Sink into the highest mountains of sand in North
America. Nestled in a spot where the Sangre de Cristo Mountains buckle inward, the dunes within the borders of Great Sand Dunes National Park have been
building and sifting for eons — the result of the San Luis Valley's unique wind patterns.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
GREAT SAND DUNES NATIONAL PARK BASICS
A sandbox of epic proportions, the entire dune field encompasses 30 square miles and the tallest dune towers 750 feet high. The kid in every visitor loves to sled down the sand year-round and plunge into the soft-sand tracks of those who climbed ahead of them. Aside from the dunes, you'll find picnicking, hiking and camping opportunities, the challenging four-wheel scenic drive on Medano
Pass, horseback-riding trails, the mysteriously appearing and disappearing Medano Creek, ranger-led nature walks and a couple of 14,000- and 13,000-foot peaks to climb
(Crestone Needle, Crestone Peak, Cleveland Peak and Mount Herard).
The park's elevation (8,200 feet) and rural location make it a favorite with dark-sky-loving stargazers, and park
even offers special astronomy programs many evenings May–September. The Junior Ranger program has different activities for kids ages 3–12, and
they earn a badge once they've completed the educational and fun tasks.
CAMPING IN GREAT SAND DUNES NATIONAL PARK
are a few options for camping in the area. The Piñon Flats Campground is run by the National Park Service, with 44 sites that are first-come, first-served
and 44 that visitors can reserve in advance.
For those traveling in 4WD vehicles, there are 21 campsites along Medano
Pass Roadwithin the park that are free and available on a first-come, first-served basic.
For those willing to haul their gear and everything else needed in backpacks, free backcountry
permits (required) are available at the park's visitor center. You can pitch your tent anywhere in the 30-square-foot dunefield that lies outside the day-use area. You'll have a minimum hike of 1.5 miles over the dunes, but will experience a unique overnight
Backpacking (with a permit) is also available amid the foothills and mountains along
the Sand Ramp Trail within the park, where the dunes give way to the mountains.
There are also several private
and public campgrounds within an hour's drive of the park, including those at San Luis State Park, with facilities that range from primitive to luxurious
Choose your own calf-burning path up the dunes, particularly at dusk when the light gives
them a rich gold color and shadows snake across their wind-sculpted ridges. Dig your toes into the sand or feel it run through your fingers, and you'll realize their true enormity.
Zapata Falls, San
Luis State Park, San Luis Valley National Wildlife Refuges (Alamosa and Monte Vista), Fort Garland Museum, Colorado Gators Farm
TOWNS NEAR GREAT SAND DUNES NATIONAL
Alamosa, Blanca, Fort
Garland, Monte Vista, Mosca, Westcliffe