|Elevation Gain||295 ft|
|My Time||26 min|
Hiking Zapata Falls in Winter
Zapata Falls is located about halfway down CO-150 on your way to Great Sand Dunes National Park. The hike to the falls is short but a little steep but extremely rewarding especially in winter when the creek freezes over and Zapata Falls freeze to walls of a small cavern and form a natural ice sculpture that is stunning.
The hike to Zapata Falls starts among some smaller trees and open air just outside of the campground entrance. In winter, snow will typically cover the dirt and rock trail that heads up towards the falls. The trail is wide and easy to follow but it does have some consistent elevation to be prepared for. Traction devices like microspikes may also be helpful for the short trek to the frozen falls.
Short but Steep
Overall the round trip hike is less than a mile long. Pretty short but that doesn’t make it completely easy. The trail has a pretty consistent 10% incline in most areas. There is a bit of a flat spot in the middle and bit more of an incline as you get closer to the falls but for the most part it is a consistent incline. Sort of like walking up a ramp for a half mile. The hike is also above 9,000 feet in elevation which will make it more of a struggle for those who are not accustomed to higher elevation hiking.
That being said, for a lot of people the hike will be relatively easy because of the short distance needed to cover. The elevation also gives some really good views from the top portion of the hike looking back towards Great Sand Dunes National Park.
With the elevation and the chances of snow and ice in the winter months, hikers may want to add some spikes or another form of traction on the hike depending on the local conditions.
The Creek, Cave and Zapata Falls
When you make it to the top of the hill after about a half mile you will come to the South Zapata Creek. In winter, the creek is frozen and snow covered and surrounded by the tallest trees of the of the hike. It is a really peaceful and beautiful area that I enjoyed.
From the creek it is about 50 yards to get to the cave that houses Zapata Falls. The walk across the creek can get a little slick, so again, traction devices may be advised. The cave entrance is pretty small, big enough for a few people to walk through and stacks high above into the rock. (photos in gallery) Once you make it into the cave you will be surrouned on three sides by walls of rock and just a few feet from Zapata Falls.
As you make your way to the south end of the cave it is hard to miss the falls. The entire section of the cave is covered with ice that stops on the top of the rocks and spills out onto the floor. When I was there a couple of ice climbers were enjoying the area and their axes were spraying ice down below so make sure to be aware of anyone climbing the ice. The ice cavern is beautiful and unique in its shape and the cascade of the ice. A really enjoyable spot.
While the hike to Zapata Falls is short the payoff is outstanding. The ice covering the walls of the cave was really impressive to see. A few of us gathered and just enjoyed the icy walls as they sat in their winter slumber. I haven’t been to the falls in the summer but I find it hard to believe that they can match the beauty of the Zapata Falls in Winter.
Video of the Zapata Falls Hike
I have put together a quick time-lapse video of my time hiking at Zapata Falls In Winter in order to give hikers a feel of what the hike is like. If you enjoy this video, make sure to Subscribe to my YouTube Channel. It is free to subscribe and you will get updates for all the latest videos.
Distance and Elevation
If you don’t have the AllTrails app you might want to check it out, I really love mine. It records your progress and is a great way to search for hikes that are nearby and gives you difficulty measurements. According to AllTrails today’s hike was around 0.98 miles and had a total elevation gain of about 295 feet including undulations. That put the high point at around 9,396 feet. I was also moving for a total of 26 minutes.
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This one is a little bit tricky from an effort stand point. While it is a very short hike, just about a half mile to get to the falls from the trailhead, It isn’t necessarily super easy. There is also about 300 feet of elevation gain in that half mile. The Zapata Falls Hike also starts over 9000 feet of elevation. So all that being said, this could be an easy hike for some who are conditioned to the elevation and elevation gain. It also could be a moderate hike for those who are just visiting or don’t do a lot of mountain hiking. I am going to rank it easy with an *.
In the winter the trail is mostly snow covered and the creek is frozen and snow covered as well. The trail is well defined, even covered in snow. Trees mark the edges well. On the few areas where there wasn’t snow it looked like the path would normally be a combination of some dirt and rock. When hiking in the summer it looks like you will have to walk through the creek to get to the falls.
The Zapata Falls hike is located in the Zapata Falls Recreation Area. There is a campground there with 23 single sites and 1 group sites that can be booked on Recreation.Gov. The season is closed from November 1st – January 1st.
The trailhead is located up the access road to the campground just off of Co-150. As you near the campground entrance you can continue straight to the trailhead instead of turning right. There are about 10-15 parking places and no restroom facilities at the trailhead.
Wrapping up the Zapata Falls Hike
I really enjoyed my quick trip to Zapata Falls in winter. The hike to the falls is short and relatively easy but the rewarded is both unexpected and enjoyable. The ice is so thick and all encompassing that it is hard not to be impressed.
I did this quick hike after spending the morning at Great Sand Dunes National Park and is a perfect piece of dessert following up the challenging hike to High Dune and would recommend giving the hike a shot if you have the time, especially if you have the chance to hike it in the winter where the ice transforms the area to something really special.
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