• Great Sand Dunes and Sangre de Cristo Mountains

    Great Sand Dunes

    National Park & Preserve Colorado

Nearby Attractions

Girl in Zapata Falls

Zapata Falls flows into a narrow crevasse south of Great Sand Dunes National Park.

NPS/Patrick Myers

Zapata Falls

This popular short hike is located on BLM (US Bureau of Land Management) land south of the national park, off of Highway 150. It is a good option for summer afternoons when sand temperatures are high. Simply driving to the trailhead provides an excellent view of the entire dunefield and San Luis Valley, especially at sunrise or sunset. However, the hike to the falls requires wading over slippery rocks into a rock crevasse.

From the Visitor Center, drive south about 8 miles, then turn left (east) onto a gravel road. Drive about 3.5 miles to the trailhead. To view the falls, hike about 1/2 mile, cross the creek, then scramble up the rocks and stream into a crevasse where the 25 ft. high falls cascade onto a ledge.

Caution: Rocks are slippery. Water may be deep and swift in early summer during snowmelt, or during heavy thunderstorms. Rarely, rocks may fall from above into the crevasse. In winter, the falls freeze, creating an icy sculpture. Ice and snow may make the hike very slippery. Falling ice may be a hazard in spring.

 
Blanca Peak

14,037' Little Bear Peak (left) and 14,345' Blanca Peak (center) are two of the high peaks in the Sangre de Cristo Range near Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

NPS Photo by Patrick Myers

US Forest Service Lands, Sangre de Cristo Mountains

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve are surrounded on the north, south, and east by lands managed by the US Forest Service, including the Rio Grande National Forest (west side of the Sangre de Cristos) and the San Isabel National Forest (east side of the Sangre de Cristos). Eight 14,000' peaks and many other peaks, valleys, alpine lakes and streams are found within these two national forests of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

 
San Luis Lake

San Luis Lake (pictured) and San Luis Lakes State Wildlife Area are located at the western edge of Great Sand Dunes National Park.

NPS Photo

San Luis Lake State Park and San Luis Lakes State Wildlife Area

San Luis Lake State Park
features a large natural lake now maintained at year-round levels through a canal system. Water sports is the most popular activity at this park. Fishing is permitted, but currently carp is the primary species in the lake. Plans are underway to establish northern pike and other game fish. Check the park's website above for information on camping facilities.

San Luis Lakes State Wildlife Area protects a wetland complex adjacent to Great Sand Dunes National Park. Birdwatching and photography are primary activities here, although hunting is permitted in season. As with most protected wetlands, this wildlife area is closed to the public for shore bird nesting from February 15 - July 15 each year.

 
Alamosa NWR

Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge is one of three national refuges in the San Luis Valley.

NPS Photo by Scott Hansen

National Wildlife Refuges

Because of its many wetlands and strategic location for many unusual migratory birds, the San Luis Valley is home to three national wildlife refuges. Two are currently open to the public. The third, Baca National Wildlife Refuge, is not open to the public at this time; management planning is scheduled to begin in 2008. Baca NWR was created in 2004 as part of the expansion of Great Sand Dunes National Monument into a national park and preserve, protecting the entire natural hydrological system of the Great Sand Dunes.

Alamosa NWR is located a few miles southeast of Alamosa, Colorado. It features wetlands along the Rio Grande River.

Monte Vista NWR is south of Monte Vista, Colorado. This refuge contains many restored or enhanced wetlands associated with agricultural lands. It is one of the hotspots in the valley to view thousands of sandhill cranes each spring and fall.

 
Blanca Wetlands

The arid San Luis Valley is speckled with verdant wetlands, managed by many public and private land agencies.

NPS Photo by Scott Hansen

Other Wetland Areas in the San Luis Valley

Blanca Wetlands, Alamosa Open Space Wetlands, Russell Lakes SWA, and others are are described on the Grasslands, Shrublands, and Wetlands page on this site.

 
Fort Garland

Fort Garland has many living history events during the summer months, with historic tents, costumed interpreters, and diverse cultural dances and ceremonies.

NPS Photo by Patrick Myers

Fort Garland

Adobe buildings have been reconstructed to their original 19th century appearance at this important historic site in the town of Fort Garland, Colorado, on US Highway 160. Dioramas, exhibits, tents and teepees, and scheduled living history events make this a good place for all ages to learn about this era. Browse the Colorado Historical Society's web pages on Fort Garland for details.

 
Parade in San Luis Valley

Alamosa and Saguache Counties feature many museums, cultural events, galleries, and cuisine that reflect the rich heritage of the American West.

NPS Photo

Alamosa County and Saguache County, Cultural and Other Attractions

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is situated in Saguache County and Alamosa County. The closest town to the park and its mailing address is Mosca, Colorado. From western pioneer festivals and parades to American Indian dances and Hispanic heritage events, the San Luis Valley has a diverse heritage and an eclectic ambiance that is reflected in its architecture, art, and cuisine. This valley is even home to an alligator sanctuary and a "UFO Watchtower"! Follow the links above to official tourist information pages for details on cultural and other attractions in these counties.

 
Los Caminos Byway Collage

Photo collage courtesy of Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic and Historic Byway

Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic and Historic Byway

Part of the national system of scenic and historic byways, Los Caminos Antiguos gives the traveler a taste of the diverse cultural and natural resources of the San Luis Valley. From historic adobe churches in the southern part of the valley to an organic quinoa farm near Mosca, the valley's rich heritage comes to life.

The route goes from Cumbres Pass in the San Juan Mountains, through the southern part of the valley, past the Great Sand Dunes, west past San Luis Lakes to Highway 17, and finally south to Alamosa. Travel either direction on the byway and any part of it. Distinctive signs along the route interpret many natural and cultural points of interest. Restaurants, shops, museums, and historic sites on the byway also provide resources for travelers.

Did You Know?

Culturally peeled ponderosa pine

Ute, Apache, and other tribes peeled bark from pine trees for food and medicine. Over 100 of these culturally peeled trees are still living in Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. More...