Road Trip to the Sand Dunes
It has been 6 months since my little adventurous heart, felt the excitement of a Colorado road trip unfold. I watched the pavement start to roll faster through the windshield. The un-natural towers of our human existence started to fade as the natural world started inching closer. The smell of pine trees cleared away the smog and the mountain air started to re-fresh the muggy summer day.
Colorado road trips seem to have something new to experience on every mile. A dreamy house with open land. A watering hole that looks like the perfect place for local grub and a taste of community. A winding river filled with bends and falls, and eager rafters. The road tends to spark our childish curiosities. With every passing mountain town, a new question goes unanswered. Just getting a nanosecond glimpse of what these small-towns have to offer. Letting our imagination run wild. Wondering what it is like to live in these small towns. Picturing what rural life is like in a Colorado mountain town.
As we drove closer to the Sand Dunes the towns turned more rustic with hardly any sight of the modern-day comforts we are all accustomed to. There is an endless number of mountain towns to discover in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. There may not be enough time to see it all in our lifetime but once you are on the road you must be willing to stop along the way. The discovery of a new way of life could turn your world upside down and open up possibilities you never dreamed of.
I decided I wanted to share my Sand Dunes road trip guide and all the little discoveries I found along the way. That way you have a chance to plan your adventure there with an idea of what is out there. But of course, there are always a million things for us all to discover and each individual will always take a different road to adventure. I hope you enjoy this round-up and get inspired to plan that road trip this summer. There is no time to waste.
1. Road Trip Snacks at Little Red Hen Bakery
There is nothing better than a local bakeshop full of home-baked goodies. Adam and I knew we wanted to make sandwiches for our hiking adventures. So we bought a loaf of sourdough from this little shop that was extremely wholesome and delicious. They also are a great stop to make for a special Colorado road trip snack. We tried their berry oat bars and they were insanely good.
2. Road Trip Pick Me Up at Manipura Juice Company
Fresh pressed juice is always worth the stop. It really can be hard to find so when this shop popped up on our route I knew it was a must-try. I went for their special with beet, carrot, turmeric, and pineapple and it was a refreshing combo that energized me for the next leg of our road trip through Colorado.
3. A Relaxing Dip After a Long Drive at Joyful Journey Hot Springs
There is always bound to be a good hot spring on your drive through western Colorado. When you are headed to the Sand Dunes there are several options to choose from. Joyful Journey offers a nice place to stay with fully equipped rooms, yurts, and tipis. But if you are just passing through you might as well stop for a dip with an amazing mountain view.
4. Or Two Dips at Valley View Hot Springs
Valley View is another great Hot Spring right off the highway. This spot is extremely tranquil with the hot spring right in nature. But just so you know this spot is clothing optional so be prepared for that.
5. The Road Trip That Leads to All The Spiritual Centers in Crestone
There are 25 different spiritual centers in Crestone. Making the town one of the most culturally diverse places in the world. It would be a misfortune if anyone missed out on the spiritual awakening and enlightenment that this part of Colorado can offer. Make sure to research the events and retreats that each center offers to find what is right for you.
6. Stop for a Scenic De-Tour To Find Buffalo in the San Luis Valley
I had no idea that we had wild buffalo roaming around Colorado. These creatures can be found in the Baca National Wildlife Refuge (one of three wildlife refuges in the area). These creatures are always a delight to witness especially in their natural habitat. There is something so powerful about their presence and it is wonderful to take a tour and learn how to protect their natural habitat.
7. Colorado Road Trip Day Hike Up to Willow Lake Trail
Willow Lake Trailhead is close to the town Crestone. About a 15 minute drive up a dirt road. And about a 11mile hike up and back. I am not going to lie this hike was the most difficult hike I had ever been on. But we made it up and now that we did I am ready for my next alpine lake hike. The views were incredible throughout this whole hike. And when we finally made it to the top it was one of the most peaceful settings I had ever witnessed. with the flowing river and the community of backpackers settling in for a night of pure bliss amongst the stars and the trees. I imagine if you set up camp here it is probably the best sleep you will ever get.
8. Vere Off the Road to Witness Aliens at the UFO Watch Tower
In the middle of nowhere with hardly any light pollution and thousands of stars in the sky, there is bound to be some UFO sightings. This one of a kind watchtower is fun to do for shits and giggles. But you never know what you might see. This is an easy stop on your road trip, just a few miles up the highway from the Sand Dunes.
9. Go the Opposite Direction and Find Zapata Falls
As you are just about to approach the Sand Dunes National Park you will see a sign for Zapata Falls. This destination is a few miles up a dirt road and less than a mile hike up, with a little wading in the water required. But the views and of course the waterfall is worth the trip.
10. Day Trip Shopping In Salida: First Stop, Howl Mercantile
Once your Sand Dunes adventure is over I highly recommend spending some time in Salida before you head back to Denver. We absolutely loved it here. Salida is a very cutesy mountain town with lots of shops and food to explore. I really loved stopping in at Howl Mercantile. They had the coolest adventure gear for your home and your closet. They also serve delicious coffee and ice cream.
11. Lunch Before You Hit the Road at Cafe Dawn
Cafe Dawn is another cute spot with the best bagels I have ever had (even better than New York State bagels). We had a vegan bagel sandwich that exploded with flavor. It was the perfect snack to hold me over until we made it home.
12. Coffee and More at Bunny and Clyde’s Corner Store and Market
It honestly was hard to pick a coffee shop to check out in Salida. There are a lot of good ones. Bunny and Clyde’s was super cute and super unique. They served up all different kinds of goods. We had a Mexican mocha latte that was the best I have ever had. But they also served Indian food that looked insane. And offered locally grown produce and other local products in their store.
13. Find One of a Kind Souvenirs at Vintage/Antique Shops in Salida
The antique shops and vintage/thrift stores are some of the best I have been in. They have an overwhelming amount of beautiful goods to buy. I manage to find a vintage dress for only $16 at Free the Monkey Consignment. Ruby Blues was another place that is a must. They have great vintage at affordable prices. But basically, if you come across a second-hand store in this town I highly suggest pulling over. This place has a lot of gold to offer.
A Summer Filled With Road Trips Is What Everyone Needs
There is no time to be bored in such a beautiful world with a million things to see. Take time for the road less traveled. Stop in a town that you never heard of. Support the locals that preserve the history and culture of the Rocky Mountains. I may have provided you with a long list of places to see for on your Colorado road trip to the Sand Dunes. But there is always so much more that is yet to be discovered. For a in depth travel guide for the Great Sand Dunes find the post here.