Discover Scenic Hikes, Romance & Serenity in Buena Vista, Colorado

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Buena Vista was our third stop in the beautiful state of Colorado, which is quite aptly named. We drove there from Colorado Springs in a rental car. One of our friends who recently moved to Denver was raving about this place and where she stayed, so we simply couldn’t pass up on the chance to stop by. At first, we booked only one night, as the hotel she recommended was a bit pricey by our FI-minded standards. We figured if we liked it, then we’d extend our stay to two nights after we arrive. And, aren’t we glad we tried it! Between the scenic hikes nearby, the yummy food scene and the incredibly cozy hotel room, we booked that second night within minutes of arriving.

Our 12-day Itinerary

To summarize our trip, we did a big loop clockwise starting with Denver and drove a total of over 500 miles.

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Here’s how our itinerary ended up. We only booked the first four nights in hotels before arriving, and played the rest by ear based on our tentative plan.

Days
Location (by letters on map)
1-3A, G) Denver – starting and ending point
3-4B) Colorado Springs
4-6C) Buena Vista
6-7D) Aspen/Snowmass
7-9E) Glenwood Springs
9-12F) Boulder

Getting to Buena Vista

The drive from Colorado Springs to Buena Vista is pretty simple and takes about two hours. A good chunk of it passes through scenic plains with mountains visible in the distance. It’s exciting at first, but then it gets old, as I enjoy seeing different scenery to make the time go by faster. Definitely fuel up and pack snacks before you head out, as once you get to the plains, there isn’t much along the roads, other than farmland.

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Lodging

Splurging at the Surf Chateau

As I mentioned, our friend was raving about this place, so we decided to splurge and got a room with a fireplace for $149 plus tax. This was meant to be the romantic getaway part of the trip, and this place nailed it! From the cozy cobblestone facade, to the amazing bed and shower, to the delicious coffee you can have on your own mini patio, we simply fell in love with this hotel.

One of the most interesting parts about this experience was the check in. There is no lobby or employee office. You prepay and get a code for the digital combination lock via e-mail before your arrival. Then, you let yourself in and ta-da! There is nothing else to worry about. If you need someone or something, you can call their number and get assistance.

We loved the place and booked a second night right away, knowing that this little paradise was worth every penny. I simply can’t recommend it enough!

Room tip: most rooms are on the ground level, which is convenient for rolling luggage in. If you’d like to have a view of the river behind the property, be sure to request that via e-mail, as there are only a few rooms overlooking it.

The location of this hotel is about a two-minute drive from downtown Buena Vista, which was very convenient. In the immediate vicinity, there is a mini town with a coffee shop, a restaurant and a few stores.

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The view of the Arkansas River in the back.

buena vista colorado

buena vista colorado

We enjoyed our morning coffee on our patio.

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The little main street just outside the hotel.

Activities

While Buena Vista is known for its 14,000 footers, it also has a number of easy and intermediate hikes, which is what we were after.

Barbara Whipple Trail

When we woke up the morning after arrival, we decided to relax in our cozy room and have some coffee on our patio. By the time we got into our brand new hiking apparel and boots, it was lunch time. We went to grab a bite in downtown Buena Vista and finally were ready to hike by 2 PM. Novice mistake! In most places in Colorado, the weather is pretty consistent. The mornings tend to be clear and perfect for hiking, and the afternoons bring some rain and clouds.

By the time we finished eating lunch and got to the car, it was closer to 2 PM, and we saw clouds coming in over the mountains towards the town. We decided to stay nearby at that point, since we’d likely have to wait out the rain. After asking some locals, they suggested we go to the nearby Barbara Whipple Trail.

It’s not a hard trail at all, so it was the perfect way to break our virgin hiker selves into this outdoorsy adventure. It took us about 20 minutes to hike up the longer trail and we made a big loop up above via a dirt road and descended a different route. Right before we got on the trail, the rain came. Luckily, we were close enough to go back and wait it out in the car. It only lasted 15 minutes or so, so we got lucky.

Learn from our newbie mistakes and get up early in the morning for your hikes to avoid a run in with rain.

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While this trail itself was not very scenic, it provided amazing views of the mountains across the town.

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Another tip for beginner hikers like us: dress in layers. With the dry air, you feel cold at time, like in the dessert at night. Then, when the sun comes out, you are sweating and you need to peel off the layers. Thankfully, we got some practical apparel at REI before our trip, so we were fully prepared for a striptease on demand.

Cottonwood Lake

After our first easy hike experience, we were hooked and wanted more. Even though it was already 5 PM and the clouds over the mountains were coming back again, we decided to go to Cottonwood Lake. I read some nice reviews about it online and decided it was worth a shot. It was only a 15 minute drive from our hotel, so I figured it was worth risking even if we’d get more rain.

