Top Tourist Attractions in Buena Vista, Colorado


Known for its breathtaking mountain vistas, winding waterways, and preserved Old West history, Buena Vista has emerged as a premier year-round destination that adventure seekers, families, and nature lovers alike can all enjoy.


  • Buena Vista provides unmatched access to outdoor activities like whitewater rafting, hiking, biking, fishing, and more with its picturesque location in the Collegiate Peaks.
  • Historical attractions like the St. Elmo Ghost Town and Buena Vista Heritage Museum showcase the area's mining and railroad heritage.
  • Local culture shines through at festivals, markets, galleries, and eateries around town.

Scenic Surroundings Offer Outdoor Thrills

Buena Vista is situated in the heart of Colorado’s Collegiate Peaks, so named for its mountains bearing the names of prestigious universities. Surrounded by the towering 14,000-foot peaks of the Sawatch Range, the Continental Divide runs along the west side of town, offering convenient access to some of Colorado’s most prized wilderness areas for hiking, biking, camping, fishing, hunting, and more.

Furthermore, Buena Vista’s proximity to natural wonders like the Arkansas River, known for its excellent whitewater rafting at the Buena Vista Whitewater Park, and the tranquil waters of Twin Lakes, provides endless outdoor adventure opportunities. The area is a gateway to exploring the Browns Canyon National Monument and San Isabel National Forest, making it a prime location for those seeking both relaxation and thrill in Colorado’s scenic outdoors. Whether it’s a leisurely day at Mount Princeton Hot Springs or an adventurous journey through Browns Canyon, Buena Vista serves as an ideal base for exploring the best of Central Colorado.

Just 30 minutes west of town, the scenic Collegiate Peaks Scenic Byway offers visitors a leisurely mountain drive through San Isabel and White River National Forests with plenty of trails, lakes, and campgrounds to stop and explore along the way.

Soothing Hot Springs and Alpine Lakes

While Buena Vista offers heart-pumping thrills, visitors can also find relaxation and rejuvenation in its many natural hot springs and peaceful alpine lakes. After a day tackling rapids or rugged peaks, sore muscles can find relief in the geothermal waters of Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort. Visitors can alternate between hot soaking pools, cooler plunge pools, and even an arctic plunge pool for the ultimate refresher.

Just 12 miles north of town, serene Cottonwood Lake provides a tranquil retreat surrounded by wildflowers and the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. Anglers can cast a line for cutthroat and rainbow trout while others relax lakeside and soak in the panoramic views.

Step Back in Time

Beyond its wealth of outdoor attractions, Buena Vista gives visitors a glimpse into Colorado’s past through its preserved historic sites. On the north end of town, the St. Elmo Ghost Town has remained nearly untouched since the 1880s after the mining industry dried up. Today, visitors can explore the abandoned buildings and imagine what life was like for the prospectors and pioneers who once called St. Elmo home.

To learn more about the area’s local history, the Buena Vista Heritage Museum located downtown houses an extensive collection of artifacts and photographs documenting Buena Vista’s past. From Native American tools to mining equipment, vintage clothing to family heirlooms, the museum archives centuries of local history.

Just south of town, the remaining buildings of the 1880s railroad town of Turret were preserved to showcase this important era of development in the region. Visitors can see the roundhouse, water tower, hotel, and other structures that served the railroad and its workers.

Local Traditions Preserved

While small in size, Buena Vista offers visitors authentic glimpses into local culture through events that preserve beloved traditions. Each summer, the town celebrates its Wild West past during Gold Rush Days where historic reenactors take over Main Street, and visitors can enjoy a parade, burro races, gold panning, square dancing, and more.

For over 20 years, Buena Vista has hosted free bluegrass and folk concerts on Tuesday evenings during its annual Music Festivals from June through August. The family-friendly events held at the Cottonwood Park bandshell are the perfect way to relax on a summer evening with good music and good company.

During the holiday season, the town celebrates with a cherished tradition, Christmas Opening Weekend. On the first weekend in December, downtown transforms with a parade, live nativity scene, carolers, craft fairs, and the annual lighting ceremony at the County Courthouse where thousands gather to welcome the holiday season.

Local Flavor

Beyond events and attractions, Buena Vista’s local character also shines through in its culinary scene. Located right on Main Street, the Asian Palate serves up delicious Thai food with creative flair using fresh, seasonal ingredients. Just down the road, the Eddyline Restaurant and Brewery crafts small-batch beers along with mouthwatering pub fare like bison burgers and trout tacos, embodying the Buena Vista area’s commitment to quality and the Colorado tourism spirit.

