Rafting the Arkansas River is a Colorado summer must. The crown on that quintessential experience: a cheeseburger at K’s Dairy Delite in Buena Vista. And justifiably so. After blasting calories paddling one of the country’s most popular stretches of whitewater, you definitely deserve an indulgent meal.

K’s maintains its cult following (and wins over first-timers) with an authentic throwback burger shack scene that dates back to 1955. Current owner Lois Huyck (who bought K’s with her husband, Charlie, in 2000) will tell you stories about the institution’s lineage: How she found a rusted sign from the early days when it was Goldbrick & Jerry’s Fountain Goodies, and how a local woman named Kay worked there for years before taking a spin as an owner in 1968.

Pull into the parking lot along Highway 24—look for clusters of vehicles topped with kayaks and rafts and families digging into their to-go orders at the neighboring riverside park—and snag your spot in line outside the small beige building’s walk-up window. Strangers share smiles when the teens working behind the counter announce “John Travolta, your order’s ready”—each customer receives a celebrity name signaling that their food is trayed up and waiting on the take-out counter. Oldies and classic rock pound from the speakers outside, drowning out the highway traffic buzz, and outdoor benches allow for superb people-watching and gorgeous views of the surrounding Collegiate Peaks.

Traditionalists should order the Number One: A medium-thick, juicy quarter-pound cheeseburger with shredded lettuce, pickle, diced onion, mustard, and ketchup, flanked by a large order of thin, crispy fries and a soft drink ($7.75). Adventurists lean to the sloppy-delicious chili burger ($5.25) or massive fried pork tenderloin sandwich ($4.95), and most customers order K’s crunchy onion rings ($4.25).

You can add a thick shake (an additional $1.99) or malt ($2.35 more) to your combo meal, or go all out for dessert with the peanut cluster parfait (layers of chocolate and vanilla ice cream, whole salted peanuts, and a choice of hot fudge, caramel sauce, or both; $3.95) or banana boat (three scoops of ice cream on a whole split banana with whipped cream, peanuts, and a choice of toppings; $4.95).

K’s Dairy Delite is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, March through the first weekend of November. After that, you’ll have to wait to fulfill your whitewater and cheeseburger cravings until spring runoff rolls back around.

223 Highway 24, Buena Vista, 719-395-8695

Lisa Blake
Lisa Blake
Lisa Blake is a freelance writer and children's book author living in Breckenridge. When she's not writing about food and mountain adventures, she can be found on the river with her son, pug and husband.