Buena Vista: More than a Beautiful View

I’ve heard a lot about the town of Buena Vista, a cool little mountain town alongside the Arkansas River in the foothills of the Rocky Mountain’s Collegiate Range. When trying to describe it, one RVing friend said “It’s a ‘food truck’ kinda town.” But often times when there is a lot of hype about a place, it can be a letdown. Not so for Buena Vista.

CR 371 leaves the town of Buena Vista, and follows alongside the Arkansas River.

The road passes through FOUR old railroad tunnels!

Elephant Rock marks the entry of BLM’s crowded Elephant Rock Campground alongside the river.

When one Chevy Van just isn’t enough…

The BLM campground is particularly crowded because there is a canoe race going on right alongside the campground.

It’s entertaining to watch the paddlers maneuver through the gates, which are suspended from wires running from bank to bank.

I’ve often said that towns where “a river runs through it” end up being among my favorites. Durango, Missoula, Boise, Asheville, Eugene.  Even my college alma mater of Austin. So the fact that the entire town revolves around the river in Buena Vista is assurance I will enjoy the ambiance. Yes, it’s a heavily touristed town. But when the tourists are casual, laid back “river rats,” it doesn’t feel so annoyingly suffocating.

Unfortunately, there were a couple of hazy days from forest fires as far away as Aspen.

Elephant Rock is popular because there is a “put-in point” just a few feet from the campground.

I have a nice conversation with this woman on the stand-up paddleboard about how she plans to paddle the stretch of the river five miles into town, paddle up to the Eddyline brewery balcony and have a beer. (She will make an appearance later in the photos.)

If you are in Buena Vista, drive the scenic CR 371 to the end, where it rejoins Hwy 20.


There are lots of small, scenic pull-outs where you can watch the river traffic.

The dirt road also offers some scenic views of the Collegiate Range in the distance.

The town of Buena Vista centers around two separate downtown areas; Main Street, the old historic section, and a newer South Main area along the river.  Both seem to thrive because of the river traffic. While the historic downtown area is lined with unique restaurants, coffee shops, and craft breweries (and yes, a couple of food trucks!) the newer, more rural South Main alongside the river has the greenspace for farmers markets and outdoor concerts.

Love the outdoor seating areas, and the furniture is fascinating. See dog on the couch, and cat on the back of the couch.

Though very cleverly created, the tile is not very comfortable. No problems getting wet, however.

Weekly outdoor concerts take place here alongside the river.

The Arkansas River gets its start not too far north from here. The headwaters are just north of Leadville around Freemont Pass where the water rolls out of the rockies and ends up 1,469 miles later in the Mississippi. It travels through the Royal Gorge, changes its name to the Ar-KAN-sas River once it reaches Kansas, changing back to “AR-kan-saw” when it reaches the state by the same name. It’s the nations 6th largest largest river. It’s also Colorado’s longest river, of which 152 miles are protected by the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area. If the Arkansas River is the bloodstream of Colorado, Buena Vista is the heart.

The Jailhouse Craft Beer Bar

The Bearded Lady, one of three food trucks in town.

My favorite restaurant meal in some time…the “bowls” at the House Rock Kitchen.

Another “don’t miss” is Louie’s Ice Cream Shop with a really lovely garden and outdoor seating.

I particularly loved the “Before I die I want to” chalkboard in Louie’s garden. But I must say, some need to up their game. 😉

The old County Courthouse, 1882, now houses the Buena Vista Heritage Museum.

The Arkansas River is a whitewater mecca for kayakers and rafters alike. A voluntary flow program provides supplemental water during summer months to insure there is plenty of water flow for the fun. The town has engineered a Whitewater Park with “playholes” in the river with drops to enhance the hydraulics to create play waves and eddy pools. The park allows kayakers to practice their freestyle moves in a more safe environment, putting in and taking out in the same point. But the ones who really amaze me are those able to “surf” the waves on a stand-up paddle board!

One of the four “playholes” created in the river water park where people surf the play waves.

Remember the woman I met 5 miles up the road at Elephant Rock CG who said she was going down the river to grab a beer? There she goes on the left, now five miles from where I first saw her…

This stretch of the river between Buena Vista down through Brown’s Canyon National Monument is the most commercially rafted river in the USA. So why didn’t I go rafting? Well, that water is c-c-cold! And I am more focused on hot water these days, having made it my goal to hit up as many of Colorado’s hot springs as possible this summer.

Just 10 miles down the road from Buena Vista in the San Isabel National Forest along the foothills of 14,196 ft Mount Princeton is the Mount Princeton Hot Springs and Resort. At an elevation of over 8,500, water flows out of the mountain at 135 degrees.

Mt Princeton Hot Springs, established 1860.

This one strange door opening was the only stepped entry into this 5 ft deep pool.

Just beside the resort, hot water seeps out alongside the river.

