Usually sand dunes are associated with deserts, but in southern Colorado they sit at 8,200 feet and are surrounded by snowy mountains, pine trees, and Medano Creek where kids splash and make sandcastles. These dunes are the tallest in North America, up to 750 feet in height, blown in grain by grain from the San Juan Mountains, 65 miles to the west.
Medano Creek, High Dune, Medano Pass Primitive Road
The height and steepness of the dunes makes them a great place to try sandboarding or sand sledding, which works best when the sand is wet. If you don’t have a homemade sandboard, you can rent one in the nearby town of Alamosa or bring a plastic snow sled (round saucers seem to work well).
Blaze your own trail to the top of 650-foot tall High Dune. The 2.3-mile roundtrip climb is quite a workout at this elevation while sliding backwards in the sand, but bounding downhill makes up for it. This park is unique because it allows dogs on the dunes, but bring foot protection for your canine on sunny days.
Stay in the dune field at sunset for long shadows on the dunes. A major bonus if you visit in the spring or fall for a backdrop of the snow-capped Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Due to its high elevation (8,200 feet), summer is the best time to spend the night, otherwise it can be very cold.
$20 per vehicle or America the Beautiful Pass, but it is typically not collected in winter months.
Other than the four-wheel drive road over Medano Pass, passenger vehicles can access all trailheads. The park provides specialized wheelchairs are available for crossing Medano Creek and exploring the sand dunes.
Pinyon Flats Campground (fee) has two 44-site loops frequented by mule deer. Backpacking permits are free to overnight on the dunes where the stars shine brightest. First-come, first-served campsites are available along the high-clearance Medano Pass Primitive Road. Dispersed camping is allowed in the neighboring Rio Grande and San Isabel National Forests.
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