Great Sand Dunes National Park is by far one of my favorites. You just can’t beat views of towering mountains in the distance behind golden dunes.
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No but seriously, Great Sand Dunes National Park is mind blowing. Living in Colorado, I’ve become accustomed to seeing mountains everyday. So pulling up to this place and seeing the mountains I love with MILES and miles of sand dunes was a huge shock to say the least.
See what I mean? It’s just the most bizarre landscape I have ever seen. There is also a small stream that runs in front of the dunes during the spring and summer months. It’s really refreshing because this place gets HOT.
Great Sand Dunes National Park lives in the San Luis Valley in Colorado, surrounded by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the San Juan Mountains on either side. The San Juan range is by far my favorite range in Colorado, it’s absolutely breathtaking and this area is much more secluded than other areas up north.
Contrary to what you may think by looking at the photos, this park is home to hundreds of species of plants and animals. We did see a skink when we were there but nothing else besides insects. We actually went to the Dunes in September, so the days were still scorching hot but the nights were starting to cool off a bit.
We stayed in the park because we didn’t yet have our Kelty backpacking tent or Marmot sleeping bags (it can get really cool at night) that we have now. We stayed at the Piñon Flats Campground, which was $20 per night and near some vault toilets. There are no showers in this park so if you’re really concerned about that, then sorry you’re out of luck!
So what is there to do here besides walk around on the sand? I’m glad you asked!
- You need to start early and hike out to Star Dune. It’s the tallest sane dune in North America at 750 feet from bottom to top. It’s about a 5 hour hike out so plan accordingly. High Dune is also a great destination and doesn’t take as long to get to. It’s about a mile and a half closer to the dunes entrance. Warning: there are no trails here, you need to be comfortable with doing some navigating if you want to hike to the further dunes. If that seems intimidating, there are several non-sand hikes to do, and those do have trails!
- Go sand sledding. Just do it. Yes, you will get sand EVERYWHERE. In every nook and cranny that sand could possibly go. You will also face-plant like my husband Joel (see photo below). Funny story – he saw a slightly broken sled in the sand and decided to try it out against my warnings. He took off SPRINTING and jumped into the air. When he came down, expecting to slide smoothly down the dune, he hit he ground and smashed his entire face and upper body straight into the sand. I have never laughed so hard, once I made sure he was alright of course. NOTE: bring your own non-broken sled/board.
- Relax near Medano Creek. During the summer months, Medano creek runs through the park. It normally peaks during June or July and disappears quickly.
- Explore the dunes at night. I have never in my life seen so many stars. It was the most amazing sky you could ever imagine and there are tons of people who go out into the dunes at night so you won’t be alone. You can see the entire milky way and it’s just the most magical experience.
- There are also several other activities to do, but we didn’t have time only being there for two days.
But really, some people just come here to enjoy the view.
There are also some really cool towns nearby. Crestone is a cool little hippie town and Alamosa is one of the larger towns nearby. I highly recommend stopping over at the San Luis Valley Brewing Company, it HITS THE SPOT after a long day walking on the dunes.
Whatever you decide to do in Great Sand Dunes National Park, know that you won’t be disappointed!