Tag Archives: National Preserve

Top 10 Sand Dunes in National Parks

Sand dunes are like giant sandboxes for big kids to play in and hike on, so we came up with a list of our favorites from across the National Park Service (NPS) System. Unlike most NPS backcountry trails, dogs are allowed on many of these dunes if they are leashed and picked up after.

10. Cape Lookout National Seashore (North Carolina)

9. Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (Indiana)

8. Salt Basin Dunes at Guadalupe Mountains National Park (Texas)

7. Mesquite Flat Dunes at Death Valley National Park (California)

6. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Michigan)

5. Eureka Dunes at Death Valley National Park (California)

4. Kelso Dunes at Mojave National Preserve (California)

Sand sledding on the gypsum dunes at White Sands National Monument

3. White Sands National Monument (New Mexico)

2. Panamint Dunes at Death Valley National Park (California)

…and finally our #1 sand dune in a National Park:

1. Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve (Colorado)


Honorable Mention

Padre Island National Seashore (Texas)

Top National Park Service Site in Each State

We kicked off our travel blog by highlighting our favorite National Park Service site in each of the 50 states.


Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site


Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve


Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument


Buffalo National River


Lava Beds National Monument


Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve


Weir Farm National Historic Site


First State National Monument


Dry Tortugas National Park


Andersonville National Historic Site


Kalaupapa National Historical Park


City of Rocks National Reserve


Pullman National Monument


Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore


Effigy Mounds National Monument


Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site


Mammoth Cave National Park


Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve


Appalachian National Scenic Trail 


Catoctin Mountain Park


Lowell National Historical Park


Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore


Grand Portage National Monument


Vicksburg National Military Park


Ozark National Scenic Riverways


Big Hole National Battlefield


Scotts Bluff National Monument


Great Basin National Park

New Hampshire

Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site

New Jersey

Thomas Edison National Historical Park

New Mexico

Bandelier National Monument

New York

Fort Stanwix National Monument

North Carolina

Cape Lookout National Seashore

North Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt National Park


Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park


Chickasaw National Recreation Area


John Day Fossil Beds National Monument 


Fort Necessity National Battlefield

Rhode Island

Roger Williams National Memorial

South Carolina

Congaree National Park

South Dakota

Jewel Cave National Monument


Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area


Big Bend National Park


Capitol Reef National Park


Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park 


Fort Monroe National Monument


Lake Chelan National Recreation Area

West Virginia

New River Gorge National River


Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

…and finally our home state…


Yellowstone National Park


Honorable Mention

District of Columbia

Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve


Jean Lafitte was a New Orleans “privateer” (a.k.a. pirate) who assisted General Andrew Jackson in the fight with the British after the War of 1812 had officially ended.  In addition to three Acadian Cultural Centers spread throughout southwestern Louisiana and a small visitor center in New Orleans’ French Quarter, the NPS also offers trails and boat tours (fee) through the bayou.



Barataria Preserve, Chalmette Battlefield, French Quarter, boat tours

Must-Do Activity

Every American needs to visit the French Quarter at least once in their life, but also make sure you visit the 24,000-acre Barataria Preserve to experience the bayous of Louisiana, whether you hike or take a boat.

Best Trail

South of downtown New Orleans off Highway 45 in the Barataria Preserve, keep your feet dry by hiking the boardwalks on the Bayou Coquille Trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Look up when hiking in the bayou to find huge spiders, like this golden silk orb-weaver.


Peak Season

Summers are muggy and buggy, but the park’s many visitor centers are closed only two days per year: Christmas and Mardi Gras.





Road Conditions

All roads paved


None in the park, but in 2016 we camped at Bayou Segnette State Park in the suburbs of New Orleans.

Learn about the region’s music, food, and culture at the French Quarter visitor center in downtown New Orleans.

Exhibits in the Old U.S. Mint are free

Hiking the boardwalks on the Bayou Coquille Trail.

Spanish moss drapes from the trees in the humid climate of the Mississippi River delta.

The bayou stretches for miles in the undeveloped areas around New Orleans, Louisiana.

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Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve


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

Must-Do Activity

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).

Best Trail

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.

Instagram-worthy Photo

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.


Peak Season

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.

Road Conditions

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.

June 2013 Colorado Trip 360

June 2013 Colorado Trip 274


Pronghorns at the dunes
Pronghorns grazing in front of the sand dunes in December.
Tiff with the mountains
Tiff sledding down a wet (i.e. fast) dune in October
Tiff heading to the parking lot
October brings fall colors to the cottonwoods
arch GRSA LR2
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Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve


At 13.2-million acres, Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park and Preserve is the largest unit in the National Park Service system, but most of it is remote wilderness.  Some of the tallest peaks in Alaska and several active volcanoes are held within its borders, between Fairbanks and Valdez.  The main visitor center is located along the Richardson Highway, north of the turnoff for the 92-mile long (mostly dirt) road connecting McCarthy and Kennecott to the rest of the state.



Kennecott Mine buildings, Root Glacier, flightseeing tours

Must-Do Activity

The discovery of the richest copper ore in the world led to the building of the Kennecott mining town and railroads to transport its products across the Copper River in the 1910s.  The beautifully preserved and restored town is partially owned privately and publicly by the National Park Service, and it is continually undergoing renovations.  You can only enter most of the iconic red buildings on a private guided tour (fee).

Best Trail

Take the Root Glacier Trail from Kennecott with a guide to learn the basics of glacier route-finding.  A guide company provides the crampons required for walking and detours around dangerous moulins, which can be hundreds of feet deep.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The deep blue ice of Root Glacier makes for otherworldly photos, especially if you pay for a tour into an ice cave underneath the glacier.

The ice wave and beginning of a fun s-canyon

Peak Season

Summer is the only time of year McCarthy is accessible by car instead of snow machine.




The park is free to enter.  We paid $110 per person for a full-day guided tour with St. Elias Alpine Guides.

Road Conditions

Two dirt roads enter the park and are passable for all vehicles when snow free: the 92-mile long McCarthy Road and the 42-mile long Nabesna Road in the north.  A pedestrian bridge is the only access from McCarthy across the Kennicott River, where you can pay for a van ride into Kennecott.


There are private campgrounds on the McCarthy Road, as well as one at Liberty Falls State Park.  No permits are required for backpacking, but it is recommended to file a trip plan with the NPS.

Scott on the footbridge over the Copper River on the way to McCarthy
Scott on the footbridge over the Kennicott River on the way from McCarthy to Kennecott
Mt. Blackburn (over 16,000 feet high) was revealed by the early afternoon
Mt. Blackburn (16,390 feet high) revealed from its usual cloudbank

Scott along the creek flowing through the ice

Alaska 2009 937
Mt. Sanford, Drum, and Wrangell are visible from the main visitor center on a clear day.
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