I wrapped up a perfect weekend of rafting, grilling, and relaxing in Buena Vista, one of my favorite Colorado towns.
I’ve written previously about how much I love the Arkansas River Valley in this post from ’06. Nearby alpine ski towns which pack countless upscale resorts and condos into narrow valleys. Nothing wrong with that, but this area of central Colorado is rural by comparison. Between the majestic 14ers you see wide open spaces, some farmland, and remnants of the 1800s mining boom are still seen along the highways and county roads.
Small cabins speckle the rivers and creeks, and you’ll find small motels, family restaurants, and outdoor outfitters in the friendly towns of Leadville, Buena Vista, and Salida.
But first a quick tip for those heading southwest from Denver via 285: As you climb up the canyon past 470 there are some stretches that are 45mph. The tight curves provide a perfect shelter for the Morrison Police Department to hide out and catch zooming motorists who are attempting to be on time for their noon rafting departure. Since this was my first ticket in seven years Officer McConnell knocked it down to a mere two points and a $115 fine. Lesson learned; check’s in the mail.
An hour later we were back on schedule – and hungry. My regular breakfast place on I-70 is “Marion’s of the Rockies” in Idaho Springs. I’m far less traveled on 285, and would have preferred to push on and dine at the Evergreen Cafe in Buena Vista, (another fav,) but we decided to check out the “Dinky Dairy” in Fairplay. I’ve seen this shack of a building several times and have always thought it was just a small ice cream joint. After piling in I was surprised to see a menu board full of burgers and sandwiches, plus a complete breakfast menu and a variety of coffee brews.
Good stuff – especially the Cafe Americana. I recommend it and will be back.
I’ve rafted with Arkansas Valley Adventures a few times before, usually when taking family and friends to the mountains in the summer. AVA’s Upper Arkansas River location is just a few miles north of Buena Vista in the village of Granite. The environment is casual and relaxed, and they have all the gear needed to prep you for your trip. (However bring shoes that can get wet.) They’re a safe and professional organization with excellent guides and top-notch gear.
You’ll notice I have no photos of rafting. That’s because you get VERY wet. Usually there’s a photographer camped out on the rocks taking some group photos – but I find it pointless to purchase them, because since you’re donned in wetsuits, jackets, helmets, and life vests, any stock photo could look just like you. In lieu of an action packed shot of paddles churning the rapids here’s a photo of “Rally Liquor” at 402 Highway 24 North. Rally offers a fine selection of beer and spirits and they sell the large size Red Bulls. They have a drive through in case you need to get drinking in a hurry.
We rode a section of the Arkansas called “The Numbers.” The title is derived from the sets of rapids following each other in close sequence. With the spring season and recent snowmelt this was by far the fastest and highest water I’ve ever seen. In addition to a lengthy safety briefing covering all potential rapids related catastrophes our group of six boast was also accompanied by a safety kayaker. This was all for good reason since three people, including a guide, were bounced out of their respective rafts during our trip. Fortunately none from our raft! Our guide (sorry name forgotten,) was a bit bossy, but with violent waters like these her demanding military style was needed and appreciated. She got us through our trip safe and sound.
Since the nights are still chilly we decided to rent a cabin instead of camp. Via The Google I found Paradise Cove Cabins, located about three miles west of Buena Vista near the Cottonwood Hot Springs. Paradise Cove is run by Shiarra, a fellow Michigan native. Her two cabins are located along a creek downstream from Cottonwood Lake. The “Paradise Cottage” cabin has a full bedroom plus loft with two beds upstairs. The smaller “Abbot Cabin” is cozy and great for couples. Both feature fully stocked kitchens for cooking, and large decks to sit out and watch the river flow by.
I’ve recommended the advantages of staying in a condo or guest house many times, and this ranks right up with the Luz en Yucatan, New Orleans’s Burgundy, and the Amsterdam’s Marnixkade, (review soon-promise.)
Places like this are what makes traveling worth it, even if its only three hours outside your backyard. When you find places well cared for homes like this its like having your own vacation home, but without those pesky time-share fees.
More info about Paradise Cove on their site.
And seriously of you’re coming to Colorado during the summer skip Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park and head to this area. Fewer people, open spaces, and great people.
Bottom Left: Mt Harvard from Highway 24.