Three days in the Wet Mountain Valley give you an opportunity to explore Custer County’s unique landscapes.
After following our one-day and two-day itineraries, we suggest starting the third day at Sugar and Spice Mountain Bakery. Then head south on CO 69 toward Great Sand Dunes National Park via adventurous Medano Pass, which delivers you directly into the park. If you lack a high-clearance, four-wheel drive vehicle or worry about getting stuck in deep sand, you might instead try partially paved Pass Creek (turn west just north of Gardner) to U.S. 160 near LaVeta Pass. And it takes only a few minutes longer to travel via Walsenburg to U.S. 160 and across LaVeta Pass. From U.S. 160, you’ll head north on CO 150, just west of Blanca.
Any of the three routes will get you to the park in a bit more than two hours. Once there, you’ll surely be impressed by North America’s highest sand dunes—and get a solid workout if you choose to climb them.
If you’re a nature lover and are up for a ride on more back roads, consider detouring on your return trip to Mission: Wolf, a peaceful sanctuary for captive wolves and wolf-dog crosses.
Afterward, you can sample fine American fare at the Alpine Lodge, where you might also spend the night in a quaint mountain cabin nestled among pines and aspens, on the edge of the San Isabel National Forest.
Or … you might return from the Dunes by heading north through the broad San Luis Valley to Salida, a charming town on the active Arkansas River. Then follow U.S. 50 east through the red rocks of stunning Big Horn Sheep Canyon to the tiny town of Cotopaxi, where you’ll turn south on County Road 1A. It leads back to CO 69, a dozen miles north of Westcliffe.
About halfway back to town, you’ll pass the historic Beckwith Ranch’s restored Victorian home and outbuildings. Even if you have only a passing interest in history, you’ll appreciate the structures’ white siding and red roofs set against broad pastures and the stark line of the Sangre de Cristos.
While you might grab a sandwich, a slice or a sip at one of the trendy spots in the riverfront town of Salida, and it’s good to know there’s a nice deli in the store at Cotopaxi, save your appetite for dinner at the Alpine Lodge or one of the other eclectic eateries in Silver Cliff and Westcliffe.