For a perfect picnic or hike companion, the Buena Vista Farmers Market sets up every Friday during summer months where visitors can stock up on baked goods, produce, meats, cheeses, and other homemade treats from regional vendors. This market is a testament to the Buena Vista tourist attractions, offering an authentic taste of Central Colorado’s agricultural bounty and serving as a hub for visitor information on local real estate, Colorado Springs, and day trip ideas to nearby Collegiate Peaks and Cottonwood Pass.

Art lovers can also discover local talent at galleries like ArtSpace and Vista Gallery, which showcase works from area painters, sculptors, jewelry makers, and other artists. These galleries highlight the vibrant Buena Vista art scene, situated within a broader context of Colorado’s rich cultural landscape, from Mount Princeton to the Arkansas River Valley, and offer glimpses into the diverse natural beauty that inspires local creativity, from the Rocky Mountains to Cottonwood Lake and St. Elmo.

Four Distinct Seasons to Explore

One of Buena Vista’s greatest assets is providing ample recreation across all four seasons from skiing fresh powder at Monarch Mountain just 30 minutes away to hiking among wildflowers on high alpine trails during the summer.

As the leaves turn in fall, visitors flock to the area to take in the dazzling golden display while having prime access to hike fourteeners – peaks over 14,000 feet – like nearby Mounts Yale, Princeton, and Harvard. Anglers also capitalize on the fall spawn to reel in large trout on the Arkansas River and surrounding mountain streams.

During winter, outdoor enthusiasts can break trail through fresh snow at Ski Cooper or Monarch Mountain Resorts, snowmobile on groomed routes through the backcountry, or try ice climbing frozen waterfalls along the Collegiate Peaks Scenic Byway.

Preserving the Land

Amidst promoting outdoor recreation and tourism, Buena Vista remains committed to conservation and sustainability. As the most visited National Forest in the country, the White River National Forest implements responsible tourism initiatives from permit systems to minimize overcrowding on popular trails to strictly enforced fire bans and camping regulations.

On the state level, the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area manages recreational gold medal waters of the Arkansas River from Leadville to Lake Pueblo, balancing visitor access with resource protection. As part of this ongoing mission, Buena Vista will host the 2025 Stewardship Conference to bring together land managers, local governments, businesses, and conservation groups to exchange ideas and find solutions.

At One with Nature

For visitors hoping to spot wildlife, Buena Vista provides ample opportunities to see animals in their natural habitats. Early risers can catch a glimpse of bighorn sheep grazing near town, or take a short drive to Cottonwood Lake where moose are known to visit.

Birdwatchers also flock to Brown’s Canyon near town as a premier spot to identify Golden Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, Swainson’s Hawks, and over 100 other winged species.

As an Audubon-designated Important Bird Area and a Globally Significant Important Bird Area, conservation efforts in Buena Vista aim to protect essential habitats to support native wildlife for generations to come.

Gateway to Adventure

Overlooked for decades as simply a stopover point along US-24, Buena Vista has transformed into a destination in its own right. With an endless array of outdoor adventures paired with cultural attractions and local charm, Buena Vista appeals to thrill-seeking families, solo travelers, road trippers – adventure seekers of all kinds.

Its convenient location and proximity to Denver and Colorado Springs airports make it the ideal home base for exploring Colorado’s high country. Whether visiting for an action-packed getaway, a relaxing retreat, or an authentic look at small-town life in the Rockies, Buena Vista offers an alpine paradise waiting to be discovered.


What is there to do in Buena Vista during winter?

During winter, popular activities include skiing and snowboarding at Ski Cooper and Monarch Mountain Resorts, snowmobiling, ice climbing, and breaking trail through fresh snow on peaks and trails around town.

Where is the best place to see fall foliage around Buena Vista?

Some of the best spots to take in fall foliage include the Collegiate Peaks Scenic Byway, Cottonwood Pass, and hiking trails around nearby fourteeners like Mount Yale, Princeton, and Harvard.

What is there to do on a rainy day in Buena Vista?

On rainy days, visit indoor attractions like the Buena Vista Heritage Museum, galleries, shops, and restaurants in downtown Buena Vista. Or relax in the hot springs at Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort.

Where can I access the Arkansas River for rafting near Buena Vista?

The most popular whitewater rafting sections of the Arkansas River are Numbers, Fractions, and Pine Creek, all located near town. Local outfitters like Arkansas Valley Adventure offer guided trips.

What wildlife might I see around Buena Vista?

Likely wildlife sightings include bighorn sheep, moose, elk, mule deer, black bears, mountain lions, and a huge diversity of bird species. Some of the best wildlife viewing areas are near Cottonwood Lake and along the Collegiate Peaks Scenic Byway.


About the author

Shannon Persad

As a seasoned journalist and Colorado native, I bring a deep-rooted connection and comprehensive understanding of Colorado to my work at My appreciation for the state’s rich history, vibrant culture, and pressing environmental issues drives my commitment to exploring its evolving landscape—from the bustling urban centers to the tranquil mountain towns.