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South Zapata Lake Trail

MODERATE 48 reviews

South Zapata Lake Trail is a 8.8 mile lightly trafficked out and back trail located near Mosca, Colorado that features a lake and is rated as moderate. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible year-round. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.

8.8 miles
3,116 feet
Out & Back

dogs on leash





nature trips


trail running







wild flowers



A hidden waterfall, several old miners cabins, and a high alpine lake are the rewards of this hike. The Zapata Falls are only 0.5 mile from the trailhead. The cabins are less than a mile beyond Zapata Falls. Continue 4 miles or so and you will come to a beautiful alpine lake above the tree line.

6 days ago

Amazing hike. I bit more challenging than anticipated, especially coming from sea level. Started 7:00am at the campground trailhead. Made it to the lake by 11:20am. Back to campground by 3:00pm. Bring lots of water and sunscreen. The Sun is very strong. Also, thunderstorms started moving in around 1:00pm.

9 days ago

A moderately challenging hike with some steep sections. Beautiful views at the lake though!

12 days ago

Amazing views on the way! We started very late about 5 pm and went to the falls first started to trail from the falls around 6 pm and went uphill for about another 2 hrs and turn around at 8 pm. We didn’t finish the trail but my gps told me we went about 3.4 miles so we were about 1.2 mile short of finishing the trial. It’s totally doable and worth it. Amazing views of sunset and the valley

16 days ago

This hike is moderately difficult but STEEP once you're about a third of the way up. These mountains are powerful and the San Luis Valley can create some wild weather, so don't forget to keep your eye to the west once in awhile (the view is worth it!). When we attempted this hike during early June of 2016, there was still plenty of snow remaining on the last third of the trail, causing us to miss part of the trail that went south at a creek crossing; we instead entertained ourselves with a fairly large boulder field and eventually met back up with the trail. You're getting right up underneath some amazing, high peaks once at South Zapata Lake. Love this section of mountain ranges for the magic it still has in it!

Went there on june 24th. We came around 830 AM and saw very few people. Can get windy and cold at the lake, but the views are amazing!

25 days ago

This lake is stunning! It sits just below Blanca Peak which was really neat. Most of the hike is through a forest but towards the end, the trail levels out in a beautiful valley just above treeline. It was cloudy and misty when we went, but the views were still incredible. I kept stopping for photos and to just marvel at how great it was. We started early in the day (on a Sunday in June) and saw very few others on the trail. This trail is somewhat challenging with a consistent uphill grade and a few steep sections, but nothing overly demanding if you are used to hiking//are in good physical shape. And it is easy to follow.

The flowers right now are amazing--so many Columbines, more than I have ever seen on a trail before, and everything else is very green. Highly recommend if you are in the area!

1 month ago

At the trail head there is a sign posted warning of the difficulty of the trail and advising hikers to not "recreate beyond their abilities." I will say that was a very fair warning. The hike is beautiful, the trail leads you back to the farthest and highest point of the valley at which South Zabata Lake is located. However, almost the entire hike is uphill. Very physically challenging (as much on the way down as the way up). Bring lots of snacks and water, you will need it! It took us about 8 hours total. Fun but intense, make sure you are prepared.

1 month ago

This is an amazing hike. But sorry, everyone who seeks to be debating... it is 5.7 Miles EACH WAY. So you’re going to come in just under 12. That is FROM THE TRAILHEAD. Now onto the hike itself.

This trail offers amazing views, and the lake and bowl at the end are incredible. It is, however, relentless. Loose, sharp rock from the first 1/4 mile, a quite a few steep, loose, technical ascents and then descents. If you’re use to 14ers and such, you could do this in trail runners. For the average but avid hiker, I’d recommend a sturdy hiking show or mid boot and certainly one or two hiking poles would be nice, mainly for coming down.

A wonderful backpacking trail with some nice areas to camp right at tree line near the lake, but brutal as a day hike. Took us about 4 hours up and 2.5 down (lots of short stops both ways - we had a dog with us and I was having some trouble with the altitude on the ascent).

Absolutely stunning end destination and worth it - but our group of four agreed that it’s just about the toughest thing we’d done in Colorado aside from a fourteener. So be prepared and enjoy!!!

We hit Zapata falls at the end and boy did that frigid water feel amazing on our throbbing feet!

1 month ago

This hike was exactly 10 miles round trip from the parking lot.
Very steep, suggesting hiking poles but the reward is sweet. Beautiful scenery throughout the hike.

