May 31, 2023

San Luis Valley, Colorado

I grew up in Colorado Springs and have been throughout Colorado, however I’ve spent little or no time within the San Luis Valley. When Go to Colorado reached out eager to ship me again to my dwelling state, it appeared like an ideal alternative to journey south and probe for per week. Spoiler alert: it was an incredible journey, and one among my favourite highway journeys ever.

Colorado road trip - San Luis Valley
Street tripping within the San Luis Valley

I flew into Colorado Springs, drove south to Nice Sand Dunes Nationwide Park, headed north to Crestone and Joyful Journey Sizzling Springs (between Moffat and Villa Grove), drove southwest to Del Norte, after which returned to Colorado Springs by way of Manitou Springs – 567 miles complete over 5 days. The overwhelming majority of the drive was lovely. It’s Colorado in any case.

Nice Sand Dunes Nationwide Park / Zapata Ranch

I bear in mind tenting on the Nice Sand Dunes as a child, nicely earlier than it was a Nationwide Park. I hadn’t visited in a long time nonetheless. It’s a simple park, with one highway in and just some main areas to park and camp. In fact when you’re parked you’ll be able to stroll and discover so far as you wish to.

I stayed at Zapata Ranch, roughly 12 minutes from the sand dunes – one of the best, closest place to remain to go to the park. Zapata Ranch is a good ranch vacation spot even with out the dunes close by, so once you mix them you get sort of an ideal trip spot. I checked within the afternoon, walked across the ranch somewhat, after which joined the opposite company for dinner at 6pm. Dinners and breakfasts are communal, which as a solo traveler I actually loved. I ended up throughout from a girl from Boulder who had already been over to the dunes and was heading again for sundown, so I joined her!

Colorado road trip - San Luis Valley - My cabin at Zapata Ranch
My cabin at Zapata Ranch
Dinner at Zapata Ranch
Dinner at Zapata Ranch
Colorado road trip - San Luis Valley - Great Sand Dunes National Park
Nice Sand Dunes Nationwide Park
Colorado road trip - San Luis Valley - Sunset at the sand dunes
Sundown on the sand dunes

Notice: the sand dunes are sometimes windy. They wouldn’t exist with out the wind. That sundown tour was somewhat chilly and really windy, however completely lovely. Positively head over for sundown should you’re staying on the ranch. We crossed the river and walked up and down dunes for roughly an hour. Then again to Zapata Ranch.

Horseback Using at Nice Sand Dunes Nationwide Park

I awoke, sat exterior with espresso, after which joined everybody for breakfast on the ranch. After that, the day was all about horseback driving!

Colorado road trip - San Luis Valley - The sand dunes from my bed at Zapata Ranch
The sand dunes from my mattress at Zapata Ranch
Colorado road trip - San Luis Valley - Early morning coffee at the ranch
Early morning espresso on the ranch

A typical ranch keep is 3+ nights, and horseback excursions are included on daily basis. The conventional driving locations are to the bison herd, across the ranch or on the sand dunes. I selected the sand dunes in fact – how typically do you get to trip in a Nationwide Park? And whereas I’ve ridden camels by means of deserts a number of instances, I had by no means been on a horse in sand dunes.

I walked over to the corral, met Maddie, my information for the day, and met Snookie, my horse for the day. Maddie made positive my stirrups had been the suitable size, I acquired some primary driving instruction, and we trailered over to the park.

I cherished this trip! For 4 hours we rode by means of the river, the dunes and several other meadows, stopping briefly for a picnic lunch (the ranch had made me a bison burrito). It was a stunning, sunny day, and never too windy, and Maddie and I talked the complete trip. Unsure if I’ve had a personal information on rides earlier than this? I used to be positively rusty once we began – it had been just a few years since I had been on a horse – however by the top Snookie and I had bonded and I used to be way more snug with the reins and my seat.

