Pets allowed
Allowed with Restrictions
Elevation Gain
226.00 ft (68.88 m)
Trail type
There-and-back
Distance
1.20 mi (1.93 km)
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Great Sand Dunes National Park is an amazing family-friendly destination involving playing in the sand and a creek crossing required to even get to the dunes. Just outside the park on BLM land is a hidden gem that is also worth the stop if your vehicle can handle a rough gravel road and you don’t mind either getting your feet wet or navigating slippery rocks. For those willing to brave those two obstacles, Zapata Falls is a magnificent little falls in a deep rock crevice that freezes in winter and can be a great escape from the heat in the summer.

A frontcountry campsite exists right next to the trailhead with great views of the San Luis valley and Great Sand Dunes National Park with the Crestone Needle and Crestone Peak towering overhead. Beyond Zapata Falls is a hike to South and North Zapata lakes, which also may be used for climbing the nearby peaks. For those just going to the falls, a short half-mile hike up a wide and semi-rocky trail is all it takes to get to the creek. A sign indicating the falls ahead prompts any would-be hikers to go along the side of the creek or over the rocks to access the cave-like crevice where the waterfall resides.

Be especially careful when there is ice, as the rocks are incredibly slippery and the water can get extremely cold. In the spring you should also be careful of falling ice and snow while inside the crevice, though it is rare to witness that. With great care and effort, the view of the falls is wonderful, especially when it’s frozen over. Go back the way you came and enjoy the view of the valley on the drive back down!

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Spring
Fall
Summer

Congestion

High

Parking Pass

None

Open Year-round

Yes

Pros

Great views. Falls are frozen in winter. Family friendly.

Cons

Poor road quality.

Trailhead Elevation

9,081.00 ft (2,767.89 m)

Highest point

9,271.00 ft (2,825.80 m)

Net Elevation Gain

180.00 ft (54.86 m)

Features

Family friendly
Vault toilet
Waterfalls
Big vistas

Typically multi-day

No

Permit required

No

Location

Field Guide

Nearby Adventures

Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

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