Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is home to the tallest dunes in North America, topping out at around 755 feet. These ever-shifting hills and mounds sit west of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, creating a mind-boggling, desert-like landscape surrounded by 14,000-foot snow-capped peaks. Compared to most of Colorado’s mountains, the Sangres are extremely rugged, due to the earth’s sudden upheaval that created their relief. The landscape here is one of the most stunning scenes in the entire country.
The dunes are also surrounded by a variety of environments, including grasslands, wetlands, aspen forests, and alpine lakes. Nearby, a grove of 200 ponderosa pine trees, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was historically peeled by indigenous tribes for food and medicine.
From the best ways to explore the dunes to where to stay when visiting the area, here are 10 things you should keep in mind to make the most of your trip.
With its craggy peaks and remote canyons, the San Luis Valley attracts plenty of hardcore explorers, but it’s also a fantastic destination for families. From the Great Sand Dunes to Penitente Canyon, you’ll find fun activities suited for everyone in the family, from children to grandparents.
Kids will have a blast zooming down sand dunes and splashing in thermal pools, and everyone in the family can enjoy easily accessible campsites with nearby mellow trails that wind through striking scenery. Plus, the valley holds unique and unexpected thrills, like train rides through the rugged mountains and close encounters with alligators.
To help you plan a trip that will create lifelong memories for everyone in your family, we’ve picked out some of the best activities and must-see destinations in the San Luis Valley.
Great Sand Dunes is looking for birders of all skill levels to volunteer in Audubon's longest-running wintertime tradition, the annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC). This year’s event will be held at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve on Saturday, December 29th. Great Sand Dunes is one of many locations nationwide participating in this survey. The park is also encouraging those within the count circle who have bird feeders to join in the fun.
While Alamosa is bordered by wild and rough terrain, including high passes, craggy peaks, and the famous Great Sand Dunes, the San Luis Valley is known for its rich agricultural history.
Established in 1878 as a stop on the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad, Alamosa became a major hub for commerce, and in the last century farming and ranching have flourished in the San Luis Valley. Towns in Alamosa County export barley, wheat, and potatoes, among other crops, and there’s plenty of room for sheep and cattle ranching.
Thanks to this agricultural background, Alamosa has plenty to offer food lovers, from farm-to-table eateries to breweries to markets where you can pick up fresh produce. To help you plan a foodie tour of this corner of southern Colorado, we’ve highlighted some of the best ways to dig in.
Alamosa is the hub of the Mystic San Luis Valley, so it's really no wonder that it is a great place to spend your Halloween. Here's your handy guide, filled with all the information you need to make sure your Halloween in Alamosa is unforgetable! Happy Halloween!
As you rumble through the Colorado mountains aboard the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad, it’s easy to imagine you’re a settler rolling into the west to start a new life.
When you hop off the train in Alamosa, you still feel that deep sense of yesteryear as you stroll among Mission-style buildings and adobe structures. With its long, rich history and many cultural influences, Alamosa is an intriguing destination for travelers who love to get a taste of the past. Of course, Alamosa’s fascinating history extends beyond the days of the Old West.
On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye
that clothe the wold and meet the sky…
Alfred, Lord Tennyson - opening to The Lady of Shalott poem 1832
Though Tennyson wrote this poem about medieval England, his reference to fields of grains and a river could easily refer to the San Luis Valley and the Rio Grande. Not easily seen from the major highways passing through the valley, the fields of ‘irrigation circles,’ are there. They extend to the wolds, the higher uncultivated ground at the base of the mountains, which do indeed reach up to meet the sky!
For farming here, the first Spanish settlers dug ditches to capture water that trickles and tumbles off the high peaks to support growing food in this high desert valley. At an average elevation of 7,700 feet, with an annual average precipitation of only 7-10 inches on the valley floor, it became important to find and develop hearty crops to handle the harshness of high altitude sun, varying soil conditions, minimal rainfall, cold nights and low humidities. Potatoes worked well underground but how about above? Enter the ancient cultivated grains of barley, wheat and rye. Barley is especially suited to this valley.
With the presence of Coors in Golden, barley became a good cash crop for the farmers who had the soils, surface water rights and/or wells for irrigation. Farmers continue growing for Coors but now, the craft beer industry has expanded and requires more specialty malted grains, different varieties of hops, and new strains of yeast to allow eachbrewery to find its own niche. Oh, and good water.
How do you take an Instagram-worthy photo? You travel to an Instagram-worthy destination of course! Luckily, Colorado’s San Luis Valley is filled with beautiful locations and breathtaking views for you to choose from. We’ve compiled ten of the most Instagram-worthy spots in the San Luis Valley for you. These gorgeous spots are sure to rake in the likes and impress your followers! Share your favorite San Luis Valley spots with us using the hashtag #VisitAlamosa and follow @alamosa_colorado on Instagram to see more Instagram-worthy photos!
Visit southern Colorado, and you’ll find a landscape that looks much as it did centuries ago, with craggy, towering peaks, windswept plains, and, of course, the iconic sand dunes. There are a few hardy communities in this awe-inspiring landscape, but venture outside of those, and you’ll hardly see another soul. As you explore the wild terrain, you might get the sense you’ve stepped back in time. And, you just might think you’ve leaped to the Old West days if you board the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad train, which allows passengers to experience the rugged San Luis Valley much the same way people did in the late 1800s.
Departing from Alamosa, the train offers full-day excursions, winding through the mountains and ending at La Veta, where passengers can enjoy art galleries and a variety of restaurants. For another option, you can board the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad in Antonito and ride it to Chama, N.M., climbing higher than 10,000 feet as the train rumbles through southern Colorado. No matter which train you take, you’ll find that it’s an exciting way to soak in the beauty of the San Luis Valley and the surrounding mountains.
More Articles ...
- Great Sand Dunes to Host Amateur Astronomy Night
- Five of the Toughest Outdoor Adventures in Southern Colorado
- Celebrating the 4th of July in the San Luis Valley
- An Angler's Guide to the Best Fishing Near Alamosa
- Experience Alamosa: Take A Ride On The Rio Grande Scenic Railroad
- An Adventure Guide to the Rio Grande River in the San Luis Valley
- New Healthy Beginnings in the SLV
- Math, Physics & Fun!
- Back on Track to the Rio Frio
- Happy Thanksduning
- Rio Grande- A River Through Desert
- Choclorado Seasonal Beers and the Dark Season
- Autumn Part 2
- The Autumn Equinox in the San Luis Valley
- American Graffiti Meets Alamosa
- What's Growing On Around Here?!
- Colorado Backroads
- Great Sand Dunes NP Sunsets Stars and Sunrises
- Walkabout in the Local Woods
- Air Earth Fire Water in the SLV