Costilla County

Costilla County

Costilla County is the oldest county in Colorado. The county seat of San Luis, is its oldest town. Costilla County has a historic and rugged beauty all its own. It is located in south-central Colorado, west of Walsenburg, east of Alamosa. The southern county border is the Colorado-New Mexico state line.

The main towns include San Luis, Ft. Garland, and Blanca.

Costilla County has a population of about 3,500, or about 3 people per square mile. When you consider how many of these folks live in the three towns above, it is a place where you can really have some privacy and space between you and your neighbors. 

Activities include hunting, hiking, four-wheeling, photography, along with boating, jet-skiing, and fishing in the many reservoirs. The Rio Grande and the Costilla rivers flow through the county. There are mountain views in almost any direction, with Mt. Blanca (one of the famed “fourteeners”) to the north, and the San Isabel National Forest, which contains 19 of Colorado’s 54 fourteeners, to the east. Area wildlife include mountain lions, deer, elk, bobcat, wild horses, and more. Sandhill Cranes and occasional Whooping Cranes, along with Bald Eagles, Avocets, Goldfinches, and Hawks migrate through the valley annually.  

Much of Costilla County is located in the San Luis Valley, which stretches out over 8,000 square miles across Colorado and New Mexico. The Valley is rich in agriculture, including potatoes, lettuce, and barley, much of which goes to the Miller-Coors Brewing Company. 

The Great Sand Dunes National Park offers a unique outdoor experience. It’s a desert, a mountain alpine wilderness area, and a swimming beach oasis all in one. Whether you go just for the day, or camp in one of the 88 campsites in the park, you are guaranteed to make unforgettable memories. Activities include splashing and building sand-castles along the shores of Medano Creek, skimboarding (kind of like surfing in the shallow water of the creek), hiking, sand-sledding, or exploring the wilderness above the tree line. It is one of the quietest National Parks in America. And the sunrise and sunset views of the dunes are breath-taking. There are ancient spruce and pine forests, aspen, cottonwood, grasslands and wetlands, along with diverse wildlife and plants. 

Rules and Zoning. Costilla County offers minimal zoning requirements, but there are a few things to keep in mind. This is not meant to be a complete list. It’s only intended to be a guideline based on the questions I often get. For specific questions, please contact the Costilla County Planning and Zoning department at (719) 937-7668. They are very knowledgable and helpful. 

  • Minimum dwelling square footage is 600. 
  • You can camp for up to 14 days on your own property, but you cannot permanently live in an RV or tiny home. 
  • You can get a temporary permit to live in an RV during the construction of a home, but you must have a source of fresh water (well or cistern) and a septic system in place.

Water. Costilla County is one of the most fertile agricultural areas of Colorado, thanks to deep wells and irrigation. However, for the average property owner, you must understand the water situation of any property you purchase, and make sure it works for you. Each area of the county has its own rules. Don’t assume that if you are near a stream or river that you can use the water. Some properties can get a well permit, while others cannot. And those that can often can only use that water for in-house uses, and not outdoor uses such as watering a garden, etc. Other areas can use water outdoors, with some limits – typically on the number of square feet, often 1,000 or 3,000. Some property owners choose to use a cistern rather than a well, and have water delivered. In general, areas of the county that were platted before June of 1972 can get a well permit, while those platted after June of 1972 cannot. For a typical 150 foot deep well, the cost might be around $5,000, plus equipment. You can contact Colorado Water Resources at (719) 589-6683 to verify whether or not a specific parcel can get a well permit, if there are any restrictions on the water use, and how deep other wells in the area are, to give you an idea of how deep you may need to drill. They will need the legal description of the property you are interested in. 

Power. Some properties have power near by, while others do not. If you want to be able to live off-grid, solar is a great option, as Colorado boasts around 330 days per year of sunshine. In fact, the San Luis Valley boasts the highest per-capita concentration of home-based solar systems in the United States. There is an active market in selling or leasing land to be used for solar facilities. Some people choose to use generators for occasional electrical needs. Depending on the area of the county, you can contact either Excel Energy at (800) 895-4999, San Luis Valley Rural Electric Cooperative at (719) 852-3538, or San Isabel Electric Association at (800) 279-7432 for information on electric service availability and costs.