Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Located: Colorado  -  Established: September 13, 2004

The ParkNestled between two Colorado mountain ranges – the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the northeast and the San Juan Mountains to the west – Great Sand Dunes National Park is an unlikely candidate for being the location of the tallest sand dunes in North America!

Competing winds from these two mountain ranges have blown sand from ancient lakes back and forth where they eventually settled vertically creating what is now Great Sand Dunes National Park. These dunes are estimated to be between 12,000 and a million years old. Research is still in progress to reach a more definite timeline!

Sand dunes and Medano Creek

Sand dunes and Medano Creek

Getting there: Great Sand Dunes is located 37 miles northeast of the Colorado town of Alamosa and 127 miles southwest of Pueblo via I-25/CO-160. 

When to visitThe park is open year round, however, at a Rocky Mountain elevation of around 8000’, the weather can change quickly. We visited in late May and it snowed! Most visitors come in the summer when average daytime temperatures reach 75-80°F.  Evening temps will drop into the 40s. During the summer months, the sand on the dunes can reach temperatures of up to 150° F!

What to do: Popular activities at this park include sandboarding, sand sledding, sand surfing or sand skiing. Sandboards and Sand Sleds are specifically designed for surfing the dunes. Snow boards, snow sleds, cardboard boxes, round saucers and such will dig into the dunes and abruptly cause you to be launched head first into the sand. Not a pleasant experience!

Trekking the top of the dunes

Trekking the top of the dunes

Hiking up the dunes is another popular activity. There are five dunes over 700 feet tall. The closest major dune is the 699 foot High Dune, which is located about a mile west of the parking lot. Climbing up to High Dune will test your meddle! The round trip jaunt to High Dune will take you a good two hours.

If trekking on sand isn’t your pleasure, this park has several excellent forested and alpine trails heading up into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The Mosca Pass Trail follows a small creek, which winds through an aspen and evergreen forest.  The 3½-mile trail (one way) terminates at Mosca Pass – elev. 9739’.

Star gazing. This park also offers visitors another excellent opportunity to gaze at the stars. Away from the pollution of city lights and at an elevation of 8200', the Milky Way will twinkle brightly before your eyes. 

Where to stayThe Piñon Flats Campground offers 88 campsites, 44 on a first come, first served basis. Reservations can be made for the other 44 sites. No RV hookups at Piñon Flats.

There are no lodges within the park; however, there are several lodges, hotels and motels located nearby.

Trekking the Mosca Pass trail during our  25th  park visit. 

Trekking the Mosca Pass trail during our 25th park visit. 

Memorable moments: Hiking uphill on these dunes is all about two steps forward, one step sliding back down the slope! Hiking Mosca Pass Trail.

TriviaGreat Sand Dunes National Park is one of the quietest parks in the country due to its arid climate, the topography of its high mountain meadows and a location that’s far from flight paths and freeways! 

Banner: Shifting sands of the dunes. 

Experience these Check List:

  • Stop by the park's Visitor Center 
  • Hike the Dunefield, High Dune and Star Dune
  • Hike the Mosca Pass Trail
  • Splash about Medano Creek...if there’s water in it!
  • Observe the incredible star-filled Dark Skies at night  
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