Buena Vista, Colorado
Buena Vista offers a wide range of riding options for visiting mountain bikers. From the family-friendly River Road to the superb singletracks of the Colorado Trail and the Midland Railroad Grade, there is something for everyone.
Midland Railroad Grade
This is one of the most popular mountain biking routes in Buena Vista. The ride starts with a fun stretch of singletrack that climbs up from the Arkansas River. At the top, you’ll find spectacular views of Mount Princeton and the southern Arkansas Valley from the old Midland Railroad grade along CR 304. Once you turn east, the trail returns to singletrack that slices through narrow stone cuts and drops into diversions that wind down through draws once spanned by rail trestles. The trail is approximately 7.3 miles from trailhead-to-trailhead, but it’s possible to shorten the ride by turning back sooner.
- Ride length: 14.6 miles
- Ride type: out-and-back
- Riding time: 2-3 hours
- Surface: singletrack (9.8 miles); dirt road (4.8 miles)
- Elevations: start/end 7,960’; max 8,750’; min 7,960’
- Total climbing: gain/loss 1,090’
- Aerobic level: easy (the 0.9-mile climb at the start is more difficult)
- Technical level: intermediate (the short technical sections are easily walked)
- Season: April through November (year-round when dry)
- Directions to trailhead: from the stoplight at the intersection of US 24 and Main St. in Buena Vista, drive 0.5 miles east to the end of E. Main St. Bear left into the Buena Vista River Park parking lot. The ride starts at the west side (town side) of the footbridge over the river.
- Trailhead/trail amenities: restrooms and water at the River Park.
- Additional riding options: for an easier, primarily downhill ride, leave a vehicle at the River Park and start the ride at the eastern trailhead (at CR 315). To get there, drive 2.4 miles south on US 24 from the intersection of Main St. and US 24 in Buena Vista. Turn left at the intersection with US 285/24 and drive 5.6 miles east to CR 315. Turn left onto CR 315 and drive 0.5 miles to the trailhead and parking area on the left.
- 0.0 – Cross the bridge and turn right along the Whipple Trail singletrack.
- 0.1 – Stay right at the split. The trail drops down a few feet and parallels the river.
- 0.2 – Pass the shaded bench area with 4 interpretive signs on your right.
- 0.3 – Stay right at the split. (Note- bear left for an easier route to CR 304.)
- 0.9 – Intersect CR 304 and turn right. Stay on this road for the next 2 miles.
- 2.9 – Go straight on FSR 376A. This is a slightly confusing 3-way split. You want to avoid the natural inclination to descend right on CR 304. FSR 376A is the middle fork just left of the parking area and Fourmile sign.
- 3.3 – Go straight onto TR 1450 singletrack as FSR 376A departs left.
- 4.8 – Continue straight along TR 1450. TR 1450 may not be marked at this intersection, but TR 1450A is the spur on the left.
- 7.3 – Bear left and drop down to the well-marked trailhead at the intersection with CR/FSR 315. Return the way you came.
Buena Vista River Park
Just east of the Buena Vista River Park is a small network of singletrack trails that thread the scrubby pinons at the base of Midland Hill. This little playground is a great place to stretch your legs or sneak in a quick ride before/after a raft trip.
Free maps for this area are available at The Trailhead (707 N. US HWY 24). Grab a map to create your own riding circuits through this area.
- Ride length: varies
- Ride type: varies
- Riding time: 1 hour (or more)
- Surface: singletrack
- Elevations: start/end 7,960’; max 8,400’; min 7,960’
- Total climbing: approx. 300’ (from the trailhead to CR 304; highpoint is on TR 6032A)
- Aerobic level: moderate
- Technical level: easy to advanced
- Season: year round (snow permitting)
Directions to trailhead: from the stoplight at the intersection of US 24 and Main St. in Buena Vista, drive 0.5 miles east to the end of E. Main St. Bear left into the Buena Vista River Park parking lot. The rides start at the west side (town side) of the footbridge over the river.
- Trailhead/trail amenities: restrooms and water at the River
- Midland Bike Trail (South Loop): 0.9 miles; switchbacks; technical level: intermediate.
- Midland Stage Road: 0.5 miles; moderate climb; technical level: easy.
- North Loop: 0.8 miles; rocks; technical level: intermediate/advanced.
- TR 6032A (Broken Boyfriend): 1.4 miles; rocks; technical level: intermediate/advanced.Park.
Buena Vista River Road
The Buena Vista River Road is a fun ride for families and riders of all abilities. The route follows the old Midland Railroad grade along the banks of the Arkansas River and parallels one of the most popular whitewater runs, the Narrows. There are no hills or technical obstacles and you can shorten the ride by turning around anywhere along the route.
