“Are you sure there’s no parking brake?”
Sitting behind the wheel of our Polaris RZR rental, I turned to my husband, confused. We had just been dropped off at Fourmile Travel Management Area by a local outfitter in nearby Buena Vista, an outdoorsy town about two hours from Denver, and we were on our own—well, us and our zippy little OHV (off-highway vehicle)—for the next six hours.
If we could get going, that is: I had driven a Polaris RZR before, but this was the first time I’d come across this perplexing situation—the vehicle not moving, despite me hitting the gas.
I tentatively pushed the pedal harder and the engine revved, but we still sat there. I didn’t remember our guide mentioning a parking brake, and there wasn’t anything in the instruction manual about one, either. So I pressed the gas pedal harder and finally, the RZR leapt forward. We were off!
We’d opted for self-guided exploration over booking a tour, and our guide had given us the rundown of the area. The recreation area itself was a mix of flat areas and a few hills sprinkled with some technical sections, but he gave us a few tips on where to snag the best views of the nearby Collegiate Peaks, which include some of the highest mountains in the Rockies.
We started our adventure at the trailhead at 376A, and after a few minutes, I got back into the rhythm of driving an OHV. If you’ve never driven one before, it’s similar to a car in that you put it in gear, there are gas and brake pedals, and the steering is roughly the same. But one of the major differences is that while a car might roll if you let your foot off the gas, the OHV doesn’t move. You have to push the gas pedal a little harder than you might be used to—hence my trouble getting us rolling at the sandy trailhead.
The Fourmile Travel Management Area covers more than 130 miles in total, and is a great spot for camping, off-roading, mountain biking, and even trail running. (Some of the trails are only open for specific activities, so be sure to check the map before you head out.) We were out there on a Saturday and saw a few other riders, but it wasn’t super busy—definitely good timing for us, avid hikers but OHV newbies getting used to our new wheels.
Hitting the Trails
Unlike some other small Colorado mountain towns, Buena Vista doesn’t allow OHVs to be driven through town. So if you want to hit the trails here, you’ll have to get a ride to them. There are a few places to rent vehicles, but when we were offered the opportunity from Polaris Adventures, we jumped on it. Their main outfitter in Buena Vista is River Runners at the aptly named Adventure Hub, located across the park from the new Surf Hotel and right next to the Arkansas River. From the Adventure Hub, guests are shuttled to the Fourmile Travel Management Area, a short drive away.
Thankfully, our rental car came with a tablet that had a map of the recreation area on it. (Otherwise, you’ll have to try your luck at one of the kiosks and hope that there’s a paper map left, or download the map ahead of time to your phone if you’re bringing your own OHV.)
Once we got going, we headed straight up to the rock arch the guide had recommended we check out, which was off of 373A and took about a half hour to reach. We don’t see many arches in Colorado, and this was one somewhat hidden. We knew that most of the day was going to be spent driving, so we wanted to get out and stretch our legs a bit. I was a little nervous on the rocky sections at first, as I was still getting the knack of driving a RZR, but as I became more comfortable I realized it wasn’t bad at all.
There’s a little pull-out and trailhead for the “hike” to the arch, though it was more of an uphill trek and then a scramble to get closer. It can be hard to spot, but you can see the “bridge”, or the top of the arch, from the road and then you’ll see the actual arch when you get closer.
From there, we buzzed around the nearby trails and then followed our tracks to connect to trail 311 and explore the Chubb Park State Land Trust, whose wide paths are also used by cars and campers.
One of the things my husband and I appreciated about the recreation area was the diversity of trails. There were some wide open dirt roads, sandy sections, and areas with reeds and river plants swaying high above. One of our favorite parts was riding through the aspens along 309A. The trail is in the same northeast area as Chubb Park, with some rocky and rutted technical sections that were fun to ride through.
On the way back, we cut through the 376. Also known as the Lenhardy Cut-off, it was probably the rockiest section that we came across. My husband was at the wheel: He put the RZR in low gear and we crawled up the hill. From there, we continued west across 376. We heard that there would be a couple river crossings, but unfortunately a dry winter meant we could only find one small creek running.
My husband and I are avid hikers, and even though we usually explore on two feet, it’s definitely fun to change things up a bit—especially in a vehicle that can crawl up and over just about everything. Another bonus? Renting an OHV requires no special requirements—your regular driver’s license will do the trick, and outfitters like River Runners will usually provide the registration, just like renting a car. As with just about any activity, you’ll need to sign a waiver, and they will put a hold on your credit card in case you damage the vehicle. You also have to wear a helmet, but it’s provided by the rental company.
From there, exploring is a cinch, even for relative off-road newbies like us. (Just don’t forget to give the pedal a little extra gas to get going.)
If You Go
There are a handful of unique hotel options in Buena Vista, such as the brand-new boutique Surf Hotel and the associated Surf Chateaus, which are across a small park from the Adventure Hub. They’re also situated right on the Arkansas River, and are just a short walk from everything on South Main Street. Liar’s Lodge is a short drive out of town, but is also on the Arkansas River. There are some chain hotels and Pinon Court Cabins are a good option on Highway 24, but some aren’t really within walking distance of anything.
There are plenty of choices when it comes to food. Grab a cup of morning joe and a pastry at The Midland Stop next to the Adventure Hub or Cool Beans Coffee & Collectibles (they have a drive-thru!) if you’re coming from Highway 24.
Stock up on snacks and lunch for the day at the Safeway grocery store or The Lettucehead Food Company, both on Highway 24.
The main dinner option in the newer downtown area is the Eddyline. Featuring locals brews and a variety of foods from vegetarian pastas to pulled pork sandwiches, it’s a good spot for a hearty meal.
If you head over to East Main Street, you’ll have more dining options. House Rock Kitchen is a little pricey, but offers healthy meals made from scratch with a nice outdoor seating area. And, it’s right across the street from Louie’s Ice Cream Shoppe (insider tip: Mix the apple pie ice cream with the graham cracker ice cream for a winning combo!). Restaurants range from Asian fare to casual cafe, so it’s not difficult to find something to refuel after a long day on the trails.
In the Fourmile area, trails are marked with their number and are sometimes hard to follow; as mentioned above, be sure to have a trail map handy. Keep in mind that there are more trails south of 285, but OHVs are not allowed on the highway and there’s no way to get to the other side without trailering your vehicle.
Written by Abbie Mood for RootsRated.