18 Great Things to do in Buena Vista with Kids

While we have driven through Buena Vista a few times on our way to an alternate destination, we had never stayed and explored the town. So we recently decided that this beautiful town deserved a proper visit. As we explored all the best things to do in Buena Vista with kids, we realized what a great place this was.

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This mountain town is full of adventure for those who love nature. You’ll feel at home among the canyons, mountain peaks, and water that flows through.

At first glance, you’ll notice a large correctional facility as you enter town. But if you look beyond, you’ll find a whole world of adventure calling.

So check out all the best family activities in Buena Vista for your next trip to Colorado.

Pinnable image of 18 Things to do in Buena Vista, Colorado for families.  4 Images: bottom of a waterslide with a small splash in the pool; an overlook point of mountain peaks from under a covered area; a brownish red caboose parked among trees; kids overlooking a bridge out to a river with trees to the right side
looking down a street in downtown Buena Vista, CO with older brick face two-story buildings with flat fronts.  Cars are parked along the sides of the streets, a green leafy tree hangs in the front right, there are larger clouds in the sky with peeks of blue sky

About Buena Vista

For starters, the elevation of Buena Vista (or “Bewnie”, as locals call it) is 7,965 feet. At just under 8,000 feet, make sure to drink plenty of water (and little to no alcohol) if you are not use to the elevation.

History of Buena Vista

Buena Vista held the county’s courthouse until the 1930’s, when they lost the county seat. The courthouse now resides in nearby Salida.

The courthouse became a school until the 70’s until it was also closed down. It’s now a heritage museum that honors the history of the area and the Ute people.

The Ute people originally inhabited the land until explorers came through in 1725. In the mid 1800’s, gold was found in Colorado, bringing more and more people to Buena Vista.

Today, Buena Vista is called home to just under 3,000 residents, but tourists flock for the outdoor adventure.

Things to do in Buena Vista with Kids!

Since this is a family travel blog, here are some of the best family activities in Buena Vista, Colorado. These are especially perfect for adventurous families. While most are little-kid friendly, I’ve noted if the activity is only suitable for older kids (only 1 or 2 are that way).

So find your favorite and enjoy all the incredible things to do in Buena Vista for families!

Browns Canyon National Monument: green bush in the foreground, a river with a few white rapids in the center, brown mountains to the sides on a blue sky day

1. Brown’s Canyon National Monument

Just a short 10 minute drive from downtown Buena Vista is the beautiful Brown’s Canyon National Monument. This is just about the top thing to do in Buena Vista since it captures the beauty of Colorado in one setting.

While national parks usually get all the love, national monuments are real beauties that can get overlooked. Colorado has a few national monuments, but you can find Brown’s Canyon right near Buena Vista.

This canyon is quintessential Colorado, with the Arkansas River flowing through the tall walls of the canyon.

Whether you try out a rafting trip or take to some of the trails, the family can enjoy the beauty of Brown’s Canyon from a few access points.

a large, brown river with one raft of people paddling down. Blue skies, green vibrant trees along the sides

2. Rafting

Rafting is the #1 reason people come to Buena Vista. The Arkansas river flows throughout town and beyond into the national monument, making it one of the top towns in the country for rafting.

There are numerous raft trip operators around Buena Vista. The scenery, canyon, and everything else is so beautiful that this is a really great opportunity to get on the water.

Rafting really is the best way to see Brown’s Canyon National Monument, but even paddling down the river outside the monument is gorgeous.

One of the family-friendly companies will take you on less intense rapids and allow children as young as 2 on the raft.

Book your Family-Friendly Raft Trip

Driving inside the Midland Tunnels in Buena Vista.  Rounded tunnel made from rock/mountain with a bright opening at the end

3. Midland Tunnels

I’m not going to lie: when I said I wanted to drive up to see some tunnels, my family humored me while also wondering why this was so important.

But when we drove away, they were all in awe and grateful for the awesome, albeit short-lived, experience.

The Midland Tunnels are a unique stop in Buena Vista that go with a little history lesson.

You can drive right through many of the tunnels. These rock structures were once used as tunnels for the Colorado Midland railways. The trains ran from the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s, when everything was shut down and abandonded.

Today you can still explore and drive through a few miles of these tunnels.

They are one-way, so just take an extra look before you enter.

4. Via Ferrata

For families with older and adventurous kids, you can check out the local Via Ferrata.

While some places like Telluride have popular spots for unique mountain hiking, Buena Vista has its own climbing experience.

Older kids ages 12 and up can enjoy the thrill of climbing along a mountain wall on iron rungs, going across cables and bridges, all in a safe manner. Enjoy an introduction and instruction to this unique experience as you take in awesome views of Buena Vista and beyond.