During the summer you’re likely to see intrepid boaters on the water and climbers on the rock outcroppings adjacent to the road. The real highlights of the ride, however, are the old railroad tunnels you’ll pass through en route. (Though the tunnels are structurally safe, watch for cars; it’s difficult for drivers to see bikers in the tunnels.)
- Ride length: 18.6 miles
- Ride type: out-and-back
- Riding time: 1-4 hours
- Surface: dirt road
- Elevations: start 7,950’; end 8,490’; max 8,520’; min 7,950’
- Total climbing: gain/loss 550’
- Aerobic level: easy
- Technical level: easy
- Season: year round (snow permitting)
- Directions to trailhead: park anywhere in downtown Buena Vista. The ride begins on N. Colorado Ave. at the intersection with E. Main St. (0.2 miles east of US 24).
- Trailhead/trail amenities: pit toilet at mile 6.2.
- 0.0 – Ride north on N. Colorado Ave. from the intersection with E. Main St.
- 0.3 -Buena Vista city limits. N. Colorado Ave. becomes CR 371.
- 1.8 – Cross a bridge over the river. The road surface turns to dirt just after the bridge.
- 2.5 – Pass the intersection with CR 375 on your right.
- 2.6 – Enter the first tunnel. Watch for traffic.
- 3.0 – Pass by two popular rock climbing areas, one (Bob’s Rock) immediately on your right, the other (Elephant Rock) just ahead on your left.
- 6.2 – Pass the Railroad Bridge recreation area on your left (pit toilets available).
- 9.3 – The ride ends where CR 371 turns left and crosses the river. Return the way you came. The return trip is slightly downhill and you are more likely to have the wind at your back as you ride.
Colorado Trail: Mt. Princeton to South Cottonwood Creek
This route, a tasty segment of the Colorado Trail, is probably the best trail for experienced mountain bikers in the Buena Vista area. The singletrack is superb and if you only have time for one ride, this should be it.
With the exception of the downhill to South Cottonwood Creek, the route is technically moderate. There are some minor rock gardens and a few roots, but the toughest sections are the steep and sharp uphill/downhill transitions at the bottom of drainages.
While the downhill to South Cottonwood Creek is not as smooth as the rest of the trail, strong intermediate cyclists should be able to ride most of it. Conversely, climbing up from the trailhead at CR 344 is not bad; strong intermediates should be able to pedal up at least 75% of it.
Since the best of this ride is the return trip from about mile 6.1 to the parking area, some may elect to turn around early, skipping the technical descent to CR 344.
- Ride length: 16.8 miles
- Ride type: out-and-back
- Riding time: 3 hours
- Surface: singletrack (14.6 miles); jeep road (2.2 miles)
- Elevations: start/end 8,910’; max 10,030’; min 8,890’
- Total climbing: gain/loss 3,100’
- Aerobic level: strenuous (climbing)
- Technical level: 4 (overall 3 with one steep and technical section)
- Season: May through October
- Directions to trailhead: from the stoplight at the intersection of US 24 and Main St. in Buena Vista, drive 0.8 miles west on W. Main (CR 306) to the intersection with CR 321 (Rodeo Road). Turn left onto CR 321 and drive 6.8 miles to the intersection with CR 322. Turn right, following the sign to Frontier Ranch, and drive 0.9 miles to the fork. Turn right into the Mt. Princeton parking area. The ride starts from the west end of this parking lot.
- Trailhead/trail amenities: none.
- Additional riding options: if you elect to ride this as a one-way with auto shuttles, starting at the South Cottonwood Trailhead and riding south to Frontier Ranch puts the bulk of the hard work at the start and rewards you with excellent singletrack from the highpoint almost all the way to Frontier Ranch. Leave a vehicle at Frontier Ranch and take the riders/bikes to the South Cottonwood Trailhead. From the intersection of US 24 and Main St. in Buena Vista, drive 6.8 miles west on W. Main (CR 306) to the intersection with CR 344. Turn left onto CR 344 and drive about 0.25 miles. Look for the small parking area and Colorado Trail markers on the left. Start the ride at the South Cottonwood Trail sign, about 30 yards southeast of the parking area.
- 0.0 – Head west to ride out of the parking lot. Take the right fork and start pedaling uphill.
- 0.4 – Stay right through the switchback to stay on the main road.
- 1.1 – Turn right onto the Colorado Trail singetrack.
- 2.4 – Continue straight on the main trail, passing between two cairns.
- 6.1 – Start the descent to Cottonwood Creek and CR 344. (Note- this is a good turn-around spot for those wishing to skip the climb back up from the creek and trailhead.)
- 8.0 – Cross CR 343 to continue descending on the Colorado Trail.
- 8.3 – Cross South Cottonwood Creek on a good bridge.
- 8.4 – South Cottonwood Trailhead parking area and CR 344. Turn around and return the way you came.