There are plenty of waterfalls in Colorado, many of which can be seen and photographed from a distance while staying dry. Not so for Zapata Falls in the San Luis Valley, a few miles south of Great Sand Dunes National Park. The waterfall is at the head of a slot canyon, and it can only be seen by getting your feet wet. The hike is so short it barely qualifies as a stroll, just a half mile up from the Zapata Falls Campground. To see the falls, cross the creek and scramble a short ways along the rocks until you can see the 25-foot waterfall. It’s probably slippery, so watch your step.
- This is a very short hike. To make it longer after seeing the falls, continue on the trail, which turns right just before the creek. This trail runs 4.5 miles to South Zapata Lake, a pretty alpine pool just above timberline. It’s a long day so be prepared.
- Use caution during spring and early fall and after thunderstorms as the waterfall could be dangerously high.
- Visit in winter for a completely different experience. The slot canyon takes on the feel of an ice cave, and while you can walk without getting your feet wet it’s slippery.
Recommended season(s): Year-round.
–R. Scott Rappold