1 month ago

I don't know what is wrong with these wimpy Colorado folk below me. This is definitely not a hard trail, and the moderate rating is appropriate. And the guy claiming it is 8 miles both ways is just spreading misinformation. It is 4.4 both ways. The trail is easy to follow, has a persistent but mild upward grade, and only a few short stretches of steeper climbs, although there are some very rocky bits and scree fields to cross. I would have been well served to wear stiffer-soled shoes and to remember a trekking pole. There's wonderful tree cover for most of the way. Took me 2.5 hours up and 2.5 hours down.
Love the inquisitive marmots and the Alpine tundra wildflowers above the timberline!

1 month ago

As the other reviewers have said, this is more of a “hard” hike as it is quite long and fairly steep in certain areas. We only saw 2 people on the trail! The views are absolutely amazing, you can see so much of the San Luis Valley and the Sand Dunes! Unfortunately, we weren’t able to complete this hike on that day. We started around 12:30-1pm (admiring Zapata Falls for half hour before that) and we were just past the halfway point around 3:30-4 not to mention we had to drive back to Denver later that evening. TIPS; take plenty of water OR a filter/UV light and snacks, make sure your shoes are comfy, and start EARLY. The trail sometimes isn’t marked well, follow your instincts! The road to the trailhead is about 2-2.5 miles of rocky terrain so make sure your tires are in good shape. I will be going back more prepared to see the lake in the future!

nature trips
1 month ago

First of all, moderate MY ASS. This hike is a killer climb and it’s not for the faint of heart. It is not 4.5 in and 4.5 out. It is 8 Miles in and 8 Miles out. It is a wonderful challenge, but don’t be fooled and don’t be cocky. This trail will kick your butt. Worth it but I will never do it again.

1 month ago

Really great trail but be prepared it’s a long one because of the incline and elevation. Took us about 6-7 hours and really is more of a hard as we clocked in around 11-12 miles because we went to the falls first. It was a little snowy in the basin, but the lake is halfway melted. Beautiful hike and view just be prepared!

2 months ago

Lots of camping spots along the way. Saw hardly anyone

4 months ago

Beautiful hike! If you feel up to it, continue on up to the summits of Twin Peaks. The views of Blanca, Ellingwood, and Little Bear are amazing!

10 months ago

Backpacked our way to the campsite right before treeline. Made it to Zapata lake the next day. Did this early june. Snow still present

10 months ago

Steeper than I expected but worth it.

10 months ago

This hike is lightly trafficked and I would say slightly more challenging than moderate. It is steep most of the way, however it is very rewarding. The view of the lake and the 14ers that surround it are unbeatable. We brought our dog, he was off leash the entire time, and he did wonderful. I do recommend bringing plenty of water, maybe even a small filter and snacks. Start early, the clouds seem to always move in around noon. Enjoy this beautiful hike!

11 months ago

One of the best views on this trail is at the trail head parking lot before you start. You can hear the river but seldom see it. The trail is very rocky with little to look at other than at an occasional clearing.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Very scenic trail. Several steep sections.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

The trail starts off very wide and this section of the trail is heavily trafficked. About a half of a mile in you reach Zapata Falls, the trail to the lake breaks off to the right. From here on the trail is much narrower and less traveled, think any normal hiking trail. There are several hills but overall it is a moderate hike. There is snow near Zapata Lake. Pack snowshoes or plan to scramble for ~1/2 miles to reach the lake.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

This hike is one of my all time favorites. zapata falls is gorgeous but you might get a little wet getting there. after the falls there is about a mile or so of pretty easy hiking and then it gets pretty difficult. there are several streams to cross and some steeper climbs but the lake was well worth it.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

This is a harder hike than lead on to believe. Pack lots of water, snacks, and layers.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Beautiful trail. Moderate elevation change. Wildlife at the lake have been fed by hikers too much and are aggressive with begging. Water crossings are somewhat treacherous after storms. Be prepared to set up emergency shelter. I wont be doing this trail again.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Easy, wide and the waterfall is beautiful! Prepare to get your feet wet.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Great trail. Easy to navigate with a fair amount of traffic. Snow starts to accumulate towards the top this time in the season, be prepared with you dress. Great views of the San Louis Valley on the way up.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The South Zapata lake trail is pretty strenuous if you try to do out-and-back in six hours and are not acclimated to the elevation. There are some backpacking spots near the trail past the fork where you turn to go to the waterfall. About a mile in there is another camping site on the trail to South Zapata lake. There are no other easy campsites until you reach South Zapata lake however. The alpine area right before you get to the lake was very marshy and walking sticks were useful.

trail running
Monday, May 26, 2014

Beautiful views and steep, technical climbs. Lots of rushing creeks and waterfalls. Less than a mile from the lake the trail was lost under snow with waist-deep postholing. Don't plan on making it all the way to the lake this time of year without snow gear and a gps to navigate.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Moderate hike and very scenic along the way. Prepare to get your feet wet as you cross the creek quite a few times. I ran it this time-in the rain. 2 hours up and 1.5 down. Lots of fun!

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