We genuinely felt like we were on the set of a Star Wars movie. This park had free electric campsites.
It turns out it used to be run as a Colorado State Park and it was decommissioned. The water was shut off but the power remained. Now it is a great stopping place if you’re wanting to visit the Great Sand Dune National Park or go hiking at Zapata Falls.
We stayed here for two weeks and every day there were new breathtaking views all around. You feel as if you are walking the top of the world when exploring the area, the entire San Luis Valley gives this feeling. The lake is beautiful and has a beautiful view of the Great Sand Dunes National Park to the north and Mt. Blanca to the east. Camping is by permit, so stop anywhere you can get a Colorado hunting or fishing license and get a State wildlife area permit, they're $43 per person, but if you're age 18-64 you're required to have an SWA permit to camp in Colorado State wildlife areas. The permit is good from April 1st through March 31st of each year, and yes they are yearly permits, so try to get them in April. The campground has electric hookups, but no water. So pack in your water, vault toilets on loops B and C, RV dump station, and dumpster at exit of campground areas. You can stay 14 days every 45 days. Zapata falls nearby is a MUST visit and there is a pay to camp campground there. Cell service is spotty for Verizon, not sure about other carriers.
The campground is located San Luis Lakes State Wildlife Area. The facility which is located just a few miles west of the Great Sand Dunes National Park. We stayed here on the way to Salida, CO after visiting the National Park. The wildlife area is basically reservoirs in a desert valley. Despite the Central Valley location the site was empty during our summertime visit. The facilities are well planned and more than sufficient. However, the location is barren and not very picturesque. The visitor entrance is not manned and you are required to have a Colorado Parks Pass. The site has no cover and experiences summer temps well above 100 degrees despite the high altitude of 8000 feet. The parking lots and campsites are all gravel stone but can be dusty in the dry season. You can see migratory birds here in the fall and fishing is popular as well. After seeing the site in person, I can not recommend this as a place to stay unless you cannot get a site at the National Park and need somewhere to park. It would be a difficult site for tent campers due to the lack of cover and the summer temps. You don’t need a reservation given the availability.
This campground was recommended to us due to its’ proximity to the Great Sand Dunes National Park that we were visiting. Not only did this campground have a convenient location (15 minutes west of the park), it was absolutely beautiful and so fun to explore! We woke up early and hiked along the wetlands nature trails, catching an amazing sunrise with panoramic views over the lake, Great Sand Dunes and surrounding mountains.
Luckily, I have a current Colorado annual dishing license which covered the camping fee. Otherwise, an annual access permit ($36), Colorado hunting or fishing license is required to camp here. Reservations are not accepted here so everything is first come, first serve. We were surprised to find so many sites available even on a beautiful summer weekend, we had the entire loop of camp sites to ourselves. There are 51 camp sites available spread across multiple loops. The first loops (A) we encountered was quite full, but the additional loops were almost entirely empty.
The sites were decently spaced apart and each offered electrical hookups, sheltered picnic tables and fire pits with grills. The free electrical hook-ups were quite helpful for charging up our electronics. Thankfully we had a power converter and power strip provided with our Escape Campervan. The picnic tables at the sites each have unique shelters that provided a nice break from the hot sun and strong wind gusts we encountered during our stay. Unfortunately, during our visit we were unable to use the fire pit due to fire bans that were in effect in this area. Along with the rest of the campground, the restrooms were spotless and well-maintained. Thankfully the pull-through parking spaces at each site made it super easy to park the 17.7-foot long campervanwe were driving! The parking spots were also all quite flat and level, which was an added comfort bonus to the whole experience.
Due to the proximity to the San Luis lakes and wetland areas, bugs were plentiful this time of year. Our headlamps and lanterns drew some of the largest moths I have ever seen! I would definitely recommend bug spray for visitors to this campground during warm months.
