Nestled among the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo mountain ranges and at the headwaters of the Rio Grande River, south-central Colorado’s San Luis Valley has plenty of reasons to gather for a festival. With unbeatable scenery, vibrant history, and an abundance of recreational opportunities, the San Luis Valley boasts a wide variety of outdoor festivals and events year-round. Check out one of these seven festivals, each of which, on its own, is worth the trip.
1. Rio Frio Ice Fest
Alamosa’s Rio Frio Ice Fest is held each January and is a chance to shake off the dust during the winter. The festival features live ice and snow sculpting, a "faux snowman" contest wherein snowmen can be constructed of anything but snow or ice, and the Fire & Ice Bonfire, complete with a chimney made of ice. The San Juan Nordic Club also leads a cross-country ski tour on the Rio Grande, along with an educational program about the area’s winter birds. Rio Frio’s highlight, though, is its namesake 5k race, which runs on the frozen Rio Grande River itself.
2. Cabin Fever Daze
Colorado’s last silver boom town is rich in both minerals and history. Once farmed by a brother-in-law of Kit Carson, Creede was named for the discoverer of the Holy Moses Mine. It’s also where many of Denver’s gambling club owners moved in the late 19th century, when legal reform was taking place in Denver. Among the town’s many colorful characters was Robert Ford, famous for killing outlaw Jesse James. In fact, Ford was killed in his makeshift saloon in 1893. All that history adds meaning to the town’s best-known festival, Cabin Fever Daze, held over President’s Day Weekend. The festival includes a dance, curling on nearby frozen ponds, live music, and, of course, an ice- and snow-sculpting contest.
3. Monte Vista Crane Festival
Cranes aren’t the only birds to make an appearance at the Monte Vista Crane Festival: You’ll also see ducks, geese by the thousands, raptors, owls, and wintering bald eagles. The main event, of course, is the migration of the sandhill cranes, who have been spending their "spring break," so to speak, in the San Luis Valley (in the spot that’s today known as Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge) for millions of years. These spectacular birds mate for life and have a six-foot wingspan, and are the inspiration for a set of 2,000-year-old petroglyphs in the rocky San Juans. The festival features tours to check out the migration, educational talks, and a photography workshop, and all events are free.
4. Summerfest on the Rio
Held in Alamosa’s beautiful Cole Park on the banks of the Rio Grande, Summerfest on the Rio started in 2001 and has since served as a kick-off to the summer season in the San Luis Valley. The festival gets going with a Friday night concert in the park, then resumes the following Saturday, when 150 vendors set up booths in the park to sell art, handcrafted goods, and delicious food. Plus there’s a beer garden to enjoy. (You’ll also find a 7-Card Poker Run, with prizes for the best and worst hands.) The entire weekend is filled with live music from a wide variety of genres, from bluegrass to jazz to Mariachi bands.
5. Beat the Heat BBQ, Brews & Chili Challenge
This annual tradition is an officially sanctioned state championship event by the Kansas City Barbecue Society and the Rocky Mountain Barbecue Association. The Beat the Heat features live music all day on the Saturday of the festival, plus a chance to enjoy incredible barbecue, beer, and local green chili. Contestants compete in steak, chicken, ribs, pork, and brisket categories, each of which is judged by serious barbecue experts (so you know the food here is top-notch). The event also features the Hogwaller Mud Run, a 5k mud obstacle course.
6. Crestone Music Festival
Affectionately known as CrestFest, this family-friendly festival, first held in 1999, is located in beautiful Crestone. You may have heard of Crestone: The Saguache County town is also known as a hub for several different religions and features more than a dozen spiritual centers. The annual festival features live music performances—including local artists and regional acts of an array of genres and cultural influences—but also on the calendar are group yoga classes, a variety of contests, drum circles, and kid-friendly activities. The entire Crestone Music Festival takes place on the Challenger Golf Course, which offers sweeping views of the surrounding Fourteeners.
7. Alferd Packer Festival
Some of Colorado’s most gruesome history has also become a kitschy staple statewide, with restaurants, events, and even this festival dedicated to cannibal Alferd Packer. The guide and prospector, along with his party, was snowbound in the backcountry during the winter of 1874. Packer turned up alone the following spring in Gunnison, where he met up with another party and made for Saguache. After some interrogation, it became clear that Packer had, in fact, cannibalized his party during their winter epic, and the rest is history. Today, Saguache’s annual Alferd Packer Festival features a Beard & Moustache Contest, a rib-cooking contest, and a 5k run/walk/crawl.
Originally written for Alamosa CVB.