By Ericka Kastner
I’ll admit it. I’m usually not much of a state parks gal. I tend to migrate toward wilderness areas, BLM lands and National Forests. So when my friends asked me to join them on a warm July weekend last summer for a boat outing to the San Luis State Park and Wildlife Area, I almost didn’t go.
But from the moment of my arrival to the park, I was glad I’d come. The first thing I noticed was the incredible tranquility as there wasn’t another car or boat in sight. Beyond that, the views from the lakeshore were breathtaking. The Sangre de Cristos have long been my favorite Colorado mountain range, so the idea of being able to glide my stand-up paddle board on glassy water with gorgeous mountain peaks and the Great Sand Dunes National Park looming in the distance quickly became a perfect reality.
While waiting for my friends to arrive, I pumped up my SUP, loaded my gear and my pup onto the board and paddled out onto the pristine lake. As the park website says, the combination of wetlands and desert-like environment make the San Luis lakes a unique place to experience nature, and I definitely found this to be true. Immediately, my restless soul began to quiet and, once I crossed the lake, I eventually lay down on the deck of the board to close my eyes and absorb the silence.
When my companions joined me later on their kayaks, we continued paddling together along the lakeshore, enjoying the day and commenting frequently to one another about the distinct ecosystem of the lake and glorious panoramic views visible from our boats. As the afternoon progressed, the typical San Luis Valley winds picked up somewhat, and we had a bit of fun and challenge crossing the lake against headwinds as we paddled back to our put-in spot to disembark.
Other park activities include hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding and birding. The 890 surface-acre lake is currently closed to fishing and motorboats as the water line is at about half the lake’s normal capacity. Trees are in short supply at the park (a 2,054-acre preserve at 7,519 feet in elevation), so finding shade during the hot summer months is difficult unless you set up base camp for the day at one of the picnic shelters along the shoreline.
Although it is the warmest body of water in the San Luis Valley, swimming is not allowed. Low dunes surround the lake and provide home for a wide variety of wildlife. Visitors may view diverse plant life and migratory waterfowl from along the shoreline or from within hand-launched boats on the water.
Getting there: From Poncha Springs, follow U.S. Hwy. 285 and CO-17 66.6 miles south to Lane 6N (known locally as Six Mile Lane.) From Alamosa, travel 22.3 miles north to Lane 6N. Turn east and drive 8.4 miles on Six Mile Lane to the park entrance.
A daily pass for the park is $7. Overnight camping is available at nearby Mosca campground. Bring bug repellent! More information and campground reservations are available online at: cpw.state.co.us/placestogo/parks/SanLuis.