Salida & Sand Dunes Long Weekend Extravaganza of Hiking and Hot Springs!

Information • Camping • Colorado • Salida • Sand Dunes • Road trip

This itinerary was designed to make you feel like you have travelled far from the Denver Metro area without having to drive many miles!


Start at Rossmönster Rentals, and pick up your sweet new ride. Pack all of your goodies (e.g. snacks and jackets), and you are ready to hit the road!

Drive south on Hwy 285 through the lovely mountain towns of Conifer and Bailey, and start to feel the stress melting from your shoulders as your deep breaths make the magical transition from city to crisp/fresh mountain air.

Be sure to stop at The Shaggy Sheep roadside cafe to pick up a coffee and amazing homemade hand pie! Or plop down at the bar and grab a beer and a full meal from their lovely comfort-food menu to ensure you are fueled for the days’ adventures ahead.

Head to Cottonwood Lake Trailhead for a relaxed, high-elevation stroll beside a lovely creek.

Take a well-deserved break (strolls are hard work, right?) in a booth at the cozy Casa Sanchez in Buena Vista for a cold beer paired with chips and salsa (or opt for a bathtub-sized vat of margarita- we won’t judge!).

After all this walking and snacking, grab your swimmies and treat yourself to the incredible Mt. Princeton Hot Springs, which includes hot springs running adjacent to a crisp mountain creek. This setup allows visitors to “dial their own” mini hot springs pools by moving rocks around to create the perfect temp pool for lounging, as well as the option for a mid-soak refreshment dunk in the cold creek water.


Before heading to bed for the night, make sure you save room for a nightcap at the irreverent Woods Distillery in downtown Salida, CO. The bartenders will mix you up some magic, and if you love it as much as we know you will, take home a bottle of hooch to keep the memories alive!

Book a room at the recently revamped 50’s motel Amigo Motor Lodge or park your van at any of the seven lovely riverside Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area Campgrounds for an evening in nature.


Awake to the sounds of birds chirping, grab an perfect cappuccino at Howl Mercantile & Coffee while perusing their lovely collection of locally made & carefully curated goods, and head straight for the hills for a heart-rate bumping hike on Tenderfoot Mountain for panoramic views of Salida and the surrounding area.

After hiking back down from the famous “S”, spend a leisurely morning taking in the sights of downtown Salida. It is a guarantee you will not be bored with all of the quirkiness to be found around town!

Pick up a few sandwiches and a homemade baked good or two at Sweeties Sandwich Shop before hopping the van for the next adventure!

Drive South again towards the Great Sand Dunes National Park, and be sure to keep your camera out for entertaining signs hinting to surrounding alien activity.


Photo credit: The Outbound Collective

Grab a campsite within the park campground, and collect your preferred Sand Dunes enjoyment accessories (these could be a set of beach chairs and a novel, or waxed-up sleds/snowboards/helmets for those desiring more excitement).

After an afternoon of sandy entertainment, head back to campground for a fireside dinner and possibly a roasted marshmallow or two. If you time it right, there might be a park-led presentation as well at the entrance to the campground in the communal firepit area!


Wake up early, chomp down a hearty camp breakfast, pack a big back of hiking snacks and a thermos of tea (don’t forget a little splash of whatever tasty libation you grabbed in Salida), and head for the hills to the east for Zapata Falls Trailhead.

This hike can either be a leisurely 2 mile out-and-back to check out the lovely cascading falls (bring water shoes!), or it can be extended to a grueling but rewarding ~10 miler to a pristine alpine lake with old miners cabins on the way. We recommend breaking out the thermos with bonus juices at the falls on the way home, it will feel quite deserved at this point!

Drive back down the mountain and choose from two sociologically fascinating hot springs experiences to soak your aches away:

Joyful Journey Hot Springs: interesting setup in the valley of several indoor/outdoor pools and educational information about the associated health benefits. 

Valley View Hot Springs: incredibly charming clothing-optional hot springs resort set in the hills- not for the faint of heart, but quite entertaining for the adventurous!

After feasting your eyes and soaking your tired bones, drive back to Sand Dunes Campground for a sunset picnic al fresco, and another campfire before retiring to your cozy van to sleep for the night.


This may be the last day of the trip, but that does not mean the fun is over! Enjoy your last morning coffee or tea amongst the majestic surrounding mountains, and eat a light breakfast (ahem- leave room for lunch!) 

Drive the reverse route north towards Leadville, CO, the highest incorporated city in North America at a stunning elevation of 10,200ft.

Make a pit stop at the Treeline Kitchen for a lunch of locally-sourced meats and veggies on their sunny rooftop patio. 


Photo credit: Trip Advisor

After filling your bellies, take in some local culture by taking your pick of one of Leadville’s plentiful museums.

The final adventure is a short but very steep jaunt up to Windsor Lake above Leadville, where your eyes will be rewarded for the effort your legs put in! Collect all of the crisp air your lungs can grab, and head back to the van for a scenic drive home on I-70. 

If a final meal is in order before the van check-in, be sure to pit stop at Aurum in Breckenridge for an incredible happy hour between 4-6pm; do not miss their killer burger and cocktail options!

With bellies full, legs tired, and hearts contented, drive your noble steed back to Longmont and share with us your tales of good times and adventures!