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.
Explore More – What time of year can visitors “boogie board” the waves in Medano Creek?
2 thoughts on “Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve”
I’m delighted to encounter your extensive coverage of national parks. Thank you for the likes on Under Western Skies. I’ve seen a majority of the sand dunes you feature, although not all of them. I agree that Great Sand Dunes NP is the gemstone of the collection. I was there on a brilliant day one autumn, and simply marveled at the staggering beauty of the place.
On the subject of dunes, let’s celebrate that the Indiana Sand Dunes — which I see you’ve also visited — direly threatened by pollution and development, have recently joined the NPS list of protected sites. I was there a long time ago, and was pleased to see they’re now under federal protection.
Keep traveling. I’ll be back.
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Thanks for leaving a comment. We love playing on sand dunes and were a little confused about where the dunes were when we got to Indiana Dunes since they were covered by trees. We also make graphic designs for the National Parks, which you can check out on our Shop page. -Scott and Tiff
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