🥾 Book your Via Ferrata Experience

5. Zip Line

Families with kids ages 6 and up can participate in a classic mountain adventure of zip lining. Take in gorgeous views and slot canyons below as you soar over 6 lines.

This excursion is great for first-timers to get experience flying high across the Arkansas River and Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Book your Zip Line Adventure

looking across the Arkansas River in Buena Vista.  A white rapid in the center, with brown rock and green trees on the other side.  If you look closely you can see a bench on a trail on the other side of the river higher up on the side.

6. River Park

Buena Vista’s River Park is the top spot to witness people trying out the rapids in town. It’s a river playground for kayakers and paddlers, with a great view for spectators.

It’s a great place for beginners and experienced water athletes to attempt the rapids, but also a great place for families to hang out and enjoy watching others go down the river.

The park also offers land activities. Kids will love climbing around the big boulder (noted below), playing at the playground, or walking the trail along the river (pictured above).

two kids standing atop a giant Boulder and one kid climbing up the side at a park in Buena Vista.  Child climbing is in a pink shirt and blue shorts

7. Boulder Garden

For a park with a more natural setting, check out the Buena Vista Boulder Garden. Here the kids can climb around freely on the giant rock. The boulder requires some climbing skills, or at least some motivated efforts.

Kids can try the grips on the boulder or try the crevices to work their way up.

a covered area with a view of huge mountains and their peaks out the opening at the other side

8. Collegiate Peaks Overlook

Shortly off highway 285 is the perfect place to get a grand view of the Collegiate Peaks. This is a quicker stop worth the short drive.

Bring a snack to enjoy at the picnic tables and slow down for a few minutes as you take in the inspiring peaks in the distance, each which are named after great US universities. You’ll also get great views of the Sawatch Range.

a lake with sun rays shining down on the right, a few small lush green mountains on the left and forward across the lake.  The dirt trail is along the right

9. Cottonwood Lake

Cottonwood Lake is a beautiful, albeit very popular spot in the summer a short drive west of town. Visitors love to relax on this little gem nestled among the mountains.

You can’t bring motorized watercraft onto the lake, keeping it nice and peaceful for those with paddle boards or kayaks.

The best place to park for Cottonwood Lake is found right as you approach the lake. There is a day-use fee area, which offers picnic tables and even a couple nice decks that hang over the water.

This beautiful spot is perfect to visit in Buena Vista with kids and we wished we would have packed our paddle board to get on the lake.

10. Buena Vista Heritage Museum

Buena Vista sits on land that was once Ute Nation land. Today, they try to honor their history and keep the stories alive.

History buffs will love walking through the different historical aspects of Buena Vista.

Start at the Old Chaffee County Courthouse which stood during times of the Wild West. Today, it’s the Buena Vista Heritage Museum that preserves the history.

a brownish red train caboose on a track and a railroad crossing sign on the right.  It's located in a park, not an actual railroad.  Trees in the background and grass in the foreground.  Badge on caboose reads "Colorado Midland Railway" with words in triangle that say "Pikes Peak Route."   Words to the right near the bottom read "Colorado 425 Midland"

11. And Other Buena Vista Historical Sites

To continue down a path of history, make sure to stop at the Turner Farm and Apple Orchard. This is a historical homestead from over 100 years ago that provides events and entertainment today.

Fridays in the summer bring live music for families to enjoy, as well as other scheduled festivities.

The Depot and Caboose is a great for train enthusiasts. While the train no longer runs, you can explore the history of the rails at this transportation museum.

a park with playground and swings surrounded by a black ground border, green greass in the foregriound and a path just to the left.  Giant, old trees all around.  Kids running to the swing

12. McPhelemy Park

Right at the heart of Buena Vista is McPhelemy Park. It’s the city park that puts on events, music, and even paddle events on the pond.

McPhelemy is conveniently located right near the Depot (noted right above) for those wanting two activities at a time.

My kids loved playing at the playground, but you can also stroll around the pond (river) and take a storywalk. There is parking on two sides of the park, plus a few picnic tables.

13. Cottonwood Hot Springs

There are two main hot springs pools in Buena Vista that are open to the public. Cottonwood is one located just west of Buena Vista, and it’s the smaller one. With a smaller size comes smaller admission fees and less crowds.

Check out Cottonwood Hot Springs for a nice dip in warm, beneficial waters while in Buena Vista.

Mt Princeton Hot Springs.  A swimming pool with the end of a tube slide on the right, view of another pool in the distance and mountains in a haze in the distance

14. Mt Princeton Hot Springs

Mount Princeton Hot Springs is the more popular, and a little nicer place to soak in hot springs. It’s a little farther south, but an easy, short drive from Buena Vista.

Whether you are staying there the night or just pop in on a day pass, Mt Princeton is a great place for the family.

