Be ready with your binoculars. Monte Vista Walking Trail is hard to be missed for bird enthusiasts. It’s the perfect place to get a sight of the 23,000- 27,000 Greater Sandhill Cranes that migrate from Arizona, New Mexico, and areas near the Mexican border during spring and fall through San Luis Valley.
The trail sits perfectly on Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge, one of the three wildlife refuges that provide habitat for 200 bird species and other wildlife.
Hiking the National Recreation Trail
Designated as a National Recreation Trail in 2007, this greenway-type trail is a common favorite for bird and wildlife watching and photography, hiking, family outing, and even school field trips.
Monte Vista Walking National Recreation Trail or the Nature Trail is only 0.5 miles long, a well-maintained short side trail off the 2.5 miles Auto Tour route. Together they serve as the finest course to access the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge.
National Recreation Trail Route
The Nature Trail begins just a hundred yards from the Auto Tour trailhead in the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center. For this summary, let’s follow the Auto Tour waypoints and highlight the Nature Trail.
As stated, the trail begins at the Visitor Center and parking area. From the trailhead, follow the dirt road heading east. Just a few hundred meters on the right is a side trail, turn right to follow Monte Vista Walking National Recreation Trail. It’s basically just a singletrack loop trail with informational signs about the wildlife in the area. You can easily complete the trail in about 6-10 minutes.
Upon returning to the Auto Tour trail, continue to follow the dirt road until it turns right on the first-mile marker. Turn another right after a few hundred yards as the trailheads to a pond. Remain on the trail until Colorado State Highway 15 where the trail ends, south of the trailhead.
To head back to the parking area, turn another right on CO 15. Take the dirt road on the east side of the road until you reach your destination.
Tips for Monte Vista Walking Trail
For the whole duration of the hike, don’t just fix your eyes on the trail and the informative signs along with it. Be keen on your surroundings. There might be birds overhead you, on the refuge’s wetlands and grasslands, as well as on trees, and even on buildings.
Some of the many birds you will encounter are sandhill cranes, hawks, owls, geese, cranes, ducks, mallards, egrets, and even golden eagles. Coyotes, foxes, and other small mammals are also present. Some quick tips before you head off, there are very few trees in the area to give enough shade so wear enough sunscreen and bring lots of water.
Also, you may bring your dogs but keep them on leash. The refuge does not charge any fee. Peak seasons for bird migration are mid-March and mid-October.
Take Colorado State Highway 15 six miles south of Monte Vista to Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center and parking area.
Address: 6120 CO-15, Monte Vista, CO
Length: 0.5 miles
Pets: Yes, on-leash