As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I occasionally have the opportunity to test and review products from outdoor companies. On this camping adventure, I was able to test out a Mavericks Campervan, which is the signature campervan model offered by Escape Campervans. This was a unique experience for me and my adventure partner, as we typically car camp or backpack into the backcountry for camping. Renting one of these campervans provides many potential benefits for both nature newcomers and the most seasoned campers. They have locationsall over the country making them available to most geographic regions, we picked ours up in Denver, which gave us access to all of the fantastic camping Colorado has to offer! A few of my favorite things about the Escape Campervans:
Convenience– This van provided more than a means of transportation…we also had a kitchen, living room, and bedroom all rolled into one well-appointed vehicle. This meant that everything we needed was readily available and easy to use with minimal set-up both on the road and when parked overnight. For instance, at one point, we start craving s’mores so we stopped at an 11,000-foot mountain pass overlook and simply opened up our kitchen stove and toasted some marshmallows in the parking lot! From a more practical stand-point, after a long day of hiking and driving, it was really great to be able to put our bed together in just a few minutes rather than going through the hassle of setting up a tent, sleeping pads, etc. plus the bed in the van was super comfy! The two-burner Coleman stove, sink, and fridge allowed us to cook pretty much anything without the usual compromises one must make while camping. Additionally, plenty of equipment is included in your rentalincluding; cookware, utensils, a space heater bed linens and even camp chairs. Additional accessoriescan be added on to your rental as well, so all of your needs are really covered. This was a huge added bonus and cut down on packing, which would be great for those coming from out of town or people that do not own much camping equipment.
Drivable– I was a bit intimidated to get behind the wheel of such a large vehicle, especially on Colorado’s curvy mountain roads. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the Maverick handled very well. We encountered some serious wind and rain on our journey and always felt quite safe behind the wheel of our trusty van. It was also not too bad on gas, especially compared to other larger campervan and RV options. Another perk of renting through Escape Campervans: they do not charge for additional drivers, so my friend and I were able to split up the burden of driving without being hindered by additional fees.
Design– The layout of these vans are definitely optimized for comfort and functionality. There was plenty of storage throughout the van which made it easy to organize all of our belongings in despite being in such a small space. It also easy to move around and reach everything while on the road and while parked. The pull out bed was very easy to use and took only a few minutes to transition from the table and seating to the super comfortable bed. The curtains in the van were also a nice touch and gave a great sense of privacy and also kept things quite dark for sleeping.
The #vanlife–Social media sites like Instagram are full of jealous- inducing travel photos of those that have converted their lifestyle to travel and live by campervan. I have always been plagued by wanderlust and this van camping experience totally let me live out that dream for a weekend! Furthermore, the fun paint job of our van (lovingly nicknamed the Fish-O) was certainly noticeable and we got tons of attention from other adventurers out on the road. We met quite a few fellow van campers that were excited to share tips and tricks and compare the set-ups of their campervans with ours. Being part of the #vanlife provided a unique sense of community that I can’t wait to join again!
A note about the Escape Campervans company as a whole – I cannot say enough good things about my experience with this fantastic company. Every interaction we had with them, from initial booking to van return, exemplified nothing short of outstanding customer service. The staff was very well-informed about their services and vans but also had tons of personalized recommendations to offer about the potential adventures along our road trip. It was very evident that their staff is made up of fellow outdoor enthusiasts who also value the importance of professionalism and quality customer service.
We came and camped here for the crane festival. We absolutely loved the state park’s diverse ecosystems and camping here. The campground is very open which means you can most likely see your neighbors but you can definitely see the lake, the dunes, and the mountains. The tent areas had the cute retro shade/wind blocks we’ve seen around the southwest. Surreally beautiful just like the rest of the valley.
If you can't get into the Sand Dunes campground, this is your next bet. About 15-20 minutes to the National Park, great for RV's, tent camping was tricky. Winds were insane we ended up sleeping in the car. There are nice fire pits with grates, picnic tables, and a shelter. No other shade then that, no trees. Bathrooms were nice and there was a little camp store. The lake was dried up when we went. This would not be my first choice in the area but you can reserve spots which is nice if you aren't rolling in until Saturday.
The park was absolutely stunning. Every sunset was a breathtaking experience. Lake views, mountain views, views of the great sand dunes in the distance… all of it together manifested to be my best adventure of the summer.
Great location, close proximity to the Great Sand Dunes and Zapata Waterfall.