The Ultimate Ales and Trails Guide to the San Luis Valley

Great Sand Dunes National Park is a short drive from Alamosa, where you can enjoy an Alamosa Amber at the San Luis Valley Brewing Company.
Great Sand Dunes National Park is a short drive from Alamosa, where you can enjoy an Alamosa Amber at the San Luis Valley Brewing Company. Dom Paulo
Made Possible by
Curated by

If you’ve spent any time in Colorado, you know the Centennial State takes its beer just as seriously as its outdoor pursuits. With nearly 300 craft breweries statewide, the possible combinations of awesome hiking, biking, paddling, and climbing, followed by your choice of incredible microbrew, are nearly limitless. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the San Luis Valley, where you’ve got thousands of square miles of playground, including Great Sand Dunes National Park, the Sangre de Cristo and San Juan Mountains, and the Rio Grande River, just to name a few. Here are a few of our favorite trail-to-ale pairings to get your creative juices flowing.

Explore Alamosa

Established in 1878 as a rail center on the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, Alamosa—whose name, fittingly enough, means "of cottonwood" in Spanish—is a central hub of the San Luis Valley, and it’s the perfect base camp for your adventures. From town, take a quick drive to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, where you can hike out to Star Dune, the tallest dune in North America at 750 feet off the valley floor. The rest of the dunefield is open to hiking and backpacking, too, along with sandboarding, which is exactly as much fun as it sounds. When you’re ready to refresh, head back to town and enjoy an Alamosa Amber at the San Luis Valley Brewing Company. The Alamosa Amber is a classically Colorado brew, and at just 5.2% ABV, it’s one of the lighter microbrews you’ll find on the market.

Ride the Rails

You can hop aboard the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad from its historic depot in downtown Alamosa.
You can hop aboard the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad from its historic depot in downtown Alamosa. Larry Lamsa

The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad is a significant piece of the San Luis Valley’s history, but it’s also an important part of its present. Today, you can hop aboard the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad from its historic depot in downtown Alamosa, then check out the scenery (and scope out your next big adventure) as it heads up and over LaVeta Pass. Along the way, guides regale passengers with mining history and local folklore. The train also stops in the tiny mountain village of La Veta, where passengers can explore before heading back to Alamosa. There’s no better way to debrief your journey than over a Scenic Rail Pale Ale, another SLV Brewing Company beer made in partnership with the railroad.

Float the Rio

The mighty Rio Grande River offers adventure possibilities galore, and, conveniently enough, it runs right through Alamosa. Whether you’re a fly-fisherman looking for a quiet afternoon to cast for trout outside Del Norte or an adventure junkie looking to hit whitewater rapids on the Lower Rio Grande, you’re in luck—the San Luis Valley has room for both. A couple of local outfitters, including Mountain Man Rafting in South Fork, offer guided fishing and half-day whitewater trips. Once you’ve had your fun on the river, belly up to the bar for a Grande River IPA by SLV Brewing Company for bold hops and a crisp finish.

Climb High at Penitente

Penitente Canyon is a great spot to sport climb or mountain bike, then enjoy its namesake sour.
Penitente Canyon is a great spot to sport climb or mountain bike, then enjoy its namesake sour. Bureau of Land Management

Once the sanctuary for Los Hermanos Penitentes, the brotherhood of Catholic monks who were active in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, Penitente Canyon is chock-full of history, some of which visitors can still see today. Head to Penitente to view the blue Madonna the Hermanos painted on what’s now called Virgin Wall, where you can also do some world-class sport climbing. These days, Penitente is home to more than 100 high-quality climbing routes, not to mention its excellent (and continually developing) mountain bike trail system. There’s also a BLM campground at Penitente, where you can enjoy one of Three Barrel Brewing Company’s special series of Penitente Canyon Sour Ales.

Take a Spin at Stone Quarry

Del Norte-based Three Barrel Brewing Company is an important part of the outdoor community in the San Luis Valley; plus, they brew an exceptional beer.
Del Norte-based Three Barrel Brewing Company is an important part of the outdoor community in the San Luis Valley; plus, they brew an exceptional beer. Sticker Giant Custom Stickers

The Del Norte area is a rising star in the Colorado mountain biking scene, and it’s continually being improved. Among its best-loved trails is the Stone Quarry system, just a few miles east of Del Norte proper. Stone Quarry has about 7.5 miles of singletrack and slickrock, and it’s been compared to some of the new mountain bike trail developments in the Moab area, thanks to its flowy riding and beginner-friendly features. When you’re ready to unwind, refresh with a cold beer at Three Barrel Brewing Company in Del Norte. Three Barrel is hugely supportive of local recreation efforts, even brewing a special beer, the Sweat Equity, for volunteers who worked on a MTB trail building project with Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado in 2016. The Hop Trash IPA and Burnt Toast Northern Brown Ale, both brewed with local Colorado ingredients, are crowd favorites.

Originally written for Alamosa CVB.

Last Updated:

Next Up

Previous

The Complete Sangre De Cristo Weekend Camping Guide