Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park offers fun for the whole family and plenty to explore. From hiking the dunes to driving the 4×4 trail or merely playing in the sand and seasonal stream.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Driving into southern Colorado the mountains start peaking up from time to time letting you know you’re in the Rockies. As you meander around the growing mountains, you enter into a vast San Louis Valley in eastern Alamosa County that was once a glacial lake. It’s here where out in the distance you start seeing some fuzzy hills that slowly open up to show themselves as the Great Sand Dunes.
By a miracle of nature, the dunes formed from natural causes and winds that prevail toward a low curve in the Sangre de Cristo Range. It’s here where all the sand from the valley accumulates and causes the dunes to grow vertically. It’s quite spectacular the number of physical forces at work in mother nature to grow the neighboring mountain ranges and wear it all down to form the dunes.
As you arrive at the park the welcome center is right in the foothills. Stop in, check out the displays and the gift shop and top off water or use the clean restrooms. They have a nice display showcasing some of the local habitat and animals you may see on the dunes and the park rangers are super knowledgeable to help you decide on what to do for your visit to the park depending on time/season.
Right after parking, to get to the dune fields you have to cross Medano Creek, a seasonal stream. For the first hike to the foothill dunes, I would recommend you have shoes on as the sand is rocky and rough. Once you get to the dunes, if it’s not too hot you can remove your shoes as the sand gets finer. Even if you don’t want to hike to the top of the dunes I recommend at least getting out to the creek and getting a clear view of the dunes. It’s a great spot to sit and relax or have a picnic as well.
Climbing the sand dunes can be somewhat tricky – it’s a bit of the hike to some of the nearby tall dunes but undoubtedly worth it to get a view.
The expanse of the dunes is clearly visible as you adventure on your way up.
What to bring to the park
If you’re here for a day-trip, Bring plenty of water for each person in your group. I recommended cool breathing outfits that you don’t mind getting wet if you want to splash around before dry season (mid-June).
- Comfy shoes for sand/water crossing (I used Keens)
When to visit Great Sand Dunes, National Park
We completely lucked out with our trip to the Dunes. There was a light rain storm the night before which kept the sand firm and packed and kept the water flowing in the seasonal stream up front.
Show up early – the morning dew or morning rains make getting up the dunes much easier! I don’t think we would have made it to the first foothill dunes yet alone up to the top of some of the larger dunes if the sand hadn’t been wet and packed.
In the peak of summer temperature on the sand can reach over 150 degrees so plan ahead!
Great Sand Dunes Activities
Hike to the top of the dunes or explore along the meandering and changing Medano Creek.
Camping is available at the park in designated camping areas. The campsites had bathrooms, water, and some low vegetation providing shelter
Sandboarding is a favorite activity on the dunes. Unlike Sand Sledding that we did at White Sands National Monument they don’t recommend disk sledding here since the sand has a different texture. There is a Sand-Board rental shop just before the park entrance where you can rent sandboards. (They look just like longer snowboards!)
Great Sand Dunes offers a 22 mile unpaved road with multiple river crossings and a few miles of sand crossing to reach Medano Pass. This road is for street licensed 4×4 vehicles, motorcycles or bicycles only.
During our visit, the off-roading trail was closed as there was an active recovery incident going in which a vehicle had gotten stuck in the sand, so driver beware. It is for 4×4 vehicles only. If you plan on off-roading here, I would call the ranger station in advance to check on weather/conditions.
No motorized vehicles are allowed on dunes.
Getting to the Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park Photo Gallery
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