Buena Vista is a one-stoplight kind of town, that provides everything you need for a visit to the area. It has a great downtown that’s worth a stretch-your-legs walk, and its proximity to ghost towns, hiking trails, and some very big mountains make it a nice little town to visit.
I arrived in Buena Vista via US 24 and 285. As you drop down from the hills, you’re treated to a grand view of the Upper Arkansas River Valley. Instantly, the name “Buena Vista” (meaning Beautiful View in Spanish) seems appropriate. However, the pronunciation may surprise you. Instead of the way it would be said in Spanish (Bweena), the locals call their town “Byoo-na” — like you’re starting to say the English word “Beautiful”. A local woman, Alsina Dearheimer, named the town and suggested the pronunciation.
Of course, what makes Buena Vista so beautiful is the view of the mountains. Those mountains are known as the Collegiate Peaks — with Mounts Princeton, Harvard, and Yale all lined up in a row. All three are fourteeners, with the highest, Mount Harvard, topping out at 14,421 feet.
Turn at Buena Vista’s stoplight (there’s just one, and it’s famous enough to have its own Facebook page), and you’re on Main Street. The businesses stretch for several blocks, until you reach the Arkansas River.
Downtown has a great view of the surrounding hills — of course, the big mountains are in the opposite direction.
The old Chafee County Courthouse is now home to the Buena Vista Heritage Museum. The courthouse was completed in 1882, and used as a courthouse until 1932, when the county seat moved to Salida.
The Pearl Theater opened in 1951. It does not appear to be showing movies anymore.
Across the street, the Orpheum Theater dates back to 1910. I’m not certain of its status, either.
The old State Highway Department building was restored, and used for a while as a music venue, but it has gone out of business.
Just across the railroad tracks, you’ll find Buena Vista’s town hall.
After a few minutes of exploring, it was time for me to hit the road again. My destination for the night, Aspen, is only about 62 miles from Buena Vista, via the beautiful drive past Twin Lakes and over Independence Pass.
The Bottom Line
Buena Vista provides a great overnight location for a visit to Twin Lakes or Independence Pass, or for recreation on the Arkansas River. Or, you could tackle a challenging hike to the top of one of the Collegiate Peaks. At the very least, stop by Buena Vista’s nice little downtown and stretch your legs.
Buena Vista, Colorado is located along US Highway 24, about 65 miles south of Interstate 70, and about 90 miles west of Interstate 25. It’s just a few miles north of the intersection with US Highway 285, which connects Denver and Santa Fe, New Mexico.