Colorado road trip - San Luis Valley - Following Maddie through the meadow
Following Maddie by means of the meadow
Colorado road trip - horseback riding in the river
Within the river
Colorado road trip = San Luis Valley - Hey I'm on a horse at the sand dunes!
Hey I’m on a horse on the sand dunes!
Colorado road trip -  A horseback riding break
Taking a break for lunch, with Snookie
San Luis Valley - My favorite iPhone shot of the ride
My favourite iPhone shot of the trip

From the dunes we went again to the ranch the place I joined a leather-based working demonstration/workshop, had dinner and headed again to the dunes for one more sundown. It was hotter and fewer windy and I climbed up for over an hour. Actually pleasurable evening!

Colorado road trip - The leather workshop at Zapata Ranch
The leather-based workshop at Zapata Ranch
Colorado road trip Sunset at the sand dunes - night two
Sundown on the sand dunes – evening two
San Luis Valley - Sand Dunes National Park - Just after sunset
Simply after sundown

Zapata Falls

I thought of going to the sand dunes for dawn, however being solo it wouldn’t be fascinating from a images perspective, since you really want individuals on the dunes so as to add scale, and there weren’t many individuals on the park that week (mid-Might). Subsequent time!

After breakfast on the ranch I packed up and drove a couple of minutes away to the Zapata Falls trailhead, and hiked half a mile to the falls. The path was rocky however pretty straightforward, however the river close to the falls acquired difficult, with numerous rock hopping and ice strolling. A number of the ice appeared pretty skinny too. I do know when the ice melts the one strategy to the falls is thru the chilly river, so from that perspective Might was a great time to go to, however it will have been a troublesome tour for younger youngsters.

Colorado road trip - San Luis Valley - The ice leading into Zapata Falls
The ice main into Zapata Falls
Half-frozen Zapata Falls
Half-frozen Zapata Falls
Colorado road trip The view of the sand dunes from Zapata Falls Trail
The view of the sand dunes from Zapata Falls Path

A Colorado Street Journey Cease in Crestone

From Zapata Falls I drove somewhat underneath an hour to Crestone. Crestone is tiny however fascinating – a non secular base for lots of religions, with quite a few temples and retreat facilities simply exterior of city. And as one particular person put it in a DM, it’s one of many final really genuine Colorado mountain cities and can possible by no means change, because it isn’t close to a ski space. I had lunch at Cloud Station (a part of Elephant Cloud Market), walked round downtown (which takes all of quarter-hour), after which drove across the temple space, getting out just a few instances for brief hikes.

Colorado road trip - Elephant Cloud Market and Cloud Station in Crestone
Elephant Cloud Market and Cloud Station in Crestone
San Luis Valley - Lunch at Cloud Station in Crestone
Lunch at Cloud Station
Colorado road trip - Walking around Crestone
Strolling round Crestone
San Luis Valley - The Stupa of Enlightenment, Jangchub Chorten, near Crestone
The Stupa of Enlightenment, Jangchub Chorten, close to Crestone

Joyful Journey Sizzling Springs

There are quite a few sizzling springs all through the San Luis Valley. Some are pure however most have been become swimming pools, which makes temperature management far simpler! Some of the well-known is Joyful Journey. I drove half an hour from Crestone, checked into my yurt (they’ve regular rooms, tipis and yurts), placed on my swimsuit and a gown, and walked over to the recent springs. I can’t converse to the well being advantages from soaking within the mineral-rich waters, however I spent an hour in a number of of their swimming pools – at completely different temperatures – and it was totally enjoyable.

Colorado road trip - My yurt at Joyful Journey Hot Springs
Inside my yurt at Joyful Journey Sizzling Springs
San Luis Valley - My yurt (1A)
My yurt (1A)
San Luis Valley - In the 106-degree hot spring at Joyful Journey
Within the 106-degree sizzling spring at Joyful Journey

Like Zapata Ranch, Joyful Journey consists of dinners and breakfasts. I had dinner within the eating room after which explored the lodge till it was darkish. The labyrinth and geodesic dome greenhouse are significantly cool. I then awoke at dawn to spend extra time on the labyrinth earlier than having breakfast and packing as much as proceed my roadtrip by means of the San Luis Valley.

