One minute I’m paddling a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) in the middle of a pristine lake. The world rests in perfect balance—warm sun on my shoulders; rainbow trout leaping above the surface; mountains tall against a Colorado blue sky creating 360-degree breathtaking views.
The next minute the shock of cold water literally takes my breath away, and I have serious brain freeze courtesy of the Rocky Mountain snowmelt. A quick glance back at my kids enjoying the freedom of their own canoe, coupled with a quick gust of wind from the opposite direction, and my perfect balance is submerged in Cottonwood Lake.
The cold water is a far cry from the soothing waters of the nearby Mount Princeton Hot Springs where I’m staying, but this is exactly why we love Colorado—a place where the natural world brings us more alive in moments of invigorating clarity that often arrive at the intersection of bliss and misery. Some call it crazy. Others call it adventure.
Adventure is exactly what drew us to Buena Vista. Although it’s sometimes overshadowed by its hip neighbor, Salida, Buena Vista is a town with a lot more to offer than the good views its name implies. Its river, lakes and hot springs make BV a natural water world less than two hours from Colorado Springs.
Along the historic main street, Colorado Kayak Supply (CKS) is the place to find—and rent—kayaks, SUPs, local advice and all manner of paddling accessories. Across the street, the Buena Vista Roastery serves Bongo Billy’s organic fair trade coffees along with tasty morning treats from their on-site bakery. If you’re looking for heartier breakfast fare, including gluten-free options, the Evergreen Cafe’s scrumptious huevos rancheros, tofu scramble or homemade challah French toast will hit the spot.
With boards on the roof and a picnic lunch from the Simple Eatery (salads and fresh artisan bread), we turn the car westward toward Cottonwood Pass. The absence of motorized watercraft preserves a peaceful setting despite Cottonwood’s popularity in summer. For a fishing spot along the shore, get there early.
Back in town after a day on the lake, we jump in line for milkshakes and soft-serve cones at K’s Dairy Delite, a longtime BV favorite. Then we head to the Arkansas River and take a seat on the rocks at the Buena Vista Whitewater Park (head east on Main St. until it dead ends). It’s a great place to watch kayakers and river boarders play in the waves as they make Colorado surfing look easy. Of course, the Arkansas is famous for some of the best whitewater rafting and trout fishing in the country, but we’ll save those for another day.
When hunger calls, the Eddyline Restaurant at South Main answers. Close to the river with a casual kayak vibe, the gastropub is an excellent spot to soak up the sunset while you sample their suds on the patio. Try the award-winning and appropriately named River Runners Pale Ale. Wood-fired pizzas, calzones and burgers are standard, but the mushroom-pesto quinoa makes a tasty gluten-free option. Restless kids will enjoy testing their bouldering skills out front or playing chess at the tile-art outdoor living room across the green.
The memory of my morning Rocky Mountain ice bath lingers, making the lure of hot springs undeniable. About 15 miles south of Buena Vista, the waters of the Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort beckon to chilled bones, aching muscles, tired minds and weary souls.
The historic bathhouse was built in the mid-1800s, but the resort has undergone a complete transformation over the past few years. With an on-site restaurant, an adults-only spa and club, a 400-foot water slide and swimming pool for the kids, plus soaking pools and creekside hot springs for all, Mount Princeton combines family-friendly with luxury. Daily soaking passes are available to the geothermal, nonsulfurous pools, but the true experience comes with an overnight stay. You have lodging options, including hillside hotel rooms or lodge rooms in the center of things. But the log cabins are best for feeling away from it all.
For full nature-immersion, head creekside near the historic bathhouse where warm water pools inside stacked river stones as Chalk Creek rushes by. Just across the creek, the spa provides serenity with its pools, steam room, cold plunge, manicured landscaping and full menu of treatments. Crave more action? The complimentary fat bikes are tempting, but the waterslide is our kids’ favorite. It’s fast, fun and, best of all, warm.
With full use of the resort on checkout day, tomorrow you may find me lingering over a leisurely meal at the gourmet Princeton Club Restaurant, releasing my inner child on the waterslide with the kids, sipping a fresh-squeezed Minted Melon at the Juice Bar and maybe even restoring my inner balance at a yoga class.
But tonight the kids are tucked into our cabin with Dad, and I don’t plan to move from the cascading spa pool until long after the stars appear in the night sky above. Rushing water soothes the mind. Hot water soothes the body. And an adventurous escape so close yet so far from home soothes the soul. It’s definitely a good view from here.
How Do You Say It?
Spanish: BWAY-na Vee-sta
Local: BEW-na Vista
Longtime local: Bewnie
Skip it: B.V.
High and Dry
Prefer to steer clear of the wet and wild? Buena Vista is surrounded by an impressive selection of hiking trails and peaks in the 14er-rich Sawatch Range. Here’s a short list of favorites to explore: