There’s so much to see and do outdoors in the San Luis Valley. Here’s a list of some of our favorite outdoor recreation activities.
Fly Fishing the Rio Grande and the Conejos River
These two rivers offer excellent fly-fishing. Catch a hatch and/or float the Gold Medal waters of the Rio Grande. Find solitude and big browns and rainbow trout in the Conejos River and its tributaries. Visit the local fly shop for updates on conditions. For more info on fishing and floating the Rio check out: http://www.fishtheupperrio.
Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
Explore the tallest dunes in North America! The most recognized and most photographed natural feature of the San Luis Valley, the massive dunes rise from the Valley floor and nestle up against the Sangre de Cristo mountains. The park is open 24 hours/day, 365 days/year. The Visitor center is open daily except winter holidays. Hours are 9-4:30, with extended hours in summer. www.nps.gov/grsa
La Sierra Blanca
Towering 6,000 feet above the valley floor, Colorado’s fourth highest peak (elevation 14,345’) commands attention. Native Americans ascribe special significance to this landmark peak. The Navajo count it as one of the four sacred mountains, as it marks the eastern boundary of their traditional homeland. They call it Sisnaajini, meaning “white maid mountain”, perhaps due to the snow that frequently persists into late Spring. The Blanca massif includes four peaks over 14,000 feet (Blanca, Little Bear, Mount Lindsay and Ellingwood Point). Climb the peak via the recommended Lake Como route or admire it from below. The Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge offers great views of Mt. Blanca from its trails and wildlife drive.
Hike, rock climb, mountain bike, camp or just enjoy the beautiful setting and history of Penitente Canyon. http://www.fs.usda.gov/
Rock Creek in the Fall
Catch the golden display of the mature aspen in Rock Creek. Enjoy a moderate hike along the Rock Creek trail. This campground/picnic area sits in a narrow mountain valley and is located fairly close to the town of Monte Vista alongside the fast-moving Rock Creek. Other recreational activities include fishing in the North and South Forks of Rock Creek and big game hunting in the forest in season. http://www.fs.usda.
Sandhill Crane Migration
Every spring thousands of sandhill cranes migrate through the San Luis Valley. Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge is a great spot to take in the migration. Also, the annual Monte Vista Crane Festival hosts wildlife experts, local naturalists and biologists who present educational workshops at the Monte Vista Middle School, while flocks of dancing sandhills assemble in the neighboring farm fields, just east of town. Bus tours to the Monte Vista NWR and adjacent farmlands provide visitors with the opportunity to view this spectacle up close and personal, with a knowledgeable local guide. Special tours feature raptor identification, sunset trips to view cranes and visits to closed areas of the refuge for Crane Fest participants. A craft fair is held in the Ski-Hi building, which features a prominent crane mural on the outside walls. http://www.cranefest.com
Shrine of the Stations of the Cross
Experience the beauty of the Rio Culebra landscape and talent of local artisans at this inspiring devotional site. Along the half-mile trail are fifteen bronze sculptures of Christ’s passion and resurrection. The trail leads to the adobe Capilla at the top of the mesa. http://www.costilla-county.
South San Juan Wilderness Area
Considered one of Colorado’s wildest corners, the South San Juan Wilderness Area offers some of the best backpacking, hiking, and backcountry recreation in the state. The Continental Divide runs through the wilderness for 42 miles. For a short hike and taste of the area, check out Rough Creek Falls in the Conejos Canyon. For the more adventurous, the trail continues from the falls to the top of Conejos Canyon.
Valley View Hot Springs
Valley View Hot Springs offers multiple hot spring pools to soak in, a trail to a historic town site and the Orient Mine, as well as amazing Valley vistas. Warning: clothing is optional at Valley View. For information on hours, pricing and lodging/camping options check out: http://www.olt.org/vvhs
From the Zapata Falls BLM Recreation Area parking and picnic area, a ½ mile uphill hike leads to the waterfall. Getting to the falls is an adventure in itself, involving a wade through cold creek water and a climb over slick boulders. The recreation area also features a campground, a trailhead for the South Zapata Creek Trail, and mountain bike trails. For more information, go to: http://www.fs.usda.gov/
This “hidden Colorado gem” is also described here: http://www.colorado.com/