Explore the tallest sand dune in North America, 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.
The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is one of the most unique national park experiences you'll ever have. Be sure to wear closed-toes shoes because cool morning sand can heat up to a dangerous 150 F on a hot summer day. Be on the look out for the 750-foot Star Dune, which is the tallest sand dune in North America.
Three miles south of the national park entrance is Zapata Falls, a cool oasis. The 25-foot-high waterfall is just a short half-mile hike from the parking lot and involves wading through cool water or walking on log bridges to reach.
Hungry? Head to Locavores for a farm-to-table fast-casual meal. 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.
Then put your feet up and take a train ride on the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad. Your train excursion will take you through the San Luis Valley and Alamosa's neighboring towns. For a unique musical journey, a Rio Grande Scenic Railroad ticket to the Fir Amphitheatre on La Veta Pass will give you entry to a concert experience only accessible by train. It closes for the winter season.
Learn more at the Colorado Visitor Center, 610 State Ave., or alamosa.org.
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.
Joyful Journey Hot Springs Spa
Soak away the dust from the road in these three small, beautiful hot springs-fed pools 50 miles north of Alamosa. 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. 28640 County Road 58 EE; 719-256-4328; www.alamosa.org/a-travelers-blog/557-joyful-journey-hotsprings-spa
La Capilla de Todos Santos
San Luis, Colo.
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. They rest along a comfortable three-quarter mile trail that climbs a short distance up a small mesa. 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/
For more information:
Colorado Visitors Center
610 State Ave, Alamosa, Colorado
San Luis Valley: