A Traveler's Blog

Do you want to visit Alamosa like you know a local?  Here is your chance!  Enjoy the following feature articles written by a traveler enjoying some hidden (and not so hidden) treasures around the San Luis Valley. 

The Treasures and Pleasures of Penitente Canyon

The Treasures and Pleasures of Penitente Canyon

If mountain biking, rock climbing, bouldering, hiking, trail running, geology, panoramic views, relaxing around a campfire, star gazing, seeing wildlife, photography, or any combination of these are desired pleasures – then Penitente Canyon turns them all into treasures!

One nice pleasure in the San Luis Valley (SLV) is that the highways and side roads are all easy to travel, mostly flat and straight. All the roads go somewhere! However, the distant views are deceiving because they look two dimensional. The mountains cannot hide, but only by being in them can the true treasures of their hidden, and seemingly desolate canyons, be found. Penitente Canyon could be discovered accidentally but it is best to plan your excursion to this natural geologic amusement park!

Additional information – About 27 million years ago a volcano, now known as the La Garita Caldera, went KABLAM! Since that time Mother Nature has used her tools of snow and rain and wind and water to creatively sculpt some of the resulting rock piles tossed around after that monstrous explosion. Known as Fish Canyon Tuft, the rock has formed into perfect walls for all levels of climbers and bouldering specialists. There are bolts in place for over 300 climbs. No waiting lines! With routes named 'Nature of the Beast,' Squidbelly Phlemfoot' to 'What the Hey' and 'Passion Play' how could someone not have fun in this canyon? No equipment no problem. There are places to climb that are low to the ground (known as bouldering).

Trails through the canyon are for climbers to get to their routes but these trails also lead up and out of the canyon. Above the canyon is a maze of interconnecting trails for hiking, trail running, mountain biking and exploring. With a bit of trail courtesy, everyone gets along!

Driving to Penitente Canyon – Off of US Highway 285 18 miles North of Monte Vista, 17 miles South of Saguache take signs for La Garita and brown sign for Penitente Canyon – follow signs, the pavement will end but the dirt roads are generally in good shape, sometimes dusty, occasionally wet.

Find a designated parking place and prepare for fun.

Pleasures – The expansive views across the valley from Penitente Canyon to the East are the Sangre De Cristo Mountains nearly 50 miles away! Scenery changes from season to season and hour to hour as the sun, clouds, and light play upon the deep bluish gray rocky peaks and their steep dark green forested hillsides that bottom out on the valley floor. In the evening the peaks (if still covered in snow) begin to glow and turn colors from french vanilla, to tangerine, to a darker orange to a blood red, for which they are named. (Sangre de Cristos = blood of Christ). The weather at 8,000 feet can be pleasantly warm in the intense sun but there is plenty of shade in the cool shadows of the rock formations and the aspen and pine trees.

What better treasures in life are there than enjoying Mother Nature's playgrounds? Pursuits of passion in natural surroundings add a comfort to life that only nature can truly provide. When was the last time you did something for the first time? Imagine having a base camp with family and friends. Walk the canyon and watch climbers on their routes up a rock face. May give you the desire to try it. Meet new friends. Cruise the trails on foot or on mountain bikes. Lots of new trails and loops and it is difficult to get lost! Do a few laps and come back to camp. Spend the day or several. NOTE: - There is a small store in La Garita but if you plan on being there for camping, you will need to stock up your ice chests, food containers, and gear in Alamosa or another town beforehand.

Perils – Rock climbing has inherent dangers but with the right climbing partners it is a safe sport. Climb within your abilities. Bouldering keeps you low to the ground but make sure you know what the surface is like below where you are climbing as even a few feet of coming off a rock wall can result in ankle sprains and knee twists on uneven ground. Deserts are known for things that can stick, stab, or bite. Rattlesnakes do live in the area and can easily hide among the rocks and vegetation. They blend in well so watch closely. High deserts have low humidity (You have heard this suggestion before – drink water!! = hydrate!) Weather is often perfect but can be windy and dusty in the spring. During the monsoon season of summer, thunderstorms can move in rapidly. What may look like an innocent dark cloud miles away may be growing quickly into a large storm and getting ready to toss lightning bolts, brief heavy rain, and painful hail right where you happen to be! (How do you think we know this?)

The trails are not groomed and there are a few technical places that are steep, rocky, and rooty. There are yucca and cactus lurking on the edges of the trails – that's where the stick and stab comes in! And don't forget ticks, mosquitoes and other biting insects may be wandering about. Be wary of all these possible perils, proceed with excitement and caution, and you will soon discover why Penitente Canyon is one more treasure in the San Luis Valley.

5 Trails You Need To Be On

The San Luis Valley is home to countless trails for hiking, biking and running. We've compiled a list of the trails less traveled, an insider's guide to 5 trails you need to be on- because you probably haven't yet! Make Alamosa your basecamp for a variety of different trails and terrains. Before you go, check out all your dining and lodging options. Now, map out your weekend so you can hit as many trails as you can!

1. Million Reservoir 

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The Ultimate Ales and Trails Guide to the San Luis Valley

If you’ve spent any time in Colorado, you know the Centennial State takes its beer just as seriously as its outdoor pursuits. With nearly 300 craft breweries statewide, the possible combinations of awesome hiking, biking, paddling, and climbing, followed by your choice of incredible microbrew, are nearly limitless. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the San Luis Valley, where you’ve got thousands of square miles of playground, including Great Sand Dunes National Park, the Sangre de Cristo and San Juan Mountains, and the Rio Grande River, just to name a few. Here are a few of our favorite trail-to-ale pairings to get your creative juices flowing.

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Get a Taste of the San Luis Valley’s Famed Green Chile

No visit to the San Luis Valley is complete without a taste test of the region’s best-known staple: green chile. Thanks to its proximity to New Mexico—long considered the capital of green chile—southern Colorado is among the best places to sample this wondrous sauce, which is rich in history as it is delicious.

Breeders in the American Southwest grow all kinds of variations on the chile pepper, varying in taste and heat. But the seed of the original green chile was (literally) planted by Dr. Fabian Garcia, a New Mexico State University professor of horticulture for nearly 40 years. Dr. Garcia introduced now-famous New Mexico No. 9 in 1913, and its descendants have been used as ingredients in some of the San Luis Valley’s best-loved food ever since.

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Exploring the Locally Grown Food of the San Luis Valley

Thanks to its proximity to New Mexico, the San Luis Valley shares many of its signature flavors with its neighbors immediately to the south. Traders and merchants used the Old Spanish Trail, along with several other major thoroughfares, to move goods between the San Luis Valley, New Mexico, and California, spreading cultural influence throughout the American Southwest. The SLV is also part of the region where the chile pepper was born: Bred by horticulture professor Dr. Fabian Garcia in 1913, the green chile is among the most beloved southwestern staples. You’ll find some of Colorado’s best local foods in this agricultural haven.


The unique geography of the San Luis Valley has helped several agricultural staples thrive.
The unique geography of the San Luis Valley has helped several agricultural staples thrive. Russ


Thanks to its agricultural background, the San Luis Valley is home to tons of unique local flavor. Though the region is technically a high-altitude desert climate, it’s fed by an underground aquifer and regular spring runoff from the nearby mountains. The valley is known for its production of potatoes, lettuce, spinach, carrots, and quinoa, all of which thrive at 7,600 feet above sea level. It’s also home to free-range bison and Rocky Mountain White Tilapia.

Fortunately, much of the food that’s grown in the San Luis Valley stays there. Head to the Alamosa Farmers’ Market (held downtown at State Avenue and 6th Street) every Saturday from July to October for fresh regional produce and baked goods. You’ll also find cooking demos, kids activities, live music, and other cultural events to make it a great way to spend your Saturday morning.

There’s also the San Luis Valley Food Co-Op, where you can find local meat, eggs, dairy, grains, and seasonal produce year-round. It’s member-owned, but anyone is welcome to shop at the co-op.

For your sausage needs, check out Gosar Ranch Natural Foods, which has been making sausages with the same preservative-, nitrate-, and additive-free recipe for six generations. There’s also a flour mill at its Monte Vista headquarters.


Try the kiwi beer at San Luis Valley Brewing Company.
Try the kiwi beer at San Luis Valley Brewing Company. Quinn Dombrowski


Plenty of San Luis Valley restaurants serve local fare, too. Head to Locavores for fresh, local ingredients paired with a focus on Indonesian cuisine and a commitment to environmental sustainability. It’s motto is "modern cuisine, local produce," and classically trained chefs Eelke Plasmeijer and Ray fuse Indonesian flavors and dishes with local produce, often grown in their own garden. The restaurant features solar panels on the roof to supply much of its electricity, and all the edible kitchen waste is fed to pigs on their farm or composted for the garden. The menu is filled with unique dishes that are bound to impress.

Another must-visit spot is the San Luis Valley Brewing Company, which offers both locally made beer and food in an inviting setting. Scott and Angie Graber brew the beer on the premises, which is an 1897-built building that was updated to a modern restaurant and brewery in 2006. The centerpiece of the restaurant is a 5,000-pound vault door from 1912 that "is a reminder of what the brewery is about today: quality, craftsmanship, and using raw materials to make something wonderful."

The small-batch beer list changes, but some favorites include the Valle Special, a Mexican-style lager, the Hefe Suavé, an American style wheat beer, and the Alamosa Amber, a classic Colorado red. The menu is filled with comfort food done well, and includes a bison chili, burgers, sandwiches, pasta, and steaks. Seafood lovers should try the Colorado stream trout served over quinoa.

Next door to the the brewing company, The Roast, also run by the Grabers, features ethically sourced coffee as well as libations. It’s the perfect spot to grab a pick-me-up to start your day.

Originally written by RootsRated for Alamosa CVB.

3 Fall Favorite Coffee Stops

3 Local Coffee Houses- 3 Fall Favorite Flavors

Nothing says fall better than a seasonally flavored latte. Alamosa offers three great locally owned locations for that perfect fall brew (Coffee, Latte ). Below are three favorite fall favorites, but don't just take our word for it, go out and enjoy for yourself!


Pumpkin Marshmallow Latte

Blessed Brews Coffee Shop 2431 Main St. 

The blend of pumpkin, white chocolate & cocunut is perfect for a crisp fall morning. Just a sip and you can almost imagine the crunching of leaves beneath your feet. Looking for something filling to pair with this latte? Check out their baked good section!

Blessed Brews close up fall


Iced Gingerbread Chai Latte

The Roast 420 San Juan Ave. 

The mood and atmosphere alone will put you in the fall mood. From the smell of freshly roasted coffee beans to the unique gowler lights, the roast is a sure fall favorite stop. For those warmer fall days try this creation. Sweet & refreshing with a little flair! 

The Roast reflection


Pumpkin Pie Latte

Milagros Coffee House 529 Main St.

On the corner of Main and State in Alamosa you might be inticed to explore the sounds and smells of Milagros Coffee house. A popular hangout for those roaming downtown Alamosa and a great stop for a break from shopping. Try the Pumpkin Pie Latte for that traditional twist on fall. 

Milagros 2

All three coffee houses offer a variety of flavors for the fall season. Stop in and taste for yourself!

Great Sand Dunes Activities

Sandboarding and Sledding

For years, visitors have been sledding down the Great Sand Dunes in plastic toboggans, rounded saucers, and even cardboard. As most visitors soon found out, the saucers and cardboard do not work very well whatsoever. Adventuresome and creative people soon developed boards specifically made for sand, featuring extra slick bases. These new boards are the ideal tool for surfing down the dunes. Sandboarding, sledding, and skiing are permitted anywhere on the dunefield away from vegetated areas. The park does not rent or sell sandboards, but they can be rented at Kristi Mountain Sports, (719) 589-9759.

Did you know? The oldest rocks in the park are metamorphic (biotite schist and gneiss) estimated at 1.7 billion years old, making them some of the oldest rocks within the National Park System! 

Beach and Sandbox

Experience the beach like nowhere else on earth, surrounded by majestic mountain peaks and the stunning beauty of the dunes. Medano Creek, also known as "Colorado's Natural Beach", is a popular seasonal stream enjoyed by all ages. The creek runs intermittently—depending on the season—at the base of the dunes. Expect the most water in late spring and early summer. Bring beach toys, sunblock, and plenty of drinking water. Click here to view more on current creek conditions.

Hiking In The Great Sand Dunes

Explore any part of the 30 square mile dunefield you wish; there are no designated trails in the sand. A dunes-accessible wheelchair is available for free loan at the Visitor Center. In summer months, plan to hike the dunes in morning or evening to avoid 150F degree sand temperatures or thunderstorms. Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is open 24-hours-a-day, every day of the year. You can hike on the dunes at any time and explore any part of the 30 square mile dunefield you wish; there are no designated trails in the sand.

