GREAT SAND DUNES
Colorado has always been a good place to find what you’re made of.John Hickenlooper
About the Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park helps preserve the tallest and most impressive sand dunes in North America, with some over 750 feet tall. It is a giant playground of sand with a backdrop of the Rocky Mountains in southeastern Colorado. We loved this park and went back several days with our dogs, where they were allowed to run free.
Check out the view from the top of a sand dune!
Live it up!
Best Things to do in the Park
- Stand on the tallest sand dune in North America at over 750 feet tall
- Take your dogs for a walk. Great Sand Dunes is one of the few National Parks that allows dogs to go have some fun!
- Go sand sledding on the Dunes. This one is a must
- Stay at night for some great stargazing of the Milky Way
- Stay for a great sunset over the dunes
- Hike to the nearby Zapata Falls for a refreshing way to end the day
Great Sand Dunes in Colorado is one of the only National Parks that allow dogs to run off-leash. This picture of our beloved Ginger brings back many memories, as we lost her soon after. This evening, we met a lovely couple because Ginger ran to them and stole some love. Unfortunately, our dogs were covered in sand when we returned to the Airstream, but it was a glorious park and many beautiful memories! Check out our video here!
Size of Park
132 square miles
The park has the tallest sand dunes in North America at 755 feet tall.
As the name suggests, the Great Sand Dunes National Park is famous for its extraordinary sand dunes formed by the San Luis Valley’s wind patterns. The park has an elevation of more than 8,000 feet. These dunes can be spotted from miles away, with the tallest dune being approximately 750 feet high.
Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado has something to offer everyone, including camping, hiking, and horseback riding; however, the most popular activity in the park is sledding down the sand. Due to its location, the park is also a perfect spot for stargazing, and many astronomy programs are offered between May and September. Ranger-led nature walks are also held in the park, depending on the season.
The park is surrounded by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, with peaks reaching as high as 14,000 feet. For many adventure lovers, a very popular sport is climbing Crestone Peak, Crestone Needle, and Cleveland Peak. The best time to visit the park is mid to late spring when the Medano Creek is flowing.
Mosca Pass Trail
The Mosca Pass Trail is a 6.2-mile long route considered moderately challenging. With a hike of more than 3 hours, the trail steadily climbs up a wooded valley with a small stream. Hikers on the trail enjoy views of the evergreen forests along a small creek in the mountains. This trail was also one of the main routes into the San Luis Valley from the east until it was blocked by a mudslide almost a century ago.
Sand Ramp Trail
This four-mile out-and-back trail is a pretty easy trek, and hikers of all ages and skills can walk here. It is a great way to experience the park without overexerting yourself. The Sand Ramp Trail is also commonly used by many tourists to access the various backcountry campsites. The trail starts near Pinon Flats Campground and travels along the base of the Sangre de Cristos hills.
Montville Nature Trail
Montville Nature Trail is an excellent trail for an afternoon hike, as you will be saved from the sun’s scorching heat. The track is named after a late 19th-century settlement in the region. As you reach the highest point, you can view the dunes, Mt. Herard, and the San Luis Valley. Due to the variety of flora in the region, Montville Nature Trail is also decorated with beautiful wildflowers.
High Dune Trail
High Dune Trail is the best way to experience Great Sand Dunes National Park and its geological anomalies. The trail is about 3 miles long, and while it is a relatively short route, it is still considered a challenging track by many due to its elevation.
The trail demands skills and determination as the sand presents challenges to hikers. The exposed trail can also sometimes cause dehydration and heat strokes during summer. Yet, despite its many challenges, the trail is one of the park’s most sought-after trails due to its spectacular views.
Sand Dunes Loop Trail
It can take 2 to 3 hours to complete the Sand Dunes Loop Trail, which is five miles long. With an elevation of more than 200 feet, the trail passes through the sandy terrain, offering lovely panoramic views. The trail’s difficulty level is moderate, so if you have a passion for hiking, you can hike this trail with no difficulty.
Camping in the Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve has one campground, Piñon Flats Campground. It is located one mile north of the Visitor Center and is open from April to October. It is run by the National Park Service and has 44 sites that can be booked on a first-come, first-served basis. Individual sites can also be reserved up to 6 months in advance.
The campground has a camp store, portable water, an amphitheater, a seasonal dump station, food storage lockers, and seasonal flush toilets. Campers can also buy ice and firewood on the campsites. However, wood collecting is prohibited on the campground, and no showers are available. During March and April, the park receives the most snowfall; therefore, campers should consider the weather before booking their campsites.
Camping Options Near the Park
There are multiple public and private campgrounds near Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. In addition, campgrounds at San Luis Wildlife Area have camping facilities ranging from very basic to luxurious. These camps include Oasis Campground, Zapata Falls Campground, Rustic Rook Rustic, and San Luis Lakes State Wildlife Area.
- Oasis Campgrounds has tent sites, RV sites with full hookups, and camping cabins.
- Zapata Falls Campground is a basic campground located at an elevation of 9000 feet. The campsites have pit toilets but no water.
- Rustic Rook Rustic offers a glamping experience to its campers and is suitable for campers who want a luxury stay.
- San Luis Lakes State Wildlife Area has electric hookups, but campers must bring their own water.
The High Dune in Great Sand National Park in Colorado provides some of the most scenic views. The hike up to the dune is a bit challenging and adventurous. Another great thing about climbing on the dune is that hikers are also allowed to take dogs with them. Just remember to ensure it does not get too hot for your pets.
If you don’t know how it feels to stand on the tallest sand dune in North America, this is your chance to experience this incredible feeling! Star-shaped dunes grow upward rather than laterally, and this specific Star Dune in Great Sand Dune National Park is 750 feet tall from the valley floor.
Star Dune is located 2 miles from the High Dune. The elevation and location of the dune vary with time due to the strong desert winds. There are no proper trails to the summit, just a few routes you can take.
Medano Creek is a popular shallow stream that flows during the spring and early summer. People of all ages visit the creek to experience its rare ‘surge flow’. During May, Medano Creek can flood the area between the dunes and the parking area. On warmer days, fresh snow on the mountains melts and brings down a little water to the Great Sand Dunes Parking Area. During this period, for many tourists, floating on the creek is a popular activity.
If you want to cool off after a long tiring day at the national park, going to the Zapata Falls is the only way to freshen up! Although Zapata Falls is located a few miles from the park, it is still considered a part of the Great Sand Dunes.
Getting to Zapata Falls is relatively easy, as the journey can take around 45 minutes. You can wade into the crevasse and enjoy the 30 feet tall falls from a unique perspective. During winter, the falls can freeze over into unique patterns.
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