Spanish for mountain view, Monte Vista lives up to its name. Located in the heart of the San Luis Valley, Monte Vista reveals expansive mountain vistas in addition to miles of resilient crop fields.
Set in a high plains valley, Monte Vista is bordered by the rugged Sangre de Cristo range to the east and the equally stunning San Juan Mountains to the west. The town’s prime location makes it an ideal jumping-off point for day trips to explore the area’s many 14,000-foot peaks — called “fourteeners” by locals — as well as the ample treasures the San Luis Valley has to offer.
The farming hub raises potatoes, alfalfa and carrots, but has become famous for another agricultural product — Coors barley. The world's largest single-site brewery, Miller Coors, based in Golden, Colorado, relies on the farms around Monte Vista to produce special barley for its Rocky Mountain-style beer.
Incorporated in 1886, this charming town was once a stop for the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad. Today, you take a historic walking tour through downtown, where the streets are lined with historical buildings and lovingly preserved architecture. Monte Vista's old-fashioned downtown offers free parking, art galleries, antique and clothing shops, and an array of dining options — from taquerias to from-scratch bakeries. Local lodging ranges from high end and eclectic to low key and traditional, with B&Bs, hotels, a retro motor lodge and nearby campsites.
The Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge is one of the area's top attractions. Established by the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission in 1953, the wetland habitat provides a safe place for wildlife, especially migratory birds. Native American petroglyphs in the area depict the sandhill crane's migration, a nod to the fact that the big birds have been using the San Luis Valley as a spring break spot for more than 2,000 years. One of the best times to visit the refuge is during the annual Monte Vista Crane Festival held each March.
Since 1982, Monte Vista’s Ski Hi Complex has been home to the Southern Rocky Mountain Agricultural Conference & Trade Fair, held annually in February. The complex also hosts the San Luis Valley Fair and numerous 4-H shows throughout the summer. July brings Colorado’s oldest pro rodeo: the Ski-Hi Stampede, which has drawn cowboys from all over the world since 1919. Enjoy a true Wild West experience watching feats like bull and bronco riding, calf roping and wrestling, barrel racing and kids’ mutton busting. The event also touts concerts, performances and a carnival.
Monte Vista is also close to the Los Caminos Antiguos scenic and historic byway. Tracing the upper Rio Grande River, the road meanders through the fertile San Luis Valley and some of Colorado's oldest communities. Featuring panoramic views of the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo Mountain ranges, the route also passes the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, state and federal parks, and wildlife areas. Other nearby outdoor activities include skiing, biking and hiking in the Rio Grande National Forest.
For more to see and do in the area, read 2 Days in the San Luis Valley.