How to Spend 48 Hours in Southern Colorado (And Why You Should)

Exploring the Great Sand Dunes National Park.
Exploring the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Ryan Smith
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It takes just under four hours to make the drive from Colorado’s Front Range to Alamosa, but this hot spot in the San Luis Valley feels way farther from city life than that. Between the wide-open views of the valley, the craggy Sangre de Cristos, the mighty Rio Grande River, and one incredible national park and preserve, there’s no shortage of adventure to be had in and around Alamosa. For an off-the-beaten-path experience (and minimal travel time), Alamosa is the perfect place for a weekend getaway.

Where to Get Caffeinated

Live music at the Milagros Coffee House.
Live music at the Milagros Coffee House. Kent Kanouse

The jury’s still out about whether breakfast really is the most important meal of the day, but there’s no denying that coffee is crucial to fueling all-day adventures—and breakfast burritos don’t hurt, either.

For your first cup of the day, head to The Roast, the San Luis Valley’s newest local coffee roastery. The funky, exposed-brick interior shares the spotlight with the San Luis Valley Brewing Company, and also serves a handful of affordable breakfast items.

Looking for a sit-down breakfast? Head to Milagros Coffee House, easily the most popular morning hangout in town—and for good reason. It’s easy to find something on the menu for those with dietary restrictions—it can be tough to find soy milk and vegan breakfast burritos in smaller towns—and yet manages to retain its totally unpretentious atmosphere.

Where to Find Adventure

The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve offers a landscape unlike anything else in the country.
The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve offers a landscape unlike anything else in the country. Michael Rael

Whether you’re up for hiking, mountain biking, climbing, or even sandboarding, Alamosa is the ideal base camp.

The town is just 35 miles from Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, which is home to the tallest sand dunes in North America—and the spectacular dunefield covers nearly 19,000 acres. Visitors to the park can hike up the dunes, camp in the dunefield, or head into the backcountry on the park’s Sand Ramp Trail. Those looking for novelty can rent a sandboard or sand sled and take a ride down the dunes.

The Sangre de Cristo Mountains are also home to 10 Fourteeners—the Colorado nickname for peaks more than 14,000 feet in elevation—and many are appropriate for a long dayhike or an overnighter. The 14,345-foot Blanca Peak, the fourth-highest summit in the state, is a beautiful hike, but it's long approach makes it perfect for camping at Lake Como and hitting the summit the next day. Routes up the mountain are long, varying between 11 and 17 miles, and some are fairly technical; be prepared for high altitude and rapidly changing weather. For a mellower hike, head to Penitente Canyon, where there’s also a lifetime’s worth of sport climbing.

Alamosa also has the distinction of being on the banks of the 1,896-mile Rio Grande River. The Bureau of Land Management maintains the Rio Grande Recreation Area, about 45 miles southeast of town, which boasts excellent fishing and flatwater paddling opportunities.

Mountain biking, too, has grown exponentially in the San Luis Valley; tons of new bike trails are being built each year. Penitente Canyon is home to more than a dozen trails. The Stone Quarry Trails, recently improved thanks to efforts by nonprofit stewardship group Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, are a blast for beginner/intermediate cyclists.

Where to Unwind

The San Luis Valley Brewing Company features eight taps of locally made beer.
The San Luis Valley Brewing Company features eight taps of locally made beer. Quinn Dombrowski

Not much tastes better after a long day of adventure than a cold, locally brewed beer. When you’re done exploring for the day, head to the San Luis Valley Brewing Company, which features six standards and a couple of rotating taps, all made in-house. The menu also includes homemade sausages, along with great burgers and sandwiches—and delicious “hoppy hour” specials.

Thanks to its location in Southern Colorado, Alamosa is also home to several authentic Mexican restaurants. El Super Taco has an extensive salsa bar and great value; Calvillo's has a well-earned reputation for excellent green chile, which is really saying something around here.

Where to Get a Good Night's Rest

Camping in the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.
Camping in the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. Quinn Dombrowski

If you’re looking to pitch a tent (or park an RV), head to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, where you’ll be just steps from the action—and the incredible views. With 88 sites (half reservable, half first-come, first-serve; both $20/night), Piñon Flats Campground is the place to be. If sites are full (or, come October, closed), head to the primitive Zapata Falls Campground ($11/night), maintained by the BLM, which is open year-round.

Not pitching a tent? Head to the Great Sand Dunes Lodge, just minutes from the national park, where you’ll get a prime view of the dunes and the gorgeous Sangre de Cristos. For a full-value experience, make reservations at Zapata Ranch—a working cattle and bison guest ranch, owned by the Nature Conservancy—and become immersed in the San Luis Valley’s rich agricultural scene.

Originally written for Alamosa CVB.

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