men climbing iced over Zapata Falls

Discover Zapata Falls- An Easy Hike for the Whole Family

Enjoy the Great Outdoors!

Every season is a great time to get outside.   Zapata Falls in the San Luis Valley of Southern Colorado is the perfect place for friends and family to get together and give your body a good workout.  This first hike is easy, everyone can enjoy it.  The second hike listed is a little longer and requires more stamina, but is well worth the time.

As dry as the San Luis Valley appears, there is water in ‘them thar hills.’   Water flows year round at Zapata Falls and even in winter, when the falls partially freeze, this makes a perfect playground for ice climbers! Southern Colorado and the San Luis Valley in particular have many hidden gems and this is one of them worth checking out on the way to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

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Overlooking San Luis Valley

This is a wonderful way to introduce visiting family or friends to the San Luis Valley.  Because you are at a higher elevation and this is a short gentle incline hike, it is easy to acclimate.  From the parking lot, you hike on an easy 1/2 mile gravel and sometimes rocky path to a small grove of cottonwood trees.  Along the way are breathtaking views of the Sand Dunes and the San Luis Valley.  If the elevation or incline is a little challenging, benches are all along the way to rest.    Once at the grove of trees, if you are still feeling adventurous and the water is low, rock hopping is the only way over to the front of the falls. The falls sit behind a rock opening through a dike left by a retreating glacier.

RV and Tent Camping Sites Now Available

The Zapata Falls Recreation Area is designated with the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area and now also offers 6 day use picnic areas, as well as 25 RV and tent camping sites.  Bathrooms are available in both areas.

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Ice Climbers on Zapata Falls/Courtesy of Chuck Reel

Directions: Take Highway 159 North Toward the Great Sand Dunes National Park for 10.5 miles till you see the sign for Zapata Falls Recreation Area.  Turn right and drive 3.6 miles to the day use area.  There is plenty of parking. 

South Zapata Lake
Now, if you are feeling energized and want to hike further in, South Zapata Lake trail will not disappoint. This trail intersects with the Zapata Falls trail and you can’t miss it.  From the intersection, it is about 4 miles away.  Along the path, you’ll pass an old wooden cabin, aspen trees and more amazing scenery of the San Luis Valley.  However, if you decide to take this hike, be prepared and always carry water, food and rain gear as the weather has a tendency to change quickly.

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South Zapata Lake

You May Also Enjoy:

Hiking the Mogollon Interpretive Trail 

Hiking Up the East Fork of Mt. Baldy

Canyoneering in Arizona’s Best Kept Secret

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