Nestled in the heart of the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado is the small town of Monte Vista. Best known for the annual Sandhill Crane migration, Monte Vista is not only a refuge for wildlife but a jumping-off point for many other activities and outdoor adventures.
Start planning your Colorado getaway with these things to do in Monte Vista.
With plenty of year-round activities in Monte Vista, there is always a reason to visit no matter what time of season!
Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge
Located just south of Monte Vista, the Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge is a large, 15,000-acre bird sanctuary that provides stunning views and some of the best opportunities for spotting wildlife in the area. One of three National Wildlife Refuges in the San Luis Valley, Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge features large areas of man-made wetlands that are important habitats for a variety of birds and other animals.
On a visit to this refuge, visitors have the chance to see any number of birds including mallards, Canada geese, egrets, and herons. One of the most popular times to visit the Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge is during the springtime, particularly in March. As the weather gets warmer, thousands of sandhill cranes migrate through the area, forming a one-of-a-kind spectacle for any tourists in the area. In honor of this migration, the town holds the Monte Vista Crane Festival.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
One of Colorado’s four national parks, Great Sand Dunes National Park features North America’s tallest sand dunes, making it a top destination for those visiting Monte Vista. With beautiful mountain vistas and giant rolling sand dunes, this is a popular spot for good reason.
One of the most well-known activities at the park is sand sledding and boarding, but visitors hoping to surf the dunes should keep in mind that the park does not rent or sell boards, so they must be rented or purchased outside of the park at a local store.
Hiking and backpacking is another popular activity. There are no designated trails in the thirty square miles of dunes, so visitors are free to wander as they see fit. One popular destination is High Dune. This almost 700-foot tall dune is around a 2-4 hour round-trip hike from the parking lot.
A unique time to visit is during late spring as the snowmelt from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains creates “Colorado’s natural beach” at the Medano Creek. For a brief period, the water creates a beach-like area where water waders and boogie boarders can enjoy some fun in the sun at the beach!
The Piñon Flats Campground in Great Sand Dunes National Park is open from April 1 until the end of October. Additionally, reservations must be made online up to six months in advance. For those hoping for a more primitive experience, secure a backcountry permit and hike overnight into the Dunes Backcountry for an unforgettable camping experience.
Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic & Historic Byway
Exploring the expansive San Luis Valley, the nearly 130-mile long Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic & Historic Byway connects the towns of Alamosa, Fort Garland, San Luis, and Antonito. Alamosa is relatively close to Monte Vista to the east, so it’s easy to hop on the Byway and head north towards Mosca.
Along the way, the route passes nearby the San Luis Lakes State Wildlife Area, Great Sand Dunes National Park, a number of beautiful historic churches like Our Lady of Guadalupe, and even over a few mountain passes.
It will take at least three hours to drive the 130 miles, but this trip can easily be extended into a multi-day adventure by stopping to enjoy the sights and historic stops along the way. One popular destination is Zapata Falls. There’s a short hike to see the forty-foot waterfall, complete with picnic tables and restrooms.
Ski Hi Complex
The Monte Vista Ski Hi Complex has been a popular gathering place since the late nineteenth century. During this time, the initial grandstand and arena were constructed, and they would stay in place until the 1940s. As the twentieth century progressed and Monte Vista grew in size and popularity, the Ski Hi Complex expanded with it, eventually including a swimming pool, softball fields, event center, and more.
Today, the Monte Vista Ski Hi Complex sees continued improvements. The main building is being rebuilt, and there are even plans for additional construction including a community pool and RV park. The Ski Hi Complex is a popular location for concerts, events, and community gatherings, plus with its rich history, this is one of the more popular things to do in Monte Vista.
Perhaps one of the best reasons to visit Monte Vista in the spring is for the Monte Vista Crane Festival. Discover more about this spring activity in Monte Vista to start planning to trip today!
Monte Vista Crane Festival
In the early spring of each year, thousands of Sandhill Cranes begin migrating north across the San Luis Valley from the winter homes. As previously mentioned, these cranes congregate in the Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge where bird and nature enthusiasts celebrate during the second weekend of March with the annual Monte Vista Crane Festival.
Each year, the highlight of the festival is a guided tour through the parts of the San Luis Valley and the Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge where visitors can observe the migration of the Sandhill Cranes. There’s a small fee for this tour, and advanced reservations are strongly recommended.
After catching the tour, visitors are welcome to listen to any number of guest speakers, attend the craft festival, or take part in any of the photography workshops or programs happening in town. While this festival is most popular with bird enthusiasts, visitors of all kinds can appreciate the beauty of thousands of cranes soaring across the deserts and wetlands of the San Luis Valley.
Summer in the San Luis Valley is a great time to head to the high country or just relax at the local drive-in. Find your fun summer escape with these summer activities in Monte Vista.
During the summer months, hiking near Monte Vista is a popular activity. For those looking for a short hike, the Monte Vista Walking Trail may be perfect. The trail is located in the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge, and it’s only half a mile long, so it’s easy and accessible to most people.
Passing through some of the best areas for birdwatching in the San Luis Valley, the trail also provides views of the valley and the surrounding mountains, making this a great short hike for any Monte Vista visitor.
For a longer hike, it’s best to head west of Monte Vista into the Rio Grande National Forest. Here, hikers will enjoy plenty of longer hiking options that leave the valley floor for mountain peaks, lakes, and rivers. One option is to hike on the Limekiln Peak Trail.
The trailhead is located around a mile and a half from US-160 on a dirt road, and the complete Limekiln Peak Trail Loop is just over six miles with around seven hundred feet of elevation gain, making this a perfect day-hike. Plus, with the views of the valley and the surrounding mountains, you can’t go wrong with this hike!
Best Western Movie Manor
Combining the best features of a small, clean hotel with a neighborhood drive-in theater, the Best Western Movie Manor is a hotel attached to a historic drive-in movie theater. Guests can view movies on the big screen through the oversized windows of their comfortable hotel room.
The original Star Drive-in features two screens, one of which is visible from select hotel rooms. For those guests not staying in a viewing-friendly room, the theater loans out chairs to guests so they can sit under the stars and enjoy the movies.
It is not necessary to be a hotel guest to catch a movie at the theater, but there is an additional charge. The viewing area features a snack bar, and the hotel has a complimentary breakfast as well as a fun playground for guests traveling with children.
Discover the unique beauty of the San Luis Valley with these winter activities in Monte Vista.
San Juan Nordic Club
Cross country skiing is one of the most popular outdoor activities in the San Luis Valley during Colorado’s winter months, and the San Juan Nordic Club makes this fun sport accessible by providing a large variety of groomed and ungroomed trails throughout the area.
For visitors without gear, the San Juan Nordic Club recommends renting gear from a local company like Kristy Mountain Sports Rental in Alamosa or Doc’s Outdoor Sports in South Fork.
There are plenty of options in the San Luis Valley thanks to the hard work of the San Juan Nordic Club, but Rock Creek Ski Trail is the easiest to access from Monte Vista. This trail is located in the stunning Rio Grande National Forest, and the entire length of the trail system is just over five and a half miles, with incredible views the entire way.
It’s easy to find your Colorado mountain getaway with these things to do in Monte Vista!