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
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!
On a whim we decided to go spend the weekend at Great Sand Dunes National Park. The campgrounds at the park were full so we started looking for campgrounds near by. We happened upon Zapata Falls Campground and it was even more beautiful than the campground in the national park. We really enjoyed our stay here. The drive up the mountain is rough but once you reach the camping area it gets better. The campsites have picnic tables and fire pits. There are also toilets available.
The drive up from the main road is a little rough, but manageable in just about any car I imagine (we were in a VW beetle). We got there at about 2 pm on a Saturday and the campground was half full. This was mid-March; I'm sure in the summer this place fills up VERY quickly. Very clean and gorgeous views any direction you look. It's a 30 minute or so drive to the parking lot of the dunes.
Zapata Falls Campground is a must do! If Pinon Flats campground is booked, head up here and find a spot. You get better long views of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range and dunes from this elevation.
The campground is just a tad over 9,000 ft elevation. There are 23 sites to choose from…one loop is pretty much just tent sites, the second loop RV's can fit. This is fairly primitive. While there are pit latrines, each site has a tent pad, picnic table and fire ring. There is no water. Pack it in…or hike up to Zapata Falls and collect your water (be sure to filter it).
The view really are splendid! And you are super close to the Great Sand Dunes National Park (about 7 miles away). Plenty of high altitude hiking to be done! It is windy, so stake out that tent! Use bear awareness with food items.
The Falls are pretty cool…but you have to navigate your way up the creek, through what feels almost cave-like and then shinny up a ledge to actually see the 30' falls. Even in the middle of summer…the water is cold…like ice cold (refreshing…but will numb your feet). I recommend you bring water shoes or sandals of some sort…along with hiking shoes. The hike there is over some baseball sized rocks on the trail. I foolishly chose not to bring my water sandals…and my feet were instantly numb. The creek rocks do not offer sure footing and I wedged my feet between rocks too many times to recount. It would have been much more enjoyable to have some hard soled water sandals.
The spray from the falls was still cold in mid July, so you didn't want to spend too much time inside the cave-like crevasse.
Important note: The 3 or so miles up from the paved road is rough…really rough. SUV's have no problem…but we drove a Honda Civic…and it was getting beat up. The rocks and ruts in the road are super abusive. We scraped bottom on more than one occasion. I was concerned of breaking a steel belt on my tires. We made it okay…just take your time.
Great location with easy access to The Great Sand Dunes. The views of the San Luis Valley are stunning, and a very short walk to one end of the grounds provides gorgeous views of the dunes and San de Cristo peaks. Very busy area with the Zapata Falls trailhead at the entrance of the campgrounds. The sites are well spaced from one another and the hosts seemed to take good care of this heavily used place. We will definitely consider returning to ZFC if in need of a campsite in this part of the valley again.