Buena Vista, Colorado – Mountains, Hiking and Fishing
Buena Vista is pronounced “Byoona Vista” by people in Denver. (I’m not sure how the locals in Buena Vista pronounce it.) Every time I pronounce it how I think is should be pronounced, knowing what little I know about the Spanish language, I receive odd looks. A close translation of Buena Vista is “Good View” and it lives up to that name because it is located in a beautiful river valley surrounded by high mountains. There are also several hot springs in the area that are open to the public. We have not visited any of these so I do not know if they smell like sulphur.
Buena Vista, Colorado, is a town set along the Arkansas River and is surrounded by the Collegiate Peaks Mountain Range. Many of the peaks in this range are over 14,000 feet in elevation (called 14ers in Colorado) and many of them are publicly accessible for those interested in hiking and maybe even summiting these mountains. (There are 58 14ers in Colorado). Some of the more accessible 14,000+ ft. mountains in the Collegiate Range include Mounts Yale, Princeton, Harvard, and Columbia. The town has a nice trail system along the Arkansas River where river surfers can be observed as they attempt to surf the large rapids near town. It is even possible to rent the equipment and try this crazy sport yourself.
We are not hikers per se, nor are we interested in summiting mountains. There are many people in Colorado who try to summit all 58 14ers. However, we will hike to the lakes lying in basins below the summits in order to fish. And there are many opportunities for this in the Buena Vista area. One such lake is Ptarmigan Lake. The trailhead for this lake is about 20 miles west of Buena Vista along Highway 306. The hike is between three and four miles. The main lake sits at 12,150 feet in elevation and contains cutthroat trout up to 24 inches. We have not done very well fishing that lake. However, back down the trail a few hundred yards is a smaller lake full of cutthroat trout. We have enjoyed some 20-fish days here and the fish are up to 16 inches.
Another favorite place to fish is a drive-to lake called Cottonwood Lake. The turnoff to this lake is just a few miles west of Buena Vista on the same highway (Highway 306). From the turnoff, Cottonwood Lake is only about five miles along a decent dirt road. The road runs very close to the lake on one side and it is possible to fish nearly anywhere along this road. We like to go to the paid parking area near the dam and hike around the side of the lake away from the road. There are fewer people on this side of the lake. We have enjoyed some 20-fish days here, catching mostly stocked rainbows up to about 14 inches.
The dirt road around and past Cottonwood Lake continues up Cottonwood Creek for 10-15 miles, and eventually takes the traveler above timberline. There is good fishing for mostly brook trout anywhere along Cottonwood Creek, but the fishing tends to be better the farther upstream you drive. Just before the road goes above timberline, there is a huge beaver dam complex along the creek. We have fished this beaver dam area several times for mostly cutthroat trout up to 18 inches. There are also a few brook trout here.
A few miles East of Buena Vista, Highway 285 crosses a small stream called Trout Creek. This is a spring-fed crystal-clear creek that is full of brown trout. We have enjoyed catching these fish up to 16 inches.
Traveling north of Buena Vista on Highway 24, a traveler will arrive at Twin Lakes. These lakes are known for large lake trout, but a boat is almost necessary to fish for them. We have fished some side ponds and beaver dams around these lakes and caught some nice brook trout.
The Buena Vista area is rich in outdoor opportunities. We plan to continue to explore this area and discover new places every summer. We hope to see you there sometime.