Zapata Falls is a Bureau of Land Management Special Recreation Management Area (SRMA). There are 23 single campsites, one group site, and one campsite host. The campground is located on BLM road 5415, seven miles southwest of the Great Sand Dunes National Park. The campground sits at 9,000 feet at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It offers sweeping views of the San Luis Valley, the San Juan Mountains and nearby Great Sand Dunes National Park—plus spectacular sunrises, sunsets and night skies.
A new trailhead in the campground supplies a link to the South Zapata Creek Trail # 852, and the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness. A second trail, North Fork South Zapata Trail # 868, just above the campground in the day-use area, leads visitors on a mildly steep half-mile hike to the falls that give the campground its name.
Getting to the falls is an adventure in itself, involving a wade through cold creek water and a climb over slick boulders. The falls are located on land owned by the Colorado State Land Board, and people who visit them need to be cautious and realize that the climb can be risky.
Zapata Falls campsites, one group site and one camp host site are spaced around two, one-mile-long loops. The sites on one loop are designed for tent campers. Parking spurs on the second loop vary a little in length but in general can handle RVs, towed campers or other configurations of vehicles up to about 50 feet long. Each single site has a picnic table, fire grate, parking and tent pads and a bear-proof food locker. The accessible group site has three picnic tables, three tent pads and a group fire ring. The campground is open year round but access in the winter can be difficult - call ahead for conditions. QUIET HOURS & no generator use 10 pm - 7 am. For more information, please contact the San Luis Valley Field Office.
ADA Access: Two sites are ADA Accessible
One of my favorite campgrounds. Stayed on a weeknight (but during busy season of late July), and it was only half full. Views are amazing, including of the dunes. Sites are far apart for lots of privacy. 10-minute walk to the creek and falls, which are phenomenal. I loved being right there so we could go to them twice without conquering the road up more than once. Yes, the road sucks, but our rented Toyota Corolla made it. Just bring your patience and go SLOW. No water, pit toilets only. Fine by me, because I prefer the quiet and less-crowded conditions that primitive campgrounds tend to foster.
No reservations needed but the road up the mountain is not for the faint of heart. Primitive camping and out toilets are worth the sights and hikes. Zapata Falls is cool and inviting and everyone can get there if you are willing to drive to the campground.
It was a very long, bumpy drive up the mountain, to find that there was only 1 site left at dawn and it costs money. The campsite was small and the night was very cold in mid may. Our Honda fit made it up the mountain though!
Zapata Falls Campground is a Bureau of Land Management no reservations campground with 23 single sites and 1 group site. Each site has a fire ring, picnic table and bear-proof storage box. There are vault toilets but no hookups and no potable water. There are 6 overflow sites; it looks like the day use area near the hike to the falls is used for overflow even though there is a no camping sign. There were several campers there on a Friday night.
This review is 4 stars instead of 5 because of the road to the campground. The road to the campground is 3.5 miles off the road to Great Sand Dunes NP and is advertised as a bumpy dirt road. No kidding! There are lots of rather large rocks and dips as you make a 1,000 foot climb to get to 9,000 feet. We towed a teardrop trailer with a Honda Pilot and hated every minute of it, but people were bringing in larger campers.
If you make it up the road and get a site, it's totally worth the effort. Why? 1) Zapata Falls: the hike is very short but you have to walk through water to get to the falls. It's a very picturesque waterfall. There is also a 6 mile hike to South Zapata Lake. 2) The views of the dunes and Sangre de Cristo Mountains are spectacular…sunrise, all day and sunset. You can get a decent view from the campground, but it's better at the falls trailhead. And it's even better if you start up the South Zapata Lake trail.
This is a good location if you don't mind the trip up and back down the terrible road. I think the trip to the falls and the views almost offset the road experience.
Tip: get there early. We arrived at 10:30 am on a Thursday. There were lots of sites available even though the "full" sign was up. By late afternoon, almost all sites were full. All sites were occupied before 7 pm. If you come in on a Friday, be there before noon. Always check the permit clipped to the site signpost. People often leave their permit on the post when they leave.
Pros- clean bathroom, friendly camp host, only $11 per night as of May ‘18, right by trail heads for zapata falls and zapata lake, quick to get to the sand dunes views were incredible
cons-no water on site, road up rough for sedans.
We went early picked our site then went to the Sand Dunes for the day (we had to drive there). Not too many sites, and relatively spread out. Bear storage available as well as fire pits and picnic tables. There are some sites that have awesome views, we lucked out and has a great view of the valley, but we had to suffer by not having a lot of flat ground. The road up to camp is long and rocky.
Would go back for sure!
Don't forget to go to the Falls! And if you are really into it, go for the lake hike!
Gorgeous area, but the wind can get quite intense. Excellent jumping off point for exploring the dunes
This is a tiny park just outside the surreal Great Sand Dunes National Park…it is about 20 minutes south of the National Park. Onsite the trails are short but very pretty, especially the waterfall itself. They have no water on site, not a ton of sites, outhouses, friendly to RVs and tents (but the road up can be a little bumpy if it’s raining). We loved staying here, we heard coyotes howling close by, owls hooting, dust devils out in the valley, infinite stars.
The falls are beautiful in winter but the campground isn’t open then (in winter you’ll need a 4WD vehicle to get to the trailhead, or just walk further). The road is rough and I’m not sure RVs or campers could make it, but sedans are fine most of the year. The trails aren’t very long but they’re fantastic both for the views of the National Park, valley, and the waterfall. Camping here is very basic, meaning minimal facilities (vault toilets, byo water/treatment), no reservations, no caretaker, about 20 parking/camping sites, low cost.
This area in Colorado is one of the most unique places I've seen in a while. There are waterfalls, 750ft sand dunes, a river next to the sand dunes and a cosmic highway where UFO sightings are sought after.
The campground itself is in really good condition and the facilities are very clean compared to facilities seen in the past. The prevailing winds don't stop, but doesn't take long to get used to. There is a beautiful waterfall that is only a 1/4mi from the campground and a 4mi hike that will take you to the lake that feeds the falls.
The dunes are about 30 minutes from the campground, mostly due to the bumpy road.
We really enjoyed our time here and can't wait to come back!