As the summer and fall camping season close I have complied our favorite top things to do for free in Buena, Vista Colorado. Being only an hour away from Summit County (where we live) and two hours from Denver its the optimal weekend getaway for the adventurous traveler without spending a lot. The small town in Chaffee, County is known as an adventure destination for hot springs, white water rafting, rustic lodging, dining and shopping but we did it our way without paying much at all…
We are avid hikers, mountain bikers, adventure seekers that take us away from the commercialized activities (albeit those adventures are amazing too!). I am also a novice skate boarder and have a Golden Retriever (Honey) so my list includes these activities as well. Check out my list of FREE top things to do for your perfect Buena Vista getaway. I also have included what we did spend a little money on so you can decide if you value those activities too!
- Camp in the BLM land. When you are driving into Buena Vista take a right onto HWY 304 . Nestled above a paid lot (also known as the Collegiate Peaks Scenic Overlook ) is a lesser known free dispersed camping area. Like most public lands it can be subject to heavy use, so please take care of it if you decide to camp for free! The land itself is incredibly scenic with interesting rock landscapes, native shrub land, and of course a panoramic view of the Collegiate Peaks (many famous 14er mountains).
- Hike the Numerous Trails in Town- Park at the Buena Vista Whitewater Park. Buena Vista has an impressive community recreation district that has a variety of different free amenities. Across the bridge from the main parking lot are beautiful & scenic multi-use trails. I particularly enjoy these trails for hiking (although I am a mountain biker, I prefer to use the Midland Trailhead for biking), I love the closeness to the river and town.
- Plan a 14er Mission. If you are looking for a more serious hiking mission take your pick of any of the Collegiate Peaks. While I am not a 14er expert I have climbed Mt. Yale (in October..brrrr…) others I have heard that are easier include Mt. Antero or Mt. Princeton. Most trail heads are less than one hour away from town center. Let me know if you hike one! Side note: If you are working on your hiking fitness and getting ready for a strenuous hike check out some of my favorite exercises for hikers here Bodyweight Workout for Hiking: Exercises to Prevent Knee Pain
- Buena Vista Dog Park. Honey LOVES the BV dog park. There are two large enclosures that border the river way area and make for one of the most scenic dog parks I have ever visited. There is no running water so remember to pack your pup some water (and BV is a very dry environment).
- Buena Vista Skate Park. You have to be interested in skateboarding to get value out of this “free” activity, but if you like to skate at all this little park is fun, fun, fun. Maybe someone in your party likes to skate; pack your board! On lookers can enjoy the view of the mountains while you skate. Here is a clip from my most recent BV skatepark day – so fun:
- Buena Vista Pump Track. If you are novice mountain biker, traveling with children, or just curious check out this small but well built pump track also located in the river way district. A pump track can provide a ton of entertainment for children, and be a great practicing tool for a beginner mountain bikers.
- Midland Bike Trails System . These trails are why I make the pilgrimage to BV at least twice a year – I love the single track! The midland bike trail itself is green/blue, with some technical features but a lot of it is just a flat, fun, railroad grade. The trails are well maintained and unique. Off of the midland trail offers more technical blue/black terrain as well. I have biked it all – some of the black features I walk around, but even then, most features are rollable. (About me: I am a downhill gal that used to work at a bike park, so these trails are technical & interesting to me with small > 10 mile loops. Most of my friends are cross country riders and they connect loops to get longer days of riding in).
- Picnic by the Arkansas River. There are many opportunities around the river way to picnic and enjoy the natural beauty.
- Window Shop & Art Appreciation Down Town. While I am not a big shopper it is fun to walk to main street and appreciate the galleries and outdoor gear stores. My favorite shop is The Village which sells sustainable, beautiful hand made items from around the world.
- Free Events & Concerts. I frequent BV a lot and have encountered different festivals and music events. When planning your BV trip it is worth checking out the BV Chamber of Commence site to see if there are any free events going on that might enrich your experience.
Ok, now on to what we DO spend money on.
- Coffee. There are a few coffee shops in BV but we love to frequent the Buena Vista Roastery. We like be able to buy a pound of coffee so we can take it back to camp and enjoy it at home (sooo yummy! We like to do pour over cone). I also value that they have an outdoor patio that allows dogs. I have found it challenging to find food/shops that are dog friendly in BV and this place is. Drop me a comment if you know of any restaurants that have dog friendly patios in BV!
- Hot Springs. BV boasts to be home to two different hot spring locations. I have been to both, during camping season however we choose to frequent the Cottonwood Hot Springs as it is closer to town, a more relaxed feel and in a beautiful canyon. I have gone in the day time to enjoy the fall foliage, but I have also gone at night and enjoyed dark skies with stars. My most frequent trip (Fall 2021) it was $24/person unlimited access – remember to bring a towel and your own water bottle. The other is the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs – beautiful, clean resort with amenities (bar, lodging, restaurants). I have been here twice and normally couple these hot springs as a less budget activity ($30/person) and typically plan it as it’s own special trip. The resort is amazing, and while I tend to say it is more developed (with two beautiful man-made pools) there is still access to the river which provides a natural & wild experience.