Paddlefest: The Best Time to Check Out Buena Vista Colorado

The once sleepy town of Buena Vista is sleepy no more; its popularity evident by the increasing number of people who visit each year. Contributing to the town’s thriving reputation as a mountain oasis are local establishments like a nationally recognized brewery, a stellar eatery catering to the diet-conscious, an award-winning distillery, an awesome outdoor shop, a brand new craft beer bar, hot springs resorts, multiple music venues, a disc golf course, a hip bike shop, and more. To say that Buena Vista is ‘cool’ is an understatement. To suggest it’s still a secret would be untrue.

What is accurate would be to say that any first-time visitor will be blow away by Buena Vista’s beauty, amenities, recreational activities, and most of all, by its warm and welcoming residents who adore their town and are happy to remind you why you should, too. But above all, Buena Vista is a river town, and there is no better time to feel the love for this Arkansas River Valley jewel than Memorial Day weekend when residents welcome summer—and river season—with CKS Paddlefest: an annual celebration hosted by Colorado Kayak Supply Mainstreet and dedicated to all the fun and excitement that comes from living on the Arkansas River.

If you’ve ever wanted to try a river activity, this is the time to do it. During CKS Paddlefest, Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center and other local outfitters offer kayak clinics, river running basics, surf sessions, group paddles, safety classes, and kayak roll lessons. For a more mellow day, float on still water with SUP yoga or family paddling on the town pond. If you’d rather watch the action, there are multiple competitions such as the BV Kayak Rodeo, a surfing contest, and Race to the Grill, where people of all ages choose to raft, SUP, or kayak down the gentler waters of the Milk Run to Riverside Grill where libations, food, and music await.

As CKS Paddlefest has grown, so too have the types of events it offers. In addition to water-based activities, there are organized nature walks, a scavenger hunt, the Yucca Classic Disc Golf Tournament, bouldering competitions, an 8K and half marathon trail run, and a kid’s bike race. Also, no festival would be complete without music, and CKS Paddlefest has tons of it. Touted as one of Colorado’s secret gems, the Beach at South Main offers a riverfront, family-friendly venue with food, drink, and gear vendors. Music plays into the evening while the river roars and stars sparkle. The festival’s second venue is the newly renovated Lariat Bar and Grill, which will host late night bands for those wanting to carry their fun into the early hours of the morning.

The first time I visited Buena Vista was during the second annual CKS Paddlefest, and I instantly fell in love with the town and its people. More than ten years later, I’m lucky enough to call Buena Vista home. There is an energy here that is unlike anywhere else in Colorado, and it is addicting. Come to CKS Paddlefest and experience it for yourself, and you’ll wish 81211 was your zip code, too.

Where to Stay:

  • Arkansas River Rim Campground and RV Park – Offering river and fishing access, tent sites, shaded sites, big rig friendly sites, hot showers, pet friendly accommodations, and Wi-Fi
  • Surf Chateau – A beautiful boutique hotel in the heart of South Main with impeccably furnished rooms and private balconies overlooking the river
  • Antero Hot Springs Cabins – A legendary Colorado destination made of historic cabins each with a private natural hot spring pool along Chalk Creek
  • Thunder Lodge – Family and pet-friendly creek side cabins with spacious living rooms, comfortable furniture, kitchens, and Wi-Fi

Where to Eat:

  • House Rock Kitchen – A new fast casual restaurant serving healthy, locally sourced food that is made from scratch and sugar free.
  • Asian Palate – Delectable Thai cuisine & sushi, a full bar, fine wines, and specialty cocktails in a great atmosphere decorated with local art
  • Trailer Made Provisions – Grab artisan tacos, burritos, and homemade crème brûlée while kids five and under eat free.

Where to Imbibe:

  • Jailhouse Craft Beer Bar – Housed in an historic jail, there are ten taps with stellar brews from Colorado and around the world, small bites, and cozy outdoor spaces with fire tables.
  • Lariat Bar and Grill – A cool, hip, and upscale dive music venue with 16 taps of standard & craft beer, house-made & locally sourced casual pub fare, pool tables, and darts.
  • Deerhammer Distillery – hand-crafted, award winning American single malt whiskey and other fine spirits the old fashioned way in a casual and warm atmosphere.

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Lindsay Diamond is a novelist and freelance writer living in the mountains of central Colorado. Visit to learn more.