There are a variety of other hiking options as well; forested trails, alpine trails, grasslands, and wetlands. The region's geology and biology make it unique among our national parks and a fascinating place to explore. You can choose a day hike or stay overnight in the backcountry. Find everything you need to know to plan your excursion here

Sleeping on the Great Sand Dunes and Camping Nearby

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is open 24-hours-a-day, every day of the year. A free permit from the Visitor Center is required if you plan to camp on the dunes at night. Free backcountry permits are also required for overnight backpacking trips originating in the national park. Inquire at the Visitor Center for site availability, current conditions, and your permit. Please note that permits must be obtained in person during Visitor Center hours: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. in the summer; 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. in the fall, spring, and winter. Permits are not available in advance, or after Visitor Center hours. Plan to use Leave No Trace guidelines.

Medano Pass Primitive Road (high-clearance 4WD vehicles required) roadside camping is only permitted at 21 marked, numbered campsites in Great Sand Dunes National Preserve (part of the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness, beginning 5.2 miles from where the pavement ends in the National Park). These sites are indicated with a brown post and camping symbol and are free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis. All 21 sites fill on summer holiday weekends, and often on other summer weekends.

Camping Reservations:

Piñon Flats is a National Park Service campground located one mile north of the Visitor Center, open April through October. You can make a reservation here.

  • 88 Individual sites
  • 3 Group Sites
  • Restrooms with sinks, flush toilets, and a sink for dishwashing
  • Each site has a fire grate and picnic table
  • Some sites have large cottonwood or conifer trees for shade, while others are more out in the open with smaller piñon trees
  • A few sites can fit RVs up to 35 feet in length
  • No hookups
  • Individual campsites have a maximum capacity of 8 people, 2 tents, and 2 vehicles (including towed vehicles/trailers).
  • A 50% discount applies to senior pass and access pass holders.

Nearby Camping:

Oasis Campground - located just outside the national park entrance. 90 sites total: RV sites with full hookups, tent sites, and camping cabins. Showers, laundry, restaurant, and store on site. Open April through October. Follow the link or call 719-378-2222.

Zapata Falls Campground - primitive campground on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, located 11 miles south of the park Visitor Center, at 9000 feet in elevation. Spectacular views of the entire dunefield and valley. No water; pit toilets; fire rings at each site. $11 per night. Open year round; dirt road is not plowed in winter, but many vehicles drive on it, packing down the snow.

San Luis State Park Campground - located 15 miles west of Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center. 1-800-678-2267 for reservations, 719-378-2020 for ranger station in summer. Hookups are available. No trees in the campground. Lake is absent in dry years. Wetland area closed to the public for nesting season February 15-July 15.

Sand Dunes Swimming Pool and Campground - privately owned facility located 30 miles west of Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center, 2 miles north of Hooper, CO. RV sites with hookups, tent sites, cabins, geothermal swimming pool, organic produce, salads and hot food items. Open year round, 719-378-2807.

KOA Alamosa Campground - 34 miles from Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center, 4 miles east of Alamosa. RVs, hookups, tents, cabins. Open warmer months only. Reserve: 1-800-562-9157 Info: 719-589-9757.

Economy Campground - 35 miles southwest of Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center, 3 miles east of Alamosa. Full hook-ups, dump station, open year round, showers, go cart course, pets welcome. 719-589-5574

Cool Sunshine RV Park - located 36 miles southwest of Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center, in the city of Alamosa. RV sites with hookups and tent sites, outdoor games, artificial putting green and within walking distance of Alamosa's downtown. 719-992-9105 

Blanca RV Park - located 27 miles from Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center. in town of Blanca. 719-379-3201.

UFO Watchtower and Campground - located 32 miles from Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center, located north of Hooper on Hwy. 17 Open year round. 719-378-2296. 


If you find yourself passing through the San Luis Valley in winter, perhaps on your way to a ski resort or playing in the backcountry, the Great Sand Dunes are an excellent choice for a rewarding photo shoot.

The dunes are one of those rare places for outstanding photography on any given day under all conditions. Start with whatever camera you have available including digital and cell phone cameras. It's simply a matter of seeing the shot and fearlessly shooting at will. Sometimes out of a hundred pictures three or four absolute treasures will emerge. With today's digital technology it is easy to do that, so fire away! 

Sky Gazing

Sunrises, sunsets, galaxies, and clouds that morph and dance across brilliant blue skies provide an ever-changing backdrop to the dunes. Dazzling and magical are accurate descriptive terms of the sky over the dunes.

No light pollution! The Great Sand Dunes provide excellent conditions for star and moon viewing. Star viewing is best on moonless nights. Star charts are available at the Visitor Center.

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