Added by Jon King
Mosca campground offers close proximity to Great Sand Dunes National Park, Willow Lake, and Zapata Falls. The campground also has minimal light pollution for great stargazing.
Where to camp:
San Luis State Park is located 15 miles west of Great Sand Dunes National Park, San Luis State Park features views of San Luis Lake, the Great Sand Dunes and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The campground provides water and hot showers, which we enjoyed after a day of hiking the dunes. Reserve your campsite here.
If you're making this a couple day trip, here's a guide to a few great spots we hit up.
The #1 attraction of San Luis Valley is Great Sand Dunes National Park. If you only have a weekend to explore, it would be a shame to skip out on hiking the dunes. The park recommends to hike in the morning or evening hours due to the sand's rising temperatures in the afternoon. They are not lying. We started hiking at 9:00 a.m. and by noon the sand was too hot to keep going. To hike the dunes, you simply park in their large parking lot and start your journey. There are no marked trails. Most people stay close the parking lot and hike the small dunes. But to get a better grasp of this unique landscape, I suggest taking the dune less traveled. Hike until you've had your fill and make sure to bring and good pair of sandals and plenty of water.
Ok, you've spent the morning hiking the dunes which means you still have the rest of the afternoon to explore. To escape the heat, take the short trip to Zapata Falls. From Great Sand Dunes National Park, drive south on Hwy 150 for approximately 10 miles. The turn for Zapata Falls is well marked. Here the road turns to a rough gravel. You may want a vehicle with 4WD. However, my Toyota Corolla made it just fine. The hike is an easy 1/2 mile to a beautiful waterfall. Take a break here, picnic and enjoy splashing around in the creek.
If you're still needing something to do that day, venture into the nearby town of Alamosa. Here we enjoyed some adult beverages at The San Luis Valley Brewing Company. If that is not your thing, there are several other restaurants downtown. In the evening, head back to the campsite to catch the sunset, start up the fire and relax.
The Sand Dunes are great and all but those looming mountains to the east also beg to be explored. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains provide countless hikes. We decided on a day hike to Willow Lake. From San Luis State Park head north on Hwy 17 to the town of Moffat. At Moffat, head east to the quirky town of Crestone. Go through Crestone on E Galena Ave. The road ends at the trailhead. The hike is approximately 9 miles down and back with 2800 feet of elevation gain. So plan accordingly! Make sure to bring plenty of water and a snack to eat at the lake. The lake itself is beautiful and has a small waterfall feeding into it. Also, be on the lookout for mountain goats and bighorn sheep!
A day hike like this will most likely wipe you out. We stopped in Crestone on our way back for ice cream at their local creamery. Head back to the campsite, chill and soak in the beautiful scenery. If you're up for a late night, the stargazing is incredible in the valley. Set up your camera to catch the stars shooting over the mountains.
- Hiking boots
- A good pair of sandals to hike the dunes
- Bug spray (biting gnats and pinyon fleas were particularly annoying)
- Trekking poles (if needed for the longer day hike)
- Tent (and your standard camping gear)
Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.
Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More
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