Hiking through the Colorado Rockies
Hiking in Buena Vista
Collegiate Peaks Wilderness Area
Fresh air, blue skies and a true Colorado experience awaits you in our Rocky Mountains. Buena Vista is renowned for its Collegiate Peaks Wilderness Area with its 165,864 acres, much of which lies within the San Isabel National Forest. This wilderness area holds a collection of Sawatch Range Mountains and is set in the Buena Vista valley. The Sawatch Range contains some of Colorado’s highest peaks and provides magnificent views that inspire both visitors and local residents every day. Many of these peaks are named after universities, such as Mount Princeton, Mount Columbia, Mount Harvard and Mount Yale, earning the title “Collegiate Peaks”. Enjoy this book “Hiking Buena Vista, CO.“
Sometimes you’ll hear the Collegiate Peaks called “fourteeners” which is a reference to the mountains that have an elevation of at least 14,000 feet. Buena Vista is a popular area for mountaineering, especially since Chaffee County the highest concentration of fourteeners in Colorado. In fact, there are 12 fourteeners in our county all within an easy distance from Buena Vista. For more information consider this book “The Colorado Fourteeners.”
Summiting a fourteener is a noteworthy feat, and many travel to Buena Vista just to attain their very own mountaintop experience. Download you 14 tips for 14er Fun created by Chaffee County Search & Rescue here.
The Collegiate Peaks Wilderness Area forms part of the Continental Divide where snow melts to the Atlantic Ocean on one side and to the Pacific Ocean on the other side of the pass. This divide is marked at the saddle of Cottonwood Pass, a popular hiking, cycling and driving destination. Since the Sawatch Mountains reach such high elevation, snow typically lasts until July, which means the best mountain climbing months are usually July through September. Here is a great book “Colorado Trail Guidebook.”
Abundance of Hiking Trails
If advanced mountaineering isn’t your aim, numerous beginner and intermediate hikes are available in the Buena Vista area and serve as great family options. These hikes offer stunning views of the Collegiate Peaks. The many lakes near Buena Vista also offer beautiful hiking destinations, such as Ptarmigan Lake, Hartenstein Lake, Clear Creek Reservoir, and Twin Lakes. You can even hike the amazing trails at the end of East Main Street in downtown Buena Vista, such as the Arkansas River Trail or the Midland Trail; both are good options for families and those who don’t want to trek far out of town. They offer amazing views of the Collegiate Peaks and the Arkansas River. Purchase a copy of “Hiking in Buena Vista” book for your own variety of hiking trails.
The Colorado Trail is accessible from different spots within out area. Check out the State’s Colorado Trail Explorer website for more information on the Colorado Trail.
No matter the trail difficulty level, hiking in Buena Vista can be challenging at first because of the high altitude. But with proper hydration, nutrition, gear and attire, you’ll be ready for a fun adventure in the Colorado Rockies.
Barbara Whipple Trail and Midland Hill
The Barbara Whipple Trail (known usually as the “Whipple Trail”) is a moderately easy hike in Buena Vista, Colorado. The trail provides Amazing views of the Collegiate Peaks and the Arkansas river. It also connects to the Mildland Hill hike which allows one to climb to the top of “Sleeping Indian” 9,555 feet above sea level. Stop in at the Buena Vista Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center for a map!
The Whipple trail is located east of Buena Vista on Main Street – drive down to where Main St. dead ends, then take a quick left and park at the soccer fields. There is a bridge that crosses the Arkansas River and the trail begins at the bridge. The Barbara Whipple Trail has a loop that runs through pinions, with a route leading to the old Midland Railroad grade. Throughout the trail, there are kiosks with interesting historic information about the Arkansas River Valley. A great hike for one and all.
For a relaxing day with breathtaking mountain views, explore Lost Lake, located less than 30 minutes from downtown Buena Vista. This hike is terrific for visitors who aren’t used to Colorado’s altitude or for families with young ones. One of our favorite times to go is in July and August when the wildflowers are in full bloom. At an easy pace, this route typically takes about 30 to 45 minutes one-way. Bring your fishing pole to catch some 6-16″ native cutthroats.
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Distance: 2.6 miles round trip
Elevation: 11,195 ft.
Elevation Gain: 680 ft.
Directions: From the stoplight in downtown Buena Vista at the intersection of U.S. 24 and Main Street, head west on Main Street/CR 306 and travel for 18.1 miles. You’ll be going in the same direction as Cottonwood Pass. The trailhead will be on your left, and a small parking section is located on the right side of the road; keep your eyes peeled because the trailhead can be easily missed.
The path to Lake Ann offers hikers a serene experience, with impressive views of various mountain peaks. On the way, you’ll view the Three Apostles peaks and Mount Huron, both of which are noteworthy sights. Remember to bring lunch and or some snacks so you can stop at the lake to soak in the Rocky Mountain views and shimmering turquoise water. Lake Ann is also a good fishing spot, with 8-16″ native cutthroats that are ready to bite a dry fly.
Distance: 7.6 miles round trip (from 4WD trailhead)
Elevation: 10,560 ft. – 11,811 ft.
Elevation Gain: 1,251 ft.
Directions: To reach Lake Ann, head north out of Buena Vista on Highway 24 North for about 15 miles as you head toward Clear Creek Reservoir. Turn left to travel west on County Road 390 and continue for about 11.6 miles. Once you reach the ghost town of Winfield, turn left onto a small dirt road (FR 390.2B). After 0.1 miles, you’ll see a parking and camping area to your left. If you don’t have a four-wheel drive vehicle, you’ll have to park here and hike about 2 miles to the trailhead. If you do have a four-wheel drive vehicle, continue 2.1 miles on a rough section of road to the trailhead (when you reach 0.7 miles past Winfield, the road becomes a junction where you must turn right). Stay on this road until you see the parking lot.
If you’re in good physical shape and ready to summit a fourteener, Mount Yale is the route for you. Reaching 14,199 feet, Mount Yale is Colorado’s 21st highest peak. You’ll pass trickling streams and a picturesque meadow as you journey to the summit. At the top of Mount Yale, you’ll soak in breathtaking views in all directions, including sightings of Mt. Princeton, Pikes Peak, Mt. Harvard, Mt. Columbia and a mix of other peaks that include fourteeners such as Huron Peak, Missouri Mountain, Mt. Belford, Mt. Oxford and La Plata Peak. You’ll even get a glimpse of the town of Buena Vista and the Arkansas River Valley. Be prepared to get an early start for this hike. Afternoon thunderstorms are common, so you’ll want to summit before noon, which typically means leaving the trailhead no later than 6:00 a.m.
Distance: 9.5 miles round trip from the Denny Creek Trailhead
Elevation: 9,900 ft. – 14,199 ft.
Elevation Gain: 4,300 ft.
Directions: From the traffic light in Buena Vista at the intersection of U.S. 24 and Main Street, head west on Main Street/CR 306. Travel 12 miles until you reach the Denny Creek Trailhead and parking lot, located on your right. Hike north on Brown’s Pass Trail. After crossing 2 streams, watch for a small beaver pond on the left. Approximately 200 yards past this pond, look to your right for a path leaving the main trail. Follow this path, heading east. You will cross Delaney Creek and, after another half mile, arrive in an open meadow. Continuing on you will come to a steep section with fallen timber. Make your way up this section. You will come to an open area with Mt. Yale directly in front of you to the east. Follow a row of cairns leading to a 13,900 foot saddle to the left of the summit. After reaching this saddle, hike the rocky ridge southeast to the summit.