The Most Instagrammable Places near Great Sand Dunes

Here are the five best places to take a selfie in or near the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve.  Looking for the most scenic spots in and near the Great Sand Dunes for your Instagram feed? Here are five places you’ll want to have on your list. 

By Tori Peglar

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

The Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is one of the country’s most photogenic parks. Virtually anywhere you snap a photo will fill your Instagram followers with awe. If you’re in the park in late spring/early summer when Medano Creek is running through the dunes, bring a beach towel and lounge on the sand next to the creek. It’s the closest you’ll feel to the beach all vacation. 

But if you’re fit and really looking to show off to your friends at home, set off early in the morning with water, sunscreen and close-toed shoes for Star Dune, the tallest sand dune in North America. It’s five hours round-trip, but the views (and photos) from the top are incredible. Be sure to be off the dunes long before consistently regular afternoon lightning storms move in and sand temperatures reach 150F.  

How To Get There: Don’t use computer mapping software for park directions because the maps have led visitors to primitive footpaths and dead ends. To access the main park area, including the Dunes Parking Lot, Visitor Center, and Pinyon Flats Campground, take Hwy. 150 from the south or County Road 6 from the west; https://www.alamosa.org/things-to-do-in-alamosa/alamosa-scenic-wonders/387-the-great-sand-dunes-national-park-preserve

Zapata Falls 

These falls are an oasis in the middle of a high desert where the average elevation in the San Luis Valley is 7,664 feet. Creating a 30-feet sheet of water, Zapata Falls is a great destination to cool off in the summer. But the falls are arguably more impressive in the winter when the water freezes into a sheet of gnarled ice. 

While the falls are just minutes from the Great Sand Dunes National Park entrance, they are hidden from view until you are nearly at the base. To get a good view, you’ll find yourself wedged between the canyon walls in an alcove looking up at them. In summer and fall, the rocks can be really slippery and the water cold, so be careful. Because you have to walk through the river to see the view, bring sandals with traction. Even the viewing area where you can see the falls can be cool in the summer, so bring a layer. The entire trip is 1 mile.

How to Get There:   Reach Zapata Falls from Hwy. 150, 12 miles north of the intersection with Hwy. 160. Turn right at the sign and travel three miles on the dirt road to the parking area; https://www.alamosa.org/things-to-do-in-alamosa/alamosa-scenic-wonders/389-zapata-falls

Rio Grande Scenic Railroad 

Make no mistake. This train ride that departs from the historic Alamosa Train Depot downtown offers so much more than stunning views to snap photos. In fact, your most Instagram-worthy shots might just be of Fir Station, the legendary concert and festival venue at the top of the 9,400-foot-high La Veta Pass where the train stops. Buy a ticket on the Mountain Rails Line that departs in the summer and brings you to Fir Station to hear music greats like Judy Collins and Peter Yarrow. Or head to the valley in June for the annual Rails & Ales Train Ride that drops you off at Fir Station for live music, beer and BBQ. 

Looking for something more intimate and romantic? Buy a ticket to ride the evening Wine Train Tour Colorado, on which you will enjoy a white-linen, three-course dinner and a two-hour train ride.

How to Get There: Board the train at the Alamosa Train Depot, also home to a Colorado Welcome Center, at 610 State Ave.; https://www.coloradotrain.com/

Blanca Vista Park in Alamosa

Make a heart shape with your hands to frame the majestic Sangre de Cristo Mountains in front of you. Or pose on your stand-up paddleboard with your dog, using Mount Blanca, a 14,351-foot peak (the fourth highest in the Rockies), as a powerful backdrop. Either way, Blanca Vista Park, built around a 24-acre lake, in Alamosa offers dramatic unobstructed Rocky Mountain views that will make any of your Instagram followers envious. Choose between any of the park’s five trails for leisurely strolls, but for the best views of Mount Blanca, the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve and the Sangre de Cristos, take the 1-mile Crestone Trail that links up with the Sierra Blanca Loop and the Maddux Loop. 

How to Get There: You can reach Blanca Vista Park at 6455 N. River Rd. in Alamosa; https://www.alamosa.org/things-to-do-in-alamosa/alamosa-scenic-wonders/390-blanca-vista-park

Sand Dunes Recreation in Hooper

Immerse yourself into the tropics by kicking back on the patio of the Greenhouse, the adults-only section of Sand Dunes Recreation hot springs pools. No matter what the weather outside, the Greenhouse stays at 70 degrees. Get a shot of yourself in the turquoise waters of the 10-foot by 75-foot zero-entry pool, the flowering gardens lining the paths or the Steel Box Bar. Sip your margarita on the bar stools in front of this former shipping container or at the patio tables.

How to Get There: The hot springs is located at 1991 County Rd. 63, Hooper, CO 81136; 719-378-2807; http://sanddunespool.com/

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Tori Peglar is a travel writer who loves exploring the San Luis Valley and works for National Park Trips Media in Boulder, Colo.

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