Buena Vista to Cottonwood Lake Out-and-Back

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Buena Vista, Colorado
Date Published:
July 4, 2023
Gravel Ratio:
55% G / 45% P
Difficulty Rating:
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We've biked on the other side of Highway 24 from Buena Vista and found the terrain fairly sandy and rugged over there. This dirt road that accesses Cottonwood Lake and Cottonwood Campground (343 and 344) is not exactly champagne gravel but pretty close to it for the large majority of the way.

You can't beat the scenery! There are views of Mt Princeton, Sheep Mountain, Mt Kreutzer, and Emma Burr Mountain (to name a few). Stretches go through shady old Aspen Groves. You bike alongside South Cottonwood Creek which is running high and strong this season. And of course, you will see Cottonwood Lake where people are fishing, kayaking, and SUPing.

Despite it being a holiday weekend when we did this ride, car traffic on 344 was very light. Once on the dirt road, the route seemed remote and peaceful even though it is just miles from the town of Buena Vista.


The paved section at the beginning losses its large shoulder right before you get to the turn-off for Cottonwood Lake. Traffic is steady, but this is a popular bike route and cars were courteous and reasonable when passing. (As you might expect, traffic is heaviest on weekends.)

Cottonwood Pass is aptly named. We biked this on the Fourth of July and when the wind picked up, the air was thick with cottonwood fluff! Keep your mouth closed and wear sunglasses to keep it out of your face!

Do this ride if you want an enjoyable and relatively easy/steady climb from the town of Buena Vista to a beautiful mountain lake. Getting there you'll have great scenery as you bike through shaded aspen groves and alongside the South Cottonwood Creek.

Other Notes:

Park at Mc Phelemy Park or choose street parking anywhere along Main Street. If you prefer a parking lot, take Main Street all the way down to the Arkansas River and park in the River Park Lot.

We found bathrooms/vault toilets at the Cottonwood Lake Campground at mile 10 on the way out and 14.3 on the way back.

The road does continue for several miles beyond what is on our route. We had a time constraint at the time of riding this so couldn't explore further. The road appears to get both steeper and more rugged at the point we turned around.

Since there is a campground and dispersed camping sites near the lake this could easily be used for a low risk/easy overnight bikebacking trip.

Favorite places to stop before or after are: Buena Vista Roastery Cafe, Louie's Ice Cream Shop, House Rock Kitchen, and Edddyline Restaurant/Brewery at South Main.

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Route Contributor

Laura & Rose

Laura Karpinski and Rose Barcklow are the creators of Gravel Bike Adventures. Click on the About page to learn more about them.

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