719) 398-1682 | Website | Season: June – Oct | Hours: 11 am – 4 pm daily June-Aug; 11 am – 4 pm Fri-Sun Sept | Entrance: $5, adults, kids are free
Learn about the history of Buena Vista and the surrounding area at this museum inside the old Chaffee County Courthouse. Kids will love the old-fashioned classroom with slate boards and the model train.
Drive the Collegiate Peaks Scenic and Historic Byway
Take a scenic drive
The Collegiate Peaks Scenic and Historic Byway connects Salida with Granite, and is a beautiful drive. You’ll pass several famous 14ers including Mt. Princeton and Mt Yale, and you’ll see plenty of historic buildings. You’ll also get great views of the Arkansas River, and you can stop, stretch your legs, and even fish on the route.
Spend a Day at Noah’s Ark Rafting & Aerial Adventure Park
A day of thrills!
Spend the day rafting and playing on the Browns Canyon Aerial Adventure Park! You’ll try ziplines, ropes courses, and the giant swing before rafting 10-16 miles on the Arkansas River through Browns Canyon.
Investigate St. Elmo Ghost Town
Take a trip back in time
St. Elmo Ghost Town was an active town from the 1880s until the 1950s. Like many towns in the area, it peaked in the 1890s when many miners hoped to make their fortune. It had a telegraph office, a general store, and several saloons and dance halls (gasp!). You can see a lot of the original buildings and there’s fishing and hiking in the area.
See a Show at Comanche Drive-in Theater
Catch a movie under the stars
📍 Map It: 27784 Co Rd 339, Buena Vista, CO 81211 | Website | Open weekends in May, Nightly June-Aug
The Comanche Drive-In is the highest in elevation of any drive-in in the country…and arguably has the best view, too! You can watch current and classic movies all summer long.
Head Off-Road With BV Jeeps Mountain Adventure Rentals
You can explore old mining areas, drive mountain passes, and check out ghost towns in a Jeep or ATV here! Helpful staff can plan a trip for you, or give you a map and let you head off on your own.
Boat at Clear Creek Reservoir
Go boating on a clear lake
Clear Creek Reservoir has a boat ramp for motorized boats, several trails for Jeeps and other 4x4s, camping, fishing, and a few ghost towns nearby.
Bike the Buena Vista Singletrack Loop
Play in the dirt
This bike trail starts at the Buena Vista River Park, and climbs up to the Whipple Trail and onto the South Loop. It’s an intermediate to difficult loop with views of the Arkansas River and the mountains.
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Explore the Midland Tunnels
See railroad history
The Colorado Midland Railway constructed a series of tunnels between Colorado Springs, Leadville, and Aspen in the late 1800s for mining purposes. Those tunnels can now be explored by hiking or, in some cases, driving. The tunnels are open year-round, although in winter you may want a good vehicle for snow (or good snow gear for hiking!).
Hook some dinner
Along with great ice fishing, Twin Lakes has year-round fishing! Kids might enjoy Crystal Lakes better, where we’ve always had luck catching fish. Turquoise Lake is another great option.
Chill Out at Cottonwood Lake
Relax with some beautiful scenery
Fish on Cottonwood Lake, hike nearby, or take the scenic drive from Cottonwood campground to Mineral Basin.
👉 Read Next: 33 Best Things to Do and See in Colorado
That’s it for this guide to what to do in Buena Vista. Buena Vista lives up to its name, with spectacular views of the mountains and the Arkansas River! Whether you spend the day wandering Main Street, or on the biking and hiking trails nearby, you’re sure to enjoy a visit here!
Before you go, be sure to check out my guide to staying in Buena Vista for suggestions on the best areas and hotels for your base.
Have fun exploring the best things to do in Buena Vista, Colorado!