Aerial view of Buena Vista in Colorado

21 Best Things to Do in Buena Vista (in 2023)

👉 Jump to: Things to Do | Winter | Summer

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.

Oh, and be sure to bookmark my guide to where to stay in Buena Vista and our full free travel guide to Colorado!

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Best Things to Do in Buena Vista

Visit Cottonwood Hot Springs

Warm up in hot springs!

View of the Cottonwood Hot Springs sign at the entrance
Take a soak and warm up!

📍 Map It: 18999 Co Rd 306, Buena Vista, CO 81211 | Phone: (719) 395-6434 | Website | Hours: 8 am – 12 am daily | Entrance: $20, adults, $18 under 16

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

View of people trying river surfing in Buena Vista Whitewater Park
Catch a wave!

📍 Map It: 715 E Main St, Buena Vista, CO 81211 | Phone: (719) 395-6612 | Website | Hours: 7:30 am – 8 pm Sun & Wed, 7 am – 7 pm Mon, Tue, Thu – Sat | Entrance: free

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

View of the Browns Canyon National Monument sign during winter
(photo: Gregory Kempers / Shutterstock)

📍 Map It:  Co Rd 300, Salida, CO 81201 | Phone: (719) 269-8500 | Website | Entrance: Free | 👉 Browse Tours on Viator

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! 

View of the Mount Princeton Hot Spings from afar
Spend a day (or two!) at Mt. Princeton Hot Springs

📍 Map It: 15870 Co Rd 162, Nathrop, CO 81236 | Phone: (719) 395-2447 | Website | Hours: 9 am – 9 pm daily | Entrance: $35, adults, $30 under 16

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

📍 Map It: Twin Lakes, Colorado 81251 | Website | 1-Day Fishing License: $17.35, adults, free under 18

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 

View of the Buena Vista Roastery Cafe from the outside
Hang out on Main Street

📍 Map It: 409 E Main St, Buena Vista, CO 81211 | Phone: (719) 966-5500 | Website | Hours: 7 am – 3 pm daily 

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!

Visit Leadville

Pop by another one of the most beautiful mountain towns in Colorado

View of the Silver Dollar Saloon from the outside during morning

📍 Map It: Hwy 24 | Website | 👉 Browse Tours on Viator

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

View of the Deerhammer Distilling Company from the outside and its sign

📍 Map It: 321 E Main St, Buena Vista, CO 81211 | Website | Hours: 3 pm – 9 pm Mon, Tue, Thu; 3 pm – 10 pm Fri; 11 am – 10 pm Sat, 12 pm – 6 pm Sun | 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

View of the Cottonwood Pass during winter in Buena Vista

📍 Map It: Cottonwood Pass, Buena Vista | Website 

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

The Jumpin' Good Country Store from the outside

📍 Map It: 31700 US-24, Buena Vista, CO 81211 | Phone: (719) 395-4646 | Website | Hours: Store: 10 am – 4 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

View of the Buena Vista Heritage Museum from the outside

📍 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

View from a scenic drive in Collegiate Peaks Scenic and Historic Byway

📍 Map It:  Hwy 24 | Website 

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!

📍 Map It: 23910 US Hwy 285 #1a | Phone: (719) 395-2158 | Website

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

View of houses made of wood in St. Elmo Ghost Town

📍 Map It:  21900 Co Rd 162, Nathrop, CO 81236 | Phone: (719) 395-2117 | Website | Season: Mother’s Day – Last Sunday in September | Hours: 9 am – 5 pm daily

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.

If you enjoy ghost towns, be sure to next read my guide to the best ghost towns in Colorado.

See a Show at Comanche Drive-in Theater

Catch a movie under the stars

View of a welcoming sign from Comanche

📍 Map It: 27784 Co Rd 339, Buena Vista, CO 81211 | Website | Open: Fri – Sat

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

Head off-road

View of a Jeep on a muddy trail
(photo: Pavel Vaschenkov / Shutterstock)

📍 Map It: 222 US-24, Buena Vista, CO 81211 | Website

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

📍 Map It: Hwy 24 and CR390, Granite, CO | Phone: (719) 530-5520 | Website | Entrance: free

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

A group of cyclists in Buena Vista

📍 Map It: 715 E Main St, Buena Vista, CO 81211 | Phone: (719) 395-6612 | Website | Hours: 7 am – 7 pm Mon, Tue, Thu – Sat; 7:30 am – 8 pm Sun & Wed | Entrance: free

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.

👉 Read Next: Top Things to Do in Denver

Explore the Midland Tunnels

See railroad history

📍 Map It: Co Rd 371, Buena Vista, CO 81211 | Website 

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!). 

Go Fishing

Hook some dinner

The author's son holding a fishing rod with fish on it
Catching fish with the family

📍 Map It: Twin Lakes, Colorado 81251 | Website | 1-Day Fishing License: $17.35, adults, free under 18

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

Scenic view of the Cottonwood Lake

📍 Map It: Co Rd 344C, Nathrop, CO 81236 | Phone: (719) 539-3591 | Website | Entrance: $8 day-use fee 

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!

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