Located in the Sangre De Cristo Wilderness Area of the Rio Grande National Forest, South Zapata Lake is a remote body of water that sits at 11,900 feet in elevation above sea level near Alamosa. South Zapata Lake can be accessed via the South Zapata Trail, which features a waterfall approximately 1 mile into the 9.7-mile round trip journey.
Small but scenic, South Zapata Lake is one of the many beautiful natural lakes in the Sangre De Christo mountain range in Alamosa County. In close proximity to Great Sand Dunes National Park, South Zapata Lake offers a sensational way to enjoy seasonal wildflowers, potential wildlife encounters, and dramatic views of the entire area.
South Zapata Lake Access
South Zapata Trail #852 access is open to hiking, backpacking, and horseback riding, but mountain biking is strictly prohibited. The turn-off onto Zapata Falls Road (BLM Road 5415) can be found approximately 7 miles southwest of Great Sand Dunes National Park, along State Highway 150.
The road to the trailhead is fairly bumpy and low clearance vehicles are not recommended. There are bathrooms at the trailhead, but no running water is available.
Activities at South Zapata Lake
The journey to and from South Zapata Lake is considered a challenging hike, especially in warm high-desert conditions. Most people stay overnight in the surrounding backcountry.
Before attempting the hike to South Zapata Lake, it is very important to ensure that you have the suitable equipment, supplies, and stamina for a full day of hiking and enjoying the scenery.
Birding and Wildlife: The Rio Grande National Forest around South Zapata Lake is home to deer, bears, and elk as well as many other small ground creatures like lizards, squirrels, and pika. To protect the local wildlife, dogs are required to be kept on a leash.
Around the waterfall and along the trail, the Pinyon-Juniper forest is also filled with birdlife. Frequently spotted species include towhees, jays, dippers, and swifts.
Camping: Adjacent to the trailhead, the Zapata Falls Campground is a BLM-operated first-come, first-served campsite, with limited spaces available for a small overnight fee.
The campground does not have any drinking water available onsite, but campers are treated to beautiful mountain and valley views with a tent pad, picnic table, bear box, fire ring, and plenty of room for vans and small RVs.
Fishing: With a valid state fishing license, anglers are welcome to fish in South Zapata Lake as well as South Zapata Creek, with frequent water access along the trail. South Zapata Lake (and a few other bodies of water in the area) are occasionally stocked with trout, so the best fishing conditions are typically found as close to the lake as possible.
Hiking and Backing: The hike to South Zapata Lake is very difficult, but most visitors can access Zapata Falls without much trouble. However, all hikers should be prepared for creek crossings, and seeing the falls themselves may require you to get a little wet, depending on the season.
Along the journey to South Zapata Lake, backpackers can camp following local National Forest regulations. There are a few obvious campsites near the lake, and the area has a reputation for being fairly uncrowded.
Horseback Riding: Horseback riding and camping is permitted along the South Zapata Trail, which is rated at a moderate difficulty level. For more information on local horseback riding rules and regulations, please see this resource from the Saguache Field Office.
Hunting: Big game hunting is permitted in the Sangre De Cristo Wilderness Area of the Rio Grande National Forest, which begins several miles into the trail and surrounds South Zapata Lake. A valid Colorado hunting license and relevant permit are required.
Address: South Zapata Trail | Zapata Falls Road (BLM Road 5415), Mosca, CO 81146
Maps: data.fs.usda.gov… (PDF)