Zapata Falls

Zapata Falls is a beautiful hidden gem that can be found in Colorado’s Rio Grande National Forest. Located just 20-30 minutes from Great Sand Dunes National Park, Zapata Falls is an easy hike to a stunning 25-foot waterfall tucked among the rocks.

The trailhead for Zapata Falls is found along Highway 160. Once you turn off the main road to follow signs for the Zapata Falls Recreation Area, be prepared for about three miles of bumpy, gravel road. Our Subaru had no problems at all on this road, and we saw a large variety of vehicles that made it up just fine.

From the parking lot, follow signs to Zapata Falls. The trail is very obvious and well-maintained, and you’ll experience minimal elevation gain over the half mile it takes to reach the falls. As of April 17 when we visited, the creek and waterfall were completely frozen. It was very slick to walk through the crevasse and up to the frozen waterfall, so microspikes are recommended. If you tread carefully, you’ll likely be fine without.

The waterfall is a beautiful sight, especially in its frozen form. During warmer months where the water is flowing freely, you can carefully maneuver your way to the top of the falls as well. Dogs are also welcome, though they must be kept on a leash.

Have you visited Zapata Falls before? Let me know in the comments!

Great Sand Dunes National Park

I recently shared my Colorado Summer Bucket List, and one of my goals was to visit at least one new national park in Colorado. This past weekend, my husband, dog and I hit the road and crossed off that bucket list item by visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park for the first time! We had so much fun exploring the area and the dunes were an amazing sight to see.

Great Sand Dunes National Park is located in the southern portion of Colorado, about 4 hours from Denver. The park is actually home to the tallest sand dunes in North America! We left Colorado Springs super early and arrived a little after 9:00 AM. I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as crowds considering we visited on Easter, but there were only a few other groups in the parking lot when we arrived.

We parked at the Dunes Parking Lot, located just past the Visitor Center, and set off to explore. One of the coolest things about Great Sand Dunes National Park is dogs are actually allowed on a number of trails, as long as they’re on a leash! We saw lots of other pups while we were there, and ours loved exploring the dunes with us.

There aren’t many well-defined trails on the actual dunes, so you can kind of choose your own adventure and wander around. We started heading for the tallest dune we could see, and it was quite a strenuous effort. Even though we only ended up hiking for about 2 miles roundtrip with about 500′ of elevation gain, the sand made it a very challenging hike. We both wore hiking boots which ended up working out just fine, as our pants helped prevent sand from getting in our shoes. Some people were walking barefoot, but I think wearing boots helped prevent our feet from getting super sore.
The weather was also perfect, hovering around the low 50’s with a nice breeze. Over the summer, the sand can get as hot as 150 degrees Fahrenheit, so make sure you plan accordingly!

We really took our time hiking up the dunes and took plenty of water breaks. To reach the top of Star Dune, the tallest dune in the park and North America, you have to hike about 3 miles round trip, with over 700′ in elevation gain. We weren’t feeling up that on this visit, but it would be cool to go back and explore some more!

Aside from hiking, sand boarding is another really popular activity at Great Sand Dunes National Park. We tried to make a DIY sand board from an old skateboard we had lying around, but it was not very effective. You can rent sand boarding gear outside of the park before your visit if you want to give it a try!

All in all, we had a ton of fun at Great Sand Dunes National Park, and I’m so glad we were able to check off one of our summer bucket list items so early in the season. We still have Mesa Verde National Park and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park to explore, so hopefully we can find the time to visit in the coming weeks!

Have you ever been to Great Sand Dunes National Park before? What’s your favorite national park in Colorado? Let me know in the comments!