Explore the tallest sand dune in North America at Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, dip into hot springs, ride a historic train and eat in the shadow of 14,000-foot peaks in the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, all within 35 miles of Alamosa, Colo.
1. Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
For anyone who built magical kingdoms in sand boxes as a child, this national park is for you. Walk, sled and play in the dunes, dip your toes in Medano Creek if it’s running and climb or simply admire Star Dune, which stretches 750 feet into the sky. It’s the tallest sand dune in North America.
Stop in at the visitor center to learn more about the dunes, peruse exhibits and get more information from rangers on the park. When you explore the sand dunes, be sure to wear closed-toe shoes. Cool morning sand can heat up to a dangerous 150F on a hot summer day.
2. Zapata Falls
For a great 1-mile round-trip hike to a cool oasis, head to this 25-foot waterfall three miles south of the park entrance. The hike involves wading through cool water and walking on log bridges to get close to it. For more information visit www.alamosa.org/things-to-do-in-alamosa/alamosa-scenic-wonders/389-zapata-falls
Down the street is Zapata Ranch, a Nature Conservancy property that offers bison tours and overnight ranch stays on its 103,000-acre working ranch. www.zranch.org
3. Casual Farm-to-Table Eats
Hungry? Head to Locavores for a farm-to-table fast-casual restaurant. When you walk into this relative newcomer on Alamosa’s Main Street (it opened in September 2016), you’ll be greeted by a large map of the San Luis Valley. On it are arrows denoting local farms where the restaurant buys its ingredients.
From Haefeli’s Honey Farm and sausage made in the valley to potatoes and lamb raised in the valley, the food is so fresh Locavores doesn’t even have a freezer. Owner Wendi Seger opened the restaurant to tap into the San Luis Valley’s farm scene and make food available locally. Love her housemade sauces? Take some with you. You can buy everything from garlic aioli to tzatziki under her brand “Avant Garden.”
For a farm-to-tap experience, head to Square Peg Brewerks where local childhood friends Mark Martinez and Derek Heersink, whose barley provides the base malt, own this tasting room.
Or If you’re in town on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday evening, stop by Colorado Farm Brewery, a former dairy owned by head brewer Josh Cody, his father and brothers. They create their own malt in former dairy equipment and grow their own grains and hops, crafting estate beers. They may be one of the world’s first truly farm-to-tap breweries. The Cody family sources every ingredient in their beers on their farm.
4. Stations of the Cross
A short forty-five minute drive southeast of Alamosa will lead you to the town of San Luis, home of a cultural and spiritual display of inspiring art. Stations of the Cross are beautifully depicted in a series of bronze sculptures by internationally known San Luis artist Huberto Maestas.
Take a breathtaking walk past the Stations of the Cross in San Luis, Colorado’s oldest town. As you hike up this small hill along a three-quarter mile trail, you’ll pass each sculpture that captures different moments from Jesus’s crucifixion. At the top, you’ll reach the magical-looking Spanish-style chapel. Look closely at how Maestas, who works in town, sculpted the three-quarter life-sized sculptures that line the path. The Crucifix and Resurrection scenes are life-sized. At the top is the church and extraordinary views.
Below lies the village, with its “vega,” San Luis’ communal pasture, and the People’s Ditch, the oldest communal irrigation waterway in Colorado. www.alamosa.org/things-to-do-in-alamosa/alamosa-arts-and-culture/405-stations-of-the-cross
5. Dip in Hot Springs
Take a dip in the recently renovated Sand Dunes Pool complex in the valley. The 10,000-square-foot greenhouse offers an adults-only experience with three soaking tubs, a 10-foot by 75-foot zero entry pool and a bar built in a shipping container.
Beyond the Greenhouse, families can frolic in a large pool fed by hot springs that features a diving board.
Fifty miles north of Alamosa in Moffat, Colo., soak away the dust from the road in three small, beautiful hot springs-fed pools at Joyful Journey Hot Springs Spa. Take in extraordinary views of the Sangre de Cristo peaks as you get a massage or relax in mineral water ranging from 98-108 degrees.
A free continental breakfast with locally sourced and organic food is included in an overnight stay. Choose between a hotel room, tipi, yurt, tent site or RV site. 719-256-4328; www.alamosa.org/a-travelers-blog/557-joyful-journey-hotsprings-spa
6. Take a Scenic Train Ride
Then put your feet up and take a train ride on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, which was built in 1880. You’ll board the trail in Antonito, a small town 30 minutes from Alamosa. From there, your train excursion will take you through the San Luis Valley and eventually up to 10,015 where the train will navigate the highest mountain pass reached by train in the United States. It will also cross the Colorado-New Mexico border 11 times as it offers you stunning views and the possibility to spotting elk, deer, bears and eagles.
Quirky Side Trips
The San Luis Valley is home to vast views dotted by tiny agricultural based towns and some eccentric attractions. Here are some sights worth stopping to see.
Colorado Gators Reptile Farm
N. Mosca. Colo.
See Morris the alligator that appeared in the 1996 film Happy Gilmore starring Adam Sandler, along with dozens of other reptiles that live in this fish farm. The farm doubles as a sanctuary for unwanted reptiles. 9162 County Road 9; 719-378-2612; www.alamosa.org/things-to-do-in-alamosa/alamosa-outdoor-activities/396-colorado-gators-alamosa
Near Hooper, Colo.
If seeing an alien is on your bucket list, stop by Judy Messoline’s UFO Watchtower located 2.5 miles north of Hooper, Colo. on Hwy. 17. Even if you don’t see a UFO, there’s no shortage of tales of alien abductions and strange bright lights. Primitive camping is available on site. Whether it is extraterrestrial interference or GPS gone awry, travelers with GPS have been led astray, so be sure to enter on Hwy. 17.
For more information:
Colorado Visitors Center
610 State Ave, Alamosa, Colorado