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Visiting La Junta, Colorado with the Kids

La Junta, Colorado, with its wide streets, funky museum, and folksy diners, has its roots deep in the history of the Great American West.

Families traveling in Colorado will find a great vacation stop just outside of La Junta, at Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site.

It’s off the beaten path, but well worth the journey.

Photo: Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site lies just outside of La Junta and is an excellent stop for families visiting southeastern Colorado.

Hard on the Santa Fe Trail National Historic Trail, La Junta is surprisingly pretty and fun. For families traveling on the high prairies of southeastern Colorado, this little town has a lot to offer.


La Junta, Colorado sits on the Arkansas River in southeastern Colorado. It grew up at the point where the historic Santa Fe Trail branched off towards the city of Trinidad, the New Mexico border, and eventually, Santa Fe.

In fact, that’s how it got its name. La Junta is Spanish for “the junction”, and in this case refers to the junction of two routes of the Santa Fe Trail.


With around 7,500 citizens, La Junta is one of the larger towns in southeastern Colorado.

The Lay of the Land:

La Junta sits in the Arkansas River Valley, on eastern Colorado’s windswept prairies.

Geologists tell us that these plains were once the site of an inland sea and that layers of silt and mud collected on the bottom of the sea. Sea creatures (some of them large beasts like the pointy-toothed plesiosaurs) settled to the bottom when they died, to be covered by even more silt.

As the mountains rose to the west, the sea retreated and gravel and other sediments washed off the hills. These deposits covered the area in a wide sheet of gritty material that stretched as far a Kansas.

All of these layers, the silty sea bed, the sands and gravels from the mountains, hardened together into
layers of sedimentary rock .

The Arkansas River, born of snowmelt high in the Rockies, rushes down out of the mountains and across those sedimentary layers. As it washes along, the river and its tributaries dig rolling dips, gullies, and sometimes even small canyons in the surrounding prairies.

It's a Wild, Wild Life

In the wider parts of the Arkansas River floodplain, as near the town of La Junta, the river braids around islands and sand bars and nourishes lush cottonwood bosques, or forests along its banks. These bosques are full of wildlife including deer, skunks, raccoons, badgers, beaver, wild turkeys, hawks, and snakes.

Eat Your Veggies

Where the water can irrigate crops, farmers in and around La Junta grow melons, tomatoes, onions, and peppers. The dramatic difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures makes the sugars collect in the fruits, and the growers are able to deliver exceptionally high quality produce from the Arkansas Valley.

Famous Melons

Nearby Rocky Ford, Colorado is particularly famous for its Rocky Ford melons. Families traveling in the Arkansas Valley in melon season can and should stop at a number of roadside markets to buy the produce. The flavor of the melons is outstanding!

Outside of the Arkansas River floodplain, the prairies become much dryer, and where there is no well irrigation, many ranchers opt for grazing.

Sweeping Views

From rises overlooking the town and the plains, the panoramas include sweeping views that stretch for miles.

In town, La Junta has the wide, dusty streets of many small western towns. Potter Park, with its outdoor swimming pool, big playground, and fancy skateboard park, has restful swaths of green lawn and wonderful old cottonwood shade trees.

Elevation and Climate:

La Junta’s elevation is about 4,200 feet above sea level, and it is a fairly dry place, receiving less than 14 inches of precipitation in an average year.

The hottest month is July, with highs averaging in the mid-90’s. The lowest temperatures are usually recorded in January, with the lows being recorded at around 15 degrees Fahrenheit.

Spring is a good time to visit, although the weather can be a bit unpredictable. Fall has much more consistently beautiful weather in La Junta.

Related Links:

La Junta - A Quick History
La Junta Attractions for Families

Colorado Towns and Cities
Colorado Destinations

Hiking with Kids
Camping in Colorado