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The view from the Four Mile Travel Management Area just outside of town.

First-Timer’s Guide: Buena Vista

This quaint town offers the best of Colorado—outdoor adventures, tasty restaurants, boozy sips—all with beautiful views. 

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Situated below the Collegiate Peaks and Sawatch Range and with the Arkansas River flowing alongside, Buena Vista—which translates to “beautiful view” in Spanish—is an outdoorsman’s (or woman’s) paradise. The one-stoplight town may lack restaurants and adorable boutiques, but you’ll be too distracted by the easy access to everything from fourteener summits and Class IV rapids to steaming hot springs and acres of begging-to-be-explored Forest Service land to notice. Just remember: The name is “Byoona Vista,” not “Bwayna Veesta.” Locals made it official in 1879.

The Odometer: 122 miles, one way


Get Outside: If you’re visiting Buena Vista, you’re likely doing so because of the area’s recreation opportunities. There are 12 fourteeners in Chaffee County—opt for the Decalibron Loop near Fairplay to cross four off your list in one day—and the Arkansas River offers plenty for whitewater rafting (more on that later), fishing, and kayaking. Kids will enjoy the in-town pump track and numerous rocks with built-in problems to climb on around town (with how-to posters nearby). If you’re looking for something a little different, rent four wheels from ATV/Jeep Mountain Adventure Rentals (starting at $65) and spend half the day exploring the Fourmile Travel Management Area’s 100,000 acres of root-covered paths and muddy puddles (beware of the splash). Around every turn sits an Instagram-worthy shot, with the Collegiate Peaks looming over it all. If you’re looking for a more relaxing outing, the no-frills Cottonwood Hot Springs Inn & Spa (day passes cost $15 to $20) is five miles west of town, while the tonier Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort (day passes are $18 to $22) lies about 10 miles south.

Stay: When Surf Chateau opened two years ago, it added a high-end option to Buena Vista’s lineup of more rustic accommodations. The 20-room boutique hotel (rooms start at $149 per night) sits on the banks of the Arkansas River—book a room with a patio overlooking the flowing water—in the recently developed South Main neighborhood (think: colorfully painted Southern-inspired townhomes and a small array of cute boutiques and restaurants). After a long day on the water or up a mountain, you’ll appreciate the raindrop showerheads and sublimely comfortable beds. After all, adventures are better when they’re followed by a good night’s sleep.

Eat: Start your morning with a cup of organic, fair-trade java and a flaky pastry or, if you’ve got big plans for the day, a reasonably sized breakfast burrito at the Buena Vista Roastery. When you return from whatever adventure you planned for the day, make your way to the best restaurant in town: The Asian Palate. Sushi may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you’re in Buena Vista, but trust us when we tell you to order the spicy tuna-macadamia nut Eddy Roll. Replenish the rest of your lost calories with any of the curries or the silky beef and broccoli udon. Need a sweet nightcap? Pop by tfor a malt or the Midland Stop in South Main for house-made gelato (the bourbon-caramel-praline option is calling our name).

Sip: Like any decent mountain town, Buena Vista is home to a brewery, a distillery, and some darn good coffeeshops (see “Eat”). When happy hour rolls around, head to Deerhammer Distilling Company‘s tasting room, which is located right in the middle of town; free tours are available by request. The small space—grab a seat on the patio if the weather’s cooperating—serves up handcrafted spirits, including their signature single-malt whiskey. Order your favorite in a cocktail (the tropical High Roller is a personal favorite) and unwind from the day. If you want some dinner with your booze, check out Eddyline Brewing‘s South Main location for a wood-fired pizza (we ordered the Colorado, obviously) and a pint of River Runners Pale Ale. The taproom, on the other side of town, regularly features live music on the back patio.

Shop: Buena Vista is not known for its shopping, but there are two boutiques in the South Main ‘hood worth checking out. Women will enjoy the curated selection of Colorado wardrobe essentials—denim, cozy tanks, and eye-catching jewelry—at Made (pictured, left). You won’t walk out of Sundance and Friends(left) empty-handed. Between the lovely scented candles, handcrafted sheepskin and leather goods (as in, made by the Anderson family, who own the store), striking wood cutting boards, and other locally made wares, this corner shop has something for everyone.
Courtesy of Jumpin’ Good Goat Dairy / Robert Campbell Photography

Be Cheesy: One of Buena Vista’s more unique attractions is the Jumpin’ Good Goat Dairy. The 19-year-old, family-owned dairy is the highest elevation dairy in the country—and it produces some mighty tasty goat cheese. Take a tour around the facility—you’ll get to hang out with the goats!—for a hands-on introduction to how cheese is made. Don’t worry: Samples are included. Tours start at $4 for children and $8 for adults.

If You Do One Thing: Take advantage of the town’s proximity to the Arkansas River. There’s a reason Buena Vista was nicknamed the “whitewater capital of the world.” Rafting is big business here. Browns Canyon, which was recently declared a national monument, is a great option for adventurers of any age (and those who aren’t feeling quite so adventurous, as the rapids are pretty manageable). Those looking for more of a thrill will find what they seek by hitting up the Numbers or the Narrows. River Runners is one of the area’s oldest rafting companies, and they offer a variety of rafting trips through early September. You can relive your adventure over mahi mahi tacos and a margarita at the on-site cantina after your float.

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