Top Year-Round Things to do in Alamosa - 36 Hour Getaway
“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks”
It’s unlikely that Muir could imagine the high tech world we live in with more and more people moving into metro areas like the Front Range. Even with its mountain proximity, time spent walking with nature gets short-changed. So short-changed, in fact, that physicians are prescribing time in nature for a number of health conditions from depression to obesity. The Japanese therapeutic practice of shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, is both a practice and an art. “We are hard-wired to affiliate with the natural world and just as our health improves when we are in it, so our health suffers when we are divorced from it,” says American Biologist E.O. Wilson.
So gear up and give yourself a nature prescription not far from home in the San Luis Valley. With Alamosa as your base, these year-round adventures will do wonders for your health. They don’t have to be audacious adventures. Coloradans sometimes get sidetracked by the extreme sports that abound in the state, so let’s keep it simple. And don’t pack too much into your itinerary; you need some rest after your work-week. You’ll still get a good taste of whatever you choose to do on Saturday and Sunday which will leave another weekend adventure to look forward to. After all, there’s so much to do. Here’s what you can do year-round in the San Luis Valley.
1) Hiking or Snowshoeing Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
So often we don’t realize what’s in our own backyards. Some dunes in the park’s 30-mile dunefield top over 700 feet, the tallest in North America. You can be there in just 40 minutes from Alamosa, the gateway to this incredible place.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
There are hiking trails in the Great Sand Dunes for all levels of fitness. Shifting sands mean there are no trails on the dunes themselves but the website and Visitor’s Center will provide you with information on dune hiking options including access, mileage, and difficulty. In winter, unless there’s lots of snow on the dunes don’t risk ruining equipment by trying to hike them with snowshoes. There are other hikes through the forest or higher elevation alpine trails, including Mt. Herard where you’ll have a 13,000-foot view over the dunes and beyond. Or hike flatter ground in the area’s wetland, grassland, and shrubland trails. If hiking the dunes in the heat of the summer, go early - the sand can get extremely hot.
For an even deeper connection to nature, up-level your weekend getaway by heading back to Alamosa for a rest and some grub before going back to the park on a clear night with a darker moon. You won’t be able to see stars like this in the city! The Great Sand Dunes Park and Preserve is open 24/7 and is one of four internationally recognized dark sky parks in Colorado (there are about 2 dozen in the US). The dry air, high elevation and lack of light pollution will give you excellent visibility of stars, planets and the Milky Way, something city dwellers don’t get to see. Then experience what happens when you stare up into the vast open sky.
It’s best to stop in or call the Visitor Center for the latest conditions: 719-378-6395. You can also get an idea of conditions by month: Great Sand Dunes Current Conditions. The Visitor’s Center is open year-round 9:00 AM - 4:30 PM. It is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and Martin Luther King Junior Day. If you need to rent snowshoes, Kristi Sports in Alamosa can gear you up.
Other Wonders to Experience. While the Great Sand Dunes might be the top San Luis Valley destination for many, there are other wonders to experience in the Rio Grande National Forest. For things to do in the Rio Grande National Forest, drive through Creede’s historic mining district, take a scenic byway drive on “Los Caminos Antiguos,” the ancient roads used by Spanish explorers during their territorial expansion in the 16th century or hike in one of Rio Grande National Forest’s four wilderness areas: La Garita, Sangre de Cristo, South San Juan, and Weminuche. These areas are farther afield so plan accordingly. They might be best to explore if you have another day or two.
Farther Afield in the Wheeler Geologic Area in La Garita Wilderness ©kyler_butler
Even in winter the fish are still hungry. Thermal layers under waders are an absolute must to keep out temps that might hit single-digit or sub-zero but you’ll be rewarded by the solitude of a gold medal river. The 17-mile stretch of gold medal waters on the Rio Grande is the longest in Colorado. About an hour’s drive from Alamosa, access points are right along Highway 149 just outside of South Fork on the way to Creede. The best fishing in Alamosa is not just on the Rio Grande and if you’re up for winter fishing there are several locations for ice fishing near Alamosa.
Winter Fly Fishing, Upper Rio Grande. Photo Courtesy of Upper Rio Grande Guide
Fishing equipment: Visit Big R and Kristi Sports in Alamosa or in South Fork, Rainbow Grocery and Sporting Goods and 8200 Mountain Sports. Licenses can be purchased at Big R and Walmart in Alamosa or Rainbow Grocery and Doc’s Outdoor Sports in South Fork. You can also purchase your Colorado fishing license online.
Safety: No matter the time of year, be aware of your surroundings at all times, keep an eye out for weather as it can change suddenly and if winter or spring fishing, be extremely cautious of ice conditions, including the ice shelves that can form along the river. They can be very dangerous. Maintain the utmost attention as cell coverage is limited in many areas.
Wilson’s Phalarope @arrowmeyersphoto
Colorado is ranked as a top birding state. Most notable are the magical cranes who descend upon the San Luis Walley twice each year during their migration to rest and refuel. If you think bird watching isn’t your thing, read Top Colorado Bird Watching - 36 Hours in Alamosa.
4) Heritage Tour
Just as astounding as the San Luis Valley’s natural assets are its historical assets. The Valley is a part of the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area. Discovering evidence of the historic, cultural and religious convergence of Hispanic, Native American, Mormon, Dutch, Anglo and Japanese-American people that have passed through and, or occupied the Valley is an 11,000-year-old tale. Read more in the next 36 Hour Getaway.
The Greenhouse Pool @mareellefjodorova
Time to Rest
If you have time, rest tired casting arms or hiking legs in the Great Sand Dunes at The Greenhouse at Sand Dunes Pool. This adults-only soaking escape is open 12:00 PM to 8:00 PM in the winter and 10:00 AM to 10:00 PM in the summer. If you are there during the week, they are closed on Thursdays year-round. There are three tubs of varying temperatures, a zero-entry pool, sauna, on-site libations, and a small plate menu. The Greenhouse is about 30 miles northwest of Great Sand Dunes Visitor’s Center and 23 miles directly north of Alamosa.
How to Get to Alamosa, Where to Stay & What to Eat
From Denver, take US Highway 285-South or I-25 South then US I-60 West. Both routes will take under 4 hours. US Highway 285-South is two lanes most of the way and a more scenic route. Arrive in time for dinner in Alamosa and a good rest at one of the many Alamosa lodging options. In the morning, fuel up with breakfast at your hotel, one of the local coffee shops like Milagros Coffee House or Roast Cafe, then head to City Market or Safeway delis where you can buy lunch to go.
About the writer: Laurie Marks is a health, travel and tourism writer based in Durango, Colorado