Colorado road trip - The labyrinth at Joyful Journey
The labyrinth at Joyful Journey
Colorado road trip - The geodesic dome greenhouse
The geodesic dome greenhouse

A observe on yurt life: there aren’t any loos within the yurts, however the communal restroom was lower than a minute from my yurt (1A). I’d keep there once more, since what number of instances do you could have the choice of sleeping in a yurt? In order for you an in-room rest room although you’ll want to go along with one among their normal rooms.

Colorado road trip - Sunrise at Joyful Journey Hot Springs
Dawn at Joyful Journey Sizzling Springs
Colorado road trip - The tipis at sunrise - Joyful Journey Hot Springs
The tipis at dawn

Penitente Canyon

I did a variety of analysis on San Luis Valley hikes between Joyful Journey Sizzling Springs and Del Norte and located Penitente Canyon. I cherished this hike! It was roughly a mile and a half loop, leaving from the primary parking space (once you drive into the park, hold going straight till the top). At one level I by some means acquired off the path, however there was sufficient cell protection to search out the hike within the AllTrails app and see how one can get again onto the loop. I extremely advocate downloading your deliberate hikes in AllTrails earlier than setting out wherever.

San Luis Valley - Hiking in Penitente Canyon
Mountain climbing in Penitente Canyon
Colorado road trip - Hiking in Penitente Canyon
Penitente Canyon

I hiked the loop clockwise, however that meant I had the solar in my eyes as I used to be strolling by means of the canyon, which is essentially the most lovely a part of the hike. When you’re mountaineering within the morning I’d advocate going counter-clockwise as an alternative.

Del Norte, Colorado

Penitente Canyon is barely 20 minutes from Del Norte, totally on a dust highway. I had a typical rental automobile and had no issues in any respect. I drove into Del Norte and headed to Three Barrel Brewing Company for lunch. After a wonderful pizza I walked round downtown – bigger than Crestone, however nonetheless it didn’t take greater than half-hour to see most websites.

Del Norte, Colorado - a great Colorado road trip stop
Del Norte, Colorado

The lodge choices in Del Norte come right down to the Windsor Lodge and the Mellow Moon Lodge. I often go for iconic, historic accommodations however this time I went for the retro motel and completely cherished it! Mellow Moon is my favourite motel keep ever. My room was nice, and I slept amazingly. I’m unsure once I’ll be again in Del Norte, however I’d keep at Mellow Moon Lodge once more in a heartbeat. Extremely advisable for an evening (or two) on a Colorado highway journey.

Colorado road trip - The Mellow Moon Lodge in Del Norte
The Mellow Moon Lodge in Del Norte
San Luis Valley road trip - My room at Mellow Moon Lodge
My room at Mellow Moon Lodge
San Luis Valley - My room at Mellow Moon Lodge. Coolest motel ever!
My room at Mellow Moon Lodge. Coolest motel ever!

Dinner was glorious – on the Windsor Hotel Dining Room.

Colorado road trip - Trout for dinner at the historic Windsor Hotel in Del Norte
Trout for dinner on the historic Windsor Lodge in Del Norte

The Pikes Peak Cog Railway

My last day in Colorado I used to be presupposed to sleep in, have a leisurely breakfast in Del Norte, and slowly make my approach from the San Luis Valley again to Colorado Springs for my afternoon flight. Nevertheless, Pikes Peak was on the best way to the Springs, and as many instances as I’ve been to the highest of the mountain, I had by no means taken the Cog Railway (formally the Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway) up. So I went on-line, acquired a ticket, and left Del Norte at 6am. With just a few scenic stops alongside the best way I arrived in Manitou Springs at 9:30am.

Colorado road trip - The drive between Del Norte and Manitou Springs
The drive between Del Norte and Manitou Springs

My prepare departed from Manitou at 10am. I had a window seat on the left aspect, so I used to be going through ahead heading up the mountain (9.8 miles), after which backwards coming again down. I actually loved the prepare! It was way more enjoyable than driving up, it was a lovely day, and the conductor on board was entertaining.

