Spotlight on Parks: San Luis State Park

One of the items on my bucket list is to visit all of our National Parks (if you have this goal too or even if you just visit the same park a lot during the year, I highly recommend purchasing the annual National Parks pass. It pays for itself after 4 visits.) Ever since moving to Colorado I’ve been knocking them out pretty fast and furious and this past Labor Day I decided I’d go visit Great Sand Dunes National Park. That campground was full when I decided to make my reservation, so instead I reserved a site at San Luis State Park.

View of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains from San Luis State Park. Photo by Jamie Simo.
View of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains from San Luis State Park. Photo by Jamie Simo.

San Luis lies only 15 to 20 minutes away from Great Sand Dunes. In fact, you can see the dunes from the park. It’s also fairly close to 2 national wildlife refuges: Monte Vista and Alamosa, so there’s plenty to do if you spend a long weekend there. The park consists of 2,054 acres and lies in the San Luis Valley surrounded by the Sangre de Cristo mountains.

San Luis is known for its large lake where you can go boating or do some wildlife viewing. The lake is a “playa,” or dry lake, which is a shallow lake that is seasonally wet. San Luis’ lake is filled from snow melt in the mountains. However, due to the low amount of snow, the lake was dried up when we visited. We had some strong wind on the Sunday we were there and it was pretty impressive to see the dust lifting off the dry lake bed and blowing around.

Just because the lake was dried up didn’t mean that there was no wildlife to see though. Sage thrashers and Say’s phoebes flitted around the rabbit brush in the morning and barn swallows sailed around all day long. I also saw plenty of rabbits, including a black-tailed jackrabbit, only the second time I’ve seen one of them. I’m always amazed at just how big their ears are.

A black-tailed jackrabbit hightails it in the early morning light. Photo by Jamie Simo.
A black-tailed jackrabbit hightails it in the early morning light. Photo by Jamie Simo.

Because the towns around San Luis aren’t very big and are fairly spread out, the park doesn’t suffer from a lot of light pollution. That means the amount of stars you can see in the park is incredible. The highlight of my time there was watching shooting stars while listening to distant coyote howls. I also enjoyed watching the resident bats and feeling the slight breeze as they swooped past me. The park has central bathroom and shower facilities and the lights attract a lot of moths and other insects. This provides a smorgasbord for the bats and was the best place to see them.

San Luis’ campground closes on October 1 (the bathrooms are already closed for the season), but the park is open all year round, so if you’re in the area, you should check it out. The entry fee is $7 a day or you can buy an annual Colorado State Park Pass for $70, which gets you into all 42 Colorado State Parks.

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