This one spot where the couple are stacking rocks was my hidey-hole for the afternoon.

Although the hot springs offers four large pools, this is a bit of a bait and switch, as two of the four, (of which one is the “relaxation pool” that does not allow shrieking children,) are only available if you purchase their “Spa & Club” pass at twice the published price. I’ll not pay it just on principle.

But forget about the pools. The real draw are the “hot pots” down along Chalk Creek. Steamy hot water flows out from under the resort grounds into the river. People have arranged rocks to create small, individual sized pools along the edge of the chilly Chalk River. If the water gets too hot, just move a rock or two to cool off.

Buena Vista also has miles of hiking and biking trails within the Collegiate Range, also known as the Ivy League of high peaks with several of Colorado’s 14’ers. In addition to Mt. Princeton, there’s Mt. Harvard (14,420 ft), Mt. Columbia (14,073 ft) and Mt. Yale (14,196 ft,) with Colorado’s highest peak, Mount Elbert (14,433 ft) nearby. But there are plenty of local trails as well up in the hillsides overlooking the river. The most well known of these is the Whipple Trail, named for a local artist Barbara Whipple.

The Barbara Whipple Trail runs alongside the river, and leads up into the hills to connect with other trails.

The Arkansas River Trail runs the length of town, then crosses the river…

After the bridge, the trail leads up into the hills.

There are several kiosks along the Barbara Whipple Trail that tell of Buena Vista’s past, particularly the old Midland Railroad which is now a linking trail.


The name of this trail, “Broken Boyfriend” made me laugh until I hiked it…then I was a “Dead Girlfriend.”

Looking out over the straight line ahead which is Main St, Buena Vista, with the beautiful Collegiate Range in the background. In case you didn’t know, “Buena Vista” translates to “Beautiful View.”

Loved watching the rain move across the valley, even though it seemed as if it was gunning for me…

There was so much to love about Buena Vista. I really enjoyed my time there. But as always, something seems to urge me onward. In this case, my perfect little private boondocking cul de sac proved not to be so perfect after all. The only level part of the cul de sac was on lower ground, and it didn’t take but a couple of heavy afternoon thunderstorms to put me on edge, watching the pools collect around the Winnie. Being parked alongside a sheer rock face didn’t help either, knowing what happens when rainwater has no other place to flow but down.

The final straw was when a man in a pickup truck stopped by one morning while I was outside. “Be sure to keep your eye on the weather. This area is prone to flooding, and some pretty big storms are headed this way.”

I was packed up and gone by afternoon…

Before the Deluge…”Some of them were dreamers…And some of them were fools”

Boondocker Boundaries

Reports from the field indicate that the road to the boondocking spot just up from Poncha Springs where I parked in 2015 is no longer pleasantly passable for a rig the size of the Winnie. The road was rough, rutted and potholed when I drove it three years ago, but others more brave than I deemed it “even worse now.”

And Salida East, once a free BLM boondocking spot on the Arkansas River, has Continue reading

Black Top, Blue Mesa

I used to not think much of “black top camping.”  Why on earth would anyone choose to pay money to stay in a parking lot?  Particularly when you can often drive a few more miles and find a boondocking spot?  But there are those instances where the assets outweigh the asphalt.  The Lake Fork Campground overlooking beautiful Blue Mesa Reservoir is just such a place. Continue reading

Into Every Life Some Rain Must Fall

Colorado has been in my sites as my summer destination this year since the end of the season in 2015 when the declining temperatures cut my exploration short, sending me back south. This summer, my hope is to travel further north and see some of the areas I didn’t get to explore last time.

But at the same time, I want to also hit some of the places I missed along the way. My attempt is to walk that fine line between revisiting (remembering?) what I’ve missed Continue reading

Soaks, Snow, and a Sea of Sand

The US Dept of Interior recently posted on Facebook, “Moonlight brightens snowy dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Colorado. Experience the park after dark by stargazing, listening for owls along the foothills or going for a full moon walk on the dunes. Cold temperatures are the norm in winter, so bundle up with warm clothing and sturdy footwear for an unforgettable nighttime adventure.”

I find this an odd promotion, considering the park is miles from nowhere, and they have closed the one and only campground within the park.  Continue reading

Curecanti and the Black Canyon; The Rim, The River, and The Ride

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is only a small part of the 48 mile long gorge, carved over 2-billion years by the mighty Gunnison River, a tributary of the Colorado River.   The National Park protects the steepest and deepest 14-mile stretch of the gorge.    The park is bracketed on both ends by recreational areas; Gunnison Gorge to the west, and the larger Curecanti National Recreation Area the east.  Curecanti is formed by a series of three dams; Blue Mesa Dam, Morrow Point Dam, and Crystal Dam, each creating reservoirs of the same name.  The largest of these is Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado’s largest body of water. Continue reading