Enjoy 3 pool areas in the main hot springs section, or walk down to the bath house for two extra pools and the creekside hot springs.

Kids will especially enjoy the 350 foot slide (700 feet of travel distance) that weaves down the hill into the springs. The slide is open during the summer for extra fun.

These slides are newer and replaced an old, ground level slide. They go pretty fast!

You’ll have a choice of an enclosed tunnel slide, or a slide that begins as a tunnel but opens up after 3 turns.

Access to the slides costs an extra fee, but if you have slide-loving-kids, it’s worth the cost.

15. The Rock Doc

One of my daughter’s favorite things in life are shiny rocks, so whenever we end up somewhere of geological interest, we make sure to stop and pick something out.

The Rock Doc is a short drive from Buena Vista, just south of Nathrop. Here you’ll find stones, minerals, jewels, and gems of all different varieties.

Kids can grab a box of rocks (similar in style to a box of chocolates) to enjoy various types of rock within one purchase.

16. Brown’s Canyon Adventure Park

Take a fun, family outing to the Brown’s Canyon Adventure Park! This place features an aerial adventure course where you and the kids will be safely harnessed in as you tackle obstacles up in the sky.

Too young, or first timer? No problem. Try out the introductory course that has great thrills and easier challenges.

packed down gravel path on the left, some bushes, then a view of the Arkansas river to the right through some bushes

17. Arkansas River Walk

Perfect for all ages, enjoy an afternoon or evening stroll along the Arkansas River on the river walk.

This trail is easy and level, making it the perfect things to do in Buena Vista with kids. The trail is short and easy, though you can also just walk as far as you’d like and come back.

Keep your eyes out for wildlife and animals that roam around for a special treat!

We parked at the River Park for easy access to the path. It’s a packed down gravel/dirt path, making it very easy for young kids. If you head to the right (from River Park parking), you’ll end up in town.

three kids looking over a bridge with a river underneath, lots of green trees to both sides of the river

18. Beaver Falls Bridge

Beaver Falls is a little harder to access as it’s located just off a private property road. You’ll have to find a legit parking spot nearby and walk over, which is easy to do since there is plenty of parking in town and up the river.

The Beaver Falls Bridge is a beautiful view of the river and its rapids. Plus, it connects to trails that are open to the public if you’d like to do a little hiking.

Where to Stay in Buena Vista

a local, 3 story hotel.  First floor is the tallest with long vertical window amid the rock walls, patio tables with umbrellas along the front sidewalk, sign for Surf Hotel at the left side.

The Surf Hotel is the nicest one in town with a great location. It’s located right on the Arkansas River Walk, amid River Park, and right in town for easy walking to any restaurants and shops.

looking towards a living area of a rental in Buena Vista.  Angled wood ceilings are tallest as they meet in the middle, windows go to the ceiling , a TV in the middle on the far wall with a rounded sectional couch that you can see the back of.  Foreground is part of the counter, sink, and a white dishwasher

If you’d rather stay at a rental, we stayed at a spacious place about 7 minutes driving from town. We loved having 3 beds plus a futon and plenty of space to stretch or make meals.

👉🏼 Check out more options for hotels, rentals, and camping in Buena Vista!

Where to Eat in Buena Vista

While we packed our dinners to eat at the rental, we went out into town for lunch. We found some really yummy places to eat in town while there.

Buena Viking is a great, very popular place with a menu full of creative sandwiches. They also serve up salads and gluten-free chicken tenders (and other great gluten-free options).

Simple Eatery is a bakery with the best, freshest breads and desserts. The gluten-free oat bar tasted like heaven, while the coconut carrot bread in the “day old” deal basket was still soft and moist.

Simple Eatery has a selection of kids meals, sandwiches, unique soups, salads, burgers, and other creative entrees.

The Olive food truck is right on Main Street with 7 outdoor picnic tables with umbrellas. The mediterranean cuisine is delicious and my son wanted to go back the next day. They had great gluten-free options as well. Enjoy falafel, chicken Shawarma, gyros, Tabouli, and more.

Buena Vista With Kids

While Buena Vista is a great adventure playground, it’s a great place to bring kids for kid-friendly adventures as well. From great parks (that my kids never wanted to leave) to easy walks along the river, and to cool national monuments you may not have heard of before, Buena Vista is filled with beauty and experiences.

Take a walk through downtown if you’d like a cup of coffee or to do some souvenir shopping. Or hop right into the list of fun things to do in Buena Vista with kids to let the adventures begin.

Pinnable image of 18 Things to do in Buena Vista, Colorado for families. 4 Images: bottom of a waterslide with a small splash in the pool; an overlook point of mountain peaks from under a covered area; a brownish red caboose parked among trees; kids overlooking a bridge out to a river with trees to the right side

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