Directions: From the Sand Dunes Visitors Center, drive south about 8 miles and turn left (east) onto a dirt road. Drive about 3.5 miles on a rocky but passable road to the trail head. Zapata Falls is located in a box canyon and required a short but moderately steep 1/2 mile hike, so take your time and enjoy the views of the Great Sand Dunes and surrounding Sangre De Cristo mountains and views of the San Juan Mountains about 70 miles west across the San Luis Valley floor. To view Zapata falls, hike up about 1/2 mile, the trail is a cross between a rocky jeep road and a dry creek bed littered with rocks and loose stones. The pinon pines and flowering cactus added a wonderful scent to the high country trail, which rises from 9000 feet to 9400 feet above sea level. Once you reach Zapata creek you will be walking in the creek bed over wet and sometimes slippery stones for the last stretch to the falls. Wear shoes you don’t mind getting wet.
Weather and snow depth depending the falls are accessible in the winter time also. The iced over falls are a rare site. The trail is very icy especially the closer you get to the falls.
From Del Norte, CO – travel about .5 mile on State Hwy 112 North to County Rd 9 N Turn Right and follow for approximately 30 miles till it ends Turn right on State Hwy 17 going south and turn left (west) on Lane 6N till it ends on State Hwy 150 Turn right and travel south a few miles till you see the turn off to Zapata Recreation Area. Total time about 75 minutes.
Wildlife Viewing Opportunities: Black Swifts nest near the falls, one of the few known breeding sites for this species in Colorado. Mule deer are often seen in the hiking area. Resist the temptation to feed or touch them even though they are around people and a bit tamer, they are still wild and can be very unpredictable.