Colorado road trip - At the train depot in Manitou Springs
On the prepare depot in Manitou Springs
Colorado road trip - Heading up Pikes Peak on the Cog Railway
Heading up Pikes Peak on the Cog Railway
Colorado road trip - Pikes Peak
Arriving on the prime!

We had roughly 45 minutes on the summit of Pikes Peak. The donuts on the prime are world-famous, however I took too lengthy getting off the prepare and the donut line was a minimum of half an hour lengthy. So I selected to skip the donuts and discover in and across the new customer’s heart as an alternative. There’s a brand new summit signal as nicely.

Colorado road trip - Pikes Peak - In front of the new summit sign!
In entrance of the brand new summit signal!
Colorado road trip - The new Pikes Peak Visitor's Center
The brand new Pikes Peak Customer’s Middle
Colorado road trip - Pikes Peak
Looking from the Customer’s Middle

In regards to the climate: Manitou Springs was good (70s/80s) however the wind chill on the prime of Pikes Peak was 1 diploma Fahrenheit. Take layers and possibly a hat and gloves with you. There have been individuals in shorts and t-shirts they usually survived however had been visibly uncomfortable! I had two layers of merino wool and a fleece, along with a merino wool beanie, and I used to be heat.

Colorado Springs

After I’m again in Colorado Springs, I’m often on the Broadmoor with my youngsters or staying with household. With this being a solo journey, I used to be ready to decide on my two favourite locations for lunch – Ivywild School (an previous schoolhouse that now has a number of eating places and a brewery) on the best way out of city and Shuga’s my last afternoon. Each are glorious and extremely advisable.

Colorado road trip - Empanadas at Ivywild School in Colorado Springs
Empanadas at Ivywild Faculty in Colorado Springs
Colorado road trip - Lunch at Shuga's before my flight
Lunch at Shuga’s earlier than my flight
Colorado road trip - Walking around downtown Colorado Springs
Strolling round downtown Colorado Springs

My San Luis Valley Street Journey – Abstract

As I stated initially, I cherished this San Luis Valley highway journey! Colorado Springs is an especially straightforward airport to fly into and hire a automobile, I used to be capable of see household (briefly), I stayed at wonderful, fascinating locations, I had a few nice hikes, I soaked in sizzling springs, I went on a enjoyable, distinctive horseback trip, and I made it to the highest of Pikes Peak! Plus each meal was glorious. All of this within the span of 5 days and 4 nights. The climate was glorious – blue skies and heat temperatures on daily basis. Colorado is sunny the overwhelming majority of the time, so you’ll be able to possible count on the identical in your Colorado highway journey.

San Luis Valley - Horseback riding under perfect skies was a Colorado road trip highlight
Horseback driving underneath good skies was a Colorado highway journey spotlight
San Luis Valley - I loved everywhere I stayed! This is the Mellow Moon Lodge.
I cherished in all places I stayed! That is the Mellow Moon Lodge.

My solely disappointment: there was a full moon the week of my go to, so the stargazing wasn’t as nice because it often is. All three of the locations I stayed had clear, unpolluted views of the evening sky.

Colorado Street Journey Assets

I’ve a variety of Colorado content material on my website. For extra of my favourite issues to do in Colorado Springs, click on right here. For Vail, Aspen, Telluride and elsewhere, simply use the search field on the prime (on the backside on cellular units) to search out my related posts.

Final yr I labored with Conde Nast Traveler and Wheels Up on itineraries for Colorado Springs, Aspen and Vail as nicely. Click here! can also be a tremendous useful resource. They’ve actually every thing on their website. Do Colorado Right is an effective place to start out. Summer trip ideas are here.

Colorado Street Journeys – Your Flip

What’s your favourite Colorado highway journey itinerary? The place ought to I am going subsequent time? What wonderful issues did I miss within the San Luis Valley?