Nowhere else will you find a region dotted with a collection of small cities and towns so unique and from each other, and yet so tightly unified in a proud sense of place and community as you'll find in the San Luis Valley. Alamosa is the valley's largest town and serves as its business and cultural hub. The smaller communities each bring their own rural flair to your explorations. Click each to discover in detail.
Driving down Monte Vista's main street it's easy to see where it got its name. Spanish for "mountain view", Monte Vista huddles below the watchful San Juan Mountains to the west, with a clear view out across the valley to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east. Don't let the city's modest population of less than 5,000 fool you - a visit to Monte Vista is rarely without much to do, including the city's famed Crane Festival each year in March, events at the wild western Ski-Hi Stampede and Fairgrounds, and the numerous festivals and events in its old-fashioned, active downtown.
A few details aside, Del Norte's historic Grand Avenue - the main road through town - has remained largely unchanged since the early 1900s. Considered by many to be the valley's gateway to the San Juans and one of its most authentically wild west communities, Del Norte's infusion of progressive services and ideals, such as organic shopping, modern coffee shops and fast-growing creative and spiritual communities, has created a balance of history and authenticity and modern social diversity. Each year Del Norte hosts the Festival of Imagination, Covered Wagon Days and a variety of other fun events for residents and visitors alike.
Rising up from the valley floor and into the foothills of the colorful San Juans, the mountain town of South Fork stands as sentinel to the Rocky Mountains, and offers visitors a dizzying array of activities to choose from year-round, from the slopes of Wolf Creek Ski area in winter to gold medal fishing in the Rio Grande each summer. South Fork and the surrounding area is a must-see stop on the Colorado fall color circuit, and road-trippers and RVers will enjoy the state-designated Silver Thread Scenic byway - one of three in the region. Visit the Chamber of Commerce and the Community sites.
Fewer than 500 souls occupy the historic mining town of Creede on the valley's far western edge, and yet it counts the award winning Creede Repertory Theater among its many claims to fame, and is considered in art circles to be one of the top art towns in the country. Visually dramatic in the shadow of towering mountains, Creede is a high-country hamlet ideally situated for access to a variety of activities including skiing, fishing, hiking, biking and all points north and west of the valley. Built to serve the mines, the Bachelor Historic Tour’s 17 miles takes you to 17 interpretive stops and points of interest including old townsites, mine, museums and historic cemeteries.
In it's literal translation from the Native American tribes who once occupied the region, Saguache (pronounced Sah-WATCH) means "water at the blue earth" – testament to its fertility and plentiful waters before European settlement forever changed the valley's fragile landscape. Today, Saguache is a small but lively town near the valley's northern edge, and serves primarily as an agricultural center with a growing community of artists and artisans. The Saguache County Museum has captured the history of this ranching settlement and is home to several events year-round, including a Memorial Day Weekend season-opening festival each year.
Flush up against the flanks of the gothic and mystical Sangre de Cristo peaks, far from the everyday life of most of the rest of the world, lies the abundantly spiritual community of Crestone. Likened by many to Sedona, Arizona, visitors flock to Crestone for its sacred energy and high concentration of diverse spiritual centers, including a large Buddhist community. Add to that the raw and magical beauty of the area, its well-known festivals and events and active arts community - and you've got a recipe for a visit to remember. For further information visit the Crestone Moffat Business Association and Crestone Area Visitors Agency sites.
This tiny village of Villa Grove serves as the gateway to the San Luis Valley from the north, the first outpost coming south from Salida and picturesque Poncha Pass. This is a fun and quirky little town, and visitors can stop and enjoy a browse through an art gallery, a leisurely lunch in one of two cafes, and a relaxing soak in one of two nearby hot springs.
Serving as both the agricultural and geographic center of the San Luis Valley, the town of Center - originally named Centerview in 1898 for its mountain views in all directions - has a rich farming history and today remains primarily a community of multi-generational farming families and homesteads. Farm tours, including a number of organic growers, may be arranged through individual farms by contacting them directly.
Like it's name suggests, Homelake, less than two miles east of Monte Vista, is home to a coldwater lake visitors can enjoy for fishing, swimming, picnicking and manually-powered boating - but it's real claim to fame is its palpable military history. The historic Colorado State Veteran's Center has been designated as a state historical site and is the town's central focus, home to an active veteran's community and several events and memorials each year.
Presided over by the valley's tallest peak (and its namesake), the small community of Blanca serves as one of two unofficial gateways to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. Two general stores, an art gallery and two locally-owned restaurants offer visitors a quick dining option after a great day out at the dunes.
Historic Fort Garland sits on the edge of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, an unofficial "welcome" center for visitors traveling from the east into the valley on Highway 160. Once the setting of an official military outpost commanded by the famed Kit Carson, the town still boasts a commissary and military museum, complete with historic re-enactments. Rustic dining, lodging and shopping are available along the main thoroughfare.
Home of Colorado's oldest church and a colorful community rich in multi-generational hispanic farming and ranching families, Antonito is the San Luis Valley's southern outpost before crossing the border into New Mexico just a few miles down the road. Here, the valley's own Rio Grande Scenic Railroad connects each weekend with the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad - one of the only spots left on earth where standard and narrow gauge track meet.
Colorado's oldest town is a special "must-stop" for any valley vacationer looking for a fascinating secret (or gallery, or piece of homemade pie..) In its beautiful setting at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, most visitors go to walk the trail of the Stations of the Cross Shrine with its bronze sculptures depicting the last days of Christ’s life. Look closely for the many, many murals on the historic walls of vibrant, charming San Luis.
Birthplace of famed heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey, also known as "The Manassa Mauler", and brothers Ken and John Salazar (U.S. Senator and U.S. Representative, respectively), the small but lively town of Manassa has embraced both history and future, and today is home Dempsey’s Museum and the valley's popular Manassa Pioneer Days festival each July - one of the oldest festivals in the state.