Exploring Buena Vista: Road Trip Routes to Discover


This picturesque mountain town is surrounded by soaring 14,000-foot peaks, lush forests, cascading waterfalls, and winding back roads begging to be explored. From outdoor adventures to historical sites and cultural events, Buena Vista has something for every traveler.


  • With rugged peaks, alpine lakes, and winding mountain passes, Buena Vista is a road-tripper's paradise.
  • Must-see attractions include the ghost town of St. Elmo, Cottonwood Pass scenic drive, and Mount Princeton Hot Springs.
  • The area offers endless outdoor recreation like hiking Collegiate Peaks, mountain biking hundreds of trails, whitewater rafting the Arkansas River, and exploring San Isabel National Forest.
  • Quaint accommodations, local restaurants, microbreweries, festivals, and ghost town history make Buena Vista a well-rounded basecamp.

Scenic Drives Showcase Natural Splendor

Many scenic drives pass through Buena Vista, each offering jaw-dropping vistas and access to outdoor adventure along the way. The Collegiate Peaks Scenic Byway winds through the San Isabel National Forest with views of Colorado’s highest peaks. Driving over Cottonwood Pass treats you to wildflowers and panoramas of the Sawatch Range, while the road to Twin Lakes offers glimpses of the state’s highest natural lakes.

For a peaceful drive, take County Road 300 as it follows the Arkansas River through a lush valley dotted with fishing holes. Or opt for Independence Pass, traveling over a 12,000-foot mountain road overlooking Aspen groves and the famed Ski Resort.

Outdoor Adventure for All Interests

Buena Vista is an outdoor enthusiast’s playground, thanks to its proximity to Colorado’s epic mountain landscapes. Hikers and backpackers flock to the area for its seemingly endless peaks, ridges, and valleys to explore the San Isabel and White River national forests.

Some of the most popular hiking trails lead into the nearby Collegiate Peaks Wilderness Area, where you can access eight mountains over 14,000 feet. Hikes range from easy nature walks to multi-day backpacking trips.

In addition to hiking, the region offers boundless options for mountain biking, whitewater rafting, and kayaking on the Arkansas River’s frothy rapids, ATV tours through old mining country, rock climbing, fly fishing, and more. Come winter, you can ski at Monarch Mountain or try snowshoeing and cross-country skiing on snow-covered trails near town.

No matter the season, Buena Vista delivers epic outdoor adventures in some of Colorado’s most magnificent high country.

Soak in Hot Springs Under the Stars

After an exhilarating day exploring the Rocky Mountains and navigating the scenic routes of the Collegiate Peaks Scenic Byway during your quintessential Colorado road trip, find solace in the geothermal waters of Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort.

Nestled near the banks of the Arkansas River and surrounded by the breathtaking Collegiate Peaks, this oasis is a pivotal stop on any Buena Vista road trip. Here, you can unwind in multiple pools, with temperatures ranging from 98 to 108 degrees Fahrenheit, while gazing up at the dazzling night sky above Buena Vista. The experience is a harmonious blend of Colorado tourism and natural wonder, allowing you to soak in the essence of the Rocky Mountain National Park and nearby Browns Canyon National Monument.

Soak sore muscles as you stargaze in the main pool, following a day filled with rafting trips on the Arkansas River, mountain biking through Downtown Buena Vista, or exploring the historical byways of nearby ghost towns. Enjoy a couple’s massage in a private clawfoot tub, an intimate retreat echoing the charm of Hotel Colorado. Alternatively, take a plunge in the plunging pools after hiking trails leading to Cottonwood Lake or Twin Lakes. The resort even offers overnight guests, staying in accommodations that range from luxury suites to cozy spots perfect for those traveling by RV park access to the hot springs 24 hours a day.

Diverse Lodging Options

From rustic log cabins to trendy boutique hotels, Buena Vista offers diverse lodging to match your style and budget. Many feature fireplaces, full kitchens, hot tubs, and easy access to hiking trails.

For a truly unique stay, spend the night at The Jailhouse, converted from an original jail building dating back to 1886. Here, you can sleep in an old jail cell or historic sheriff’s residence.

Campers can pitch a tent or park their RV at one of several area campgrounds, like Cottonwood Cove Campground along the Arkansas River, or one of many sites within San Isabel National Forest. Not only are the public lands around Buena Vista ideal for camping, but staying overnight allows you to fully immerse yourself in nature.