Getting to the lake is easy and you get a scenic drive towards the end, as the last few miles are on a dirt road, surrounded by mountains and Aspen trees. We went in mid-September, so the fall foliage beauty was starting to come through and we got some stunning views.

Once you arrive, there is a parking lot, where you can pay to park your car. Seeing as we were coming late and not sure if we could even stay with the dark clouds coming in, we decided to keep driving to the lake. Once we got there, we saw only a few people fishing with their cars parked along the lake. We decided to channel their FI-friendly ways and just parked the car along the road.

It was getting cold by then and starting to drizzle, so we only spent about 20 minutes at the lake, taking in the scenery and enjoy the amazing fresh air.

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Lost Lake Trail

On our last morning in Buena Vista, we learned from our mistakes and got up earlier. We still got a chance to sip our coffee on our patio, packed, and got ready for our next hike on the way to the next destination.

A few people recommended doing the Lost Lake Trail and I am so glad we followed their advice. It was the perfect next step in terms of hiking challenge and the views we were rewarded with were well worth the effort.

The trick was getting to the place though. We put “Lost Lake Trail” into Google Maps and got to the vicinity just fine. Of course, you have to be ready for the curvy roads that pass through the mountains. They are not for the motion-sickness people, that’s for sure, but provide amazing views!

Once you “arrive”, the trouble is that there is no clear signage. When our GPS said we arrived, we were making a sharp turn on a curve, without a shoulder. We ended up going a bit further looking for a spot and found a paved shoulder along the road to pull over. There were several vehicles parked there already, which made us feel somewhat sure that we got the right place.

Then, we just got in the forest and found a trail. We followed it up through the forrest, along hills and valleys, past a small lake, and all the way to the end. It took us about 1.5 hours to get to the lake with a leisurely pace and some stops along the way to rest, sip water and take in the scenery. It took about 40 minutes to get back, including the mini detour we took when we lost the trail at some point.
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buena vista colorado

If you see this view, you went too far. Learn from us. 🙂

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The trail begins in the forest.

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buena vista colorado

We did this hike early in the morning/afternoon to avoid the late afternoon storms.

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There were some adventures along the trail: this obstacle course was unexpected, but so fun!

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buena vista colorado

buena vista colorado

We made it! Talk about a view to absorb and take a moment to think about life.

Indulging and savoring

For such a small town, we were pleasantly surprised by Buena Vista’s selection and quality of restaurants.

The Midland Stop

This coffee shop and gelateria is within walking distance from the Surf Chateau and we had a $10 gift card from the property to use there for the inconvenience of the construction going on. The hotel is expanding and there was work going on during the day. I wasn’t really inconvenienced by it, but I appreciated the gesture and gladly spent the gift card here.

Yumminess score: 7/10. After living in Europe, it’s hard to please me with just any cappuccino. It wasn’t the best, but pretty darn good by U.S. coffee shop standards.

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Simple Eatery & Spoon It Up

We had a yummy lunch combo at this place before we went hiking. It’s an odd set up, as they share a space with a clothing shop. They have outside seating, which we decided to take advantage of. Think of this place as a Panera or a Cosi concept.

Yumminess score: 8/10. Our soup and sandwich combo was pretty delicious, but the portion was a skinny bitch one. 🙂

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House Rock Kitchen

This was my favorite spot in Buena Vista. It was also a paradise with options for vegans and vegetarians. Plus they had a very diverse international menu. We had an Indian-flavored dish and a yummy fish sandwich. They also have a small bar, so we tried a locally-brewed beer with our lunch. The place is casual, so you come in, order, grab a seat and your food is delivered to your table.

Yumminess score: 9/10. Delicious flavors and lots of ethnic options are both deserving of praise!

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The Asian Palate

On our first night in town, we wanted something warm and spicy. This venue hit the spot. It’s nice to see something other than standard American fare in small American towns. We had the Tom Yum soup, a roll and some curry. Being spoiled by amazing restaurants in Philly, this was not our favorite, but it was a good enough experience that I’d eat there again, if in town.

Yumminess score: 7/10. Solid food quality and hits the “I need some Asian flavors” spot.

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Safety meter

Overall, we felt very safe in Buena Vista. It seemed like a nice small town. That being said, we didn’t really stay out late and only went out one night for dinner. Overall, this was one of our favorite stops on the Colorado adventure and I can’t wait to go back and enjoy it’s beauty, charm and romance once again.

Final thoughts

Whether you are a novice or avid hikers, this baby is worth adding to your Colorado itinerary if you can. You can be as active or as lazy as you want here, and no one is going to judge you. 🙂

Have you been to Buena Vista, Colorado? What are your favorite things to do and see there? 

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Mrs. Enchumbao

I’m a salsa-dancing, globe-trotting, people-watching ball of energy. I challenge the status quo and empower others to do the same.

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