Directions: If coming from I-25 and Walsenburg, on US160, about 6 miles west of Blanca and turn north on SH150 and travel about 10.8 miles to BLM road 5415; turn east and travel another 3.6 miles on a graded, gravel road to the trailhead. The road makes five switchbacks lower down, then farther up the hillside, switchbacks two more times before arriving at the trailhead/campground.
To reach the road to the trailhead from the Great Sand Dunes National Park, travel about 6.1 miles southwest on Highway 150 from the visitor center to an intersection. Veer left. Do not turn west onto County Road 6N. Continue south on CO150 another 2.8 miles to the turnoff on the left for BLM 5415 to the Zapata Falls Trailhead and Campground as described above.
If coming from the north and US 285, follow US 285 south to Poncha Pass and continue south to Villa Grove. Five miles south of Villa Grove, turn off to the left onto SH17, which is the more direct route to Alamosa. It's 30 miles to Hooper (you may nearly miss this little town) and from Hooper, continue south another 6 miles to County Road 6N where you will turn left (east). Drive 16.4 miles east to where 6N intersects with SH150. Turn right (south) and go 2.8 miles to the turnoff on the left for BLM 5415 as described above. Follow it 3.6 miles to the trailhead/campground. There is a separate parking area for day-use and backpackers on a short loop. There is picnicking as well and vault toilets.
The South Zapata trail #852 is 4.5 miles long. It begins at the end of BLM Road 5415 (the Zapata Falls road) and ends at South Zapata Lake.
To view the falls, hike one-half mile from the trailhead to Zapata Creek, going up an old roadbed and wade upstream into the narrow cave to view the falls. The 30 foot high waterfall cascades within a narrow chasm. Watch for falling rocks. The water is swift and deep in early summer. When you first arrive where the canyon narrows up and would have to wade in, there is a trail that gains the ridge on the right, above the falls for viewing. That trail immediately forks. The left takes you to the viewing area. The right fork gets you to the main Zapata Lake trail. In 1995, there were no clear signs as to where the South Zapata Lake trail began. We followed the viewing trail up onto the ridge, then had to cut south a little to pick up the Zapata Lake trail.
The trail proceeds from the waterfall up South Zapata Creek to South Zapata Lake. A little above the falls, the trail crosses the stream. Again, in 1995, there was a very large log fallen across the stream and a significant height above the water. If the log is still there, you can try using it. If not, you'll have to wade unless the Forest Service has place in a bridge of some kind. The trail is steep in many places. About 2.25 miles up the trail, North Fork South Zapata Creek Trail #868 begins. This trail does not show on the Trails Illustrated map.
The trail is open for the following uses: Horseback riding, hiking, and backpacking.
There is a designated National Forest campground at the trail head. Fee required. This is a relatively new campground and will not appear on older maps.