Festivals Spotlight Local Traditions

While the natural landscapes take center stage, the local culture also shines through in Buena Vista and the surrounding Leadville area. Throughout the year you can take part in community celebrations that highlight the history, heritage, and traditions of this high-altitude region.

Annual events like Wheels and Wings, Burro Days, and the Boom Days festival feature parades, rodeos, craft fairs, and reenactments of Colorado’s mining heydays. For holiday charm, visit during December to wander the town’s picturesque Christmas Market.

These lively festivals offer the chance to revel alongside locals while also stocking up on regional foods and handmade crafts to take home as mementos. They provide the perfect complement to outdoor adventures when planning your Buena Vista road trip.

Off-the-Beaten Path Exploration

Venturing down dusty back roads leads to many hidden gems scattered throughout the hills and valleys around Buena Vista. One such place is St. Elmo, an eerily preserved ghost town abandoned in the early 20th century. Wander through vacant buildings and the general store while picturing what life was like over a century ago.

The area’s mining history also comes alive in nearby Leadville, where you can tour mine shafts and visit the National Mining Hall of Fame. Here, you can soak in the mystical waters emerging from a cave in the cliffs nearby. It’s just one of many off-the-grid attractions to enhance your Buena Vista road trip.

Travel Tips for Visiting Buena Vista

While summer and fall are ideal times for visiting Buena Vista, travelers can enjoy the area year-round. Some key tips for planning your Colorado road trip include:


Spot wildflowers on mountain passes opening in late May and June. Attend festivals like Wheels and Wings.


Hike high peaks, go whitewater rafting and camping. Enjoy outdoor concerts and farmers markets.


Drive scenic byways to see fall foliage. Go mountain biking and attend the Burro Days festival.


Ski at Monarch Mountain or try winter hiking and snowshoeing. Soak in Mount Princeton Hot Springs.

No matter when you visit, be sure to stay flexible with your itinerary. Talk to locals to discover hidden gems and make spontaneous stops that reveal the area’s adventurous spirit. Allow ample time to lose yourself down back roads through pristine wilderness and quaint mountain towns where the real Colorado emerges.

With gushing rivers, snow-capped peaks, and charming mountain communities, Buena Vista is the ultimate basecamp for Colorado road trip adventures beyond the ordinary. Let the freedom of the open road lead you to high-altitude vistas, adrenaline-pumping activities, and remote hot springs in this picturesque corner of the Rockies.


What are the top things to see and do on a road trip to Buena Vista?

Must-see attractions include the scenic drives over Independence Pass and Cottonwood Pass, hiking and camping in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, whitewater rafting on the Arkansas River’s Royal Gorge section, soaking in Mount Princeton Hot Springs, exploring the St. Elmo ghost town, mountain biking the Monarch Crest Trail, and attending local festivals.

Where should I stay while road tripping through Buena Vista?

Great accommodation options include cabins, boutique hotels, and campgrounds in Buena Vista and Leadville. For a one-of-a-kind stay, book a room at The Jailhouse hotel located in an original 1886 jail building.

What is there to do in the winter in Buena Vista?

Popular winter activities include skiing and snowboarding at nearby Monarch Mountain, snowshoeing and cross country skiing on backcountry trails, and soaking in the geothermal pools at Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort. Many restaurants and shops stay open year-round as well.

When is the best time to visit Buena Vista?

While beautiful year-round, the best times are generally late spring through early fall when mountain passes are open and weather is ideal for outdoor recreation. Summertime offers peak hiking and water sports while September and October bring fall foliage.

What should I pack for a Buena Vista road trip?

Pack layers, hiking shoes or boots, sunglasses, hat, sunscreen, swimsuit for hot springs, camera, reusable water bottle, bug spray, flashlight or headlamp, road trip snacks, and a sense of adventure!


About the author

Ransom Patterson

My expertise in Colorado life extends beyond just residing here; it’s also about living actively within the community. I spend my time cycling through Denver’s trails, experimenting with local cuisines, and immersing myself in the local music scene. These activities give me a unique perspective on the cultural and outdoor offerings of Colorado. This hands-on approach allows me to provide insider tips and personal recommendations that resonate with both locals and visitors alike.