Uncover the wonders of North America‘s highest sand dunes in Great Sand Dunes National Park, situated where the Sangre de Cristo Mountains curve inward. The park’s dunes have been forming for millennia, thanks to the San Luis Valley’s distinct wind patterns.
Spanning 30 square miles, the dune field boasts a height of 750 feet at its tallest point. Visitors of all ages enjoy sledding down the sandy slopes and exploring the tracks left by previous adventurers. The park also offers picnicking, hiking, and camping, along with a challenging four-wheel drive on Medano Pass, horseback riding trails, and ranger-led nature walks. Don’t miss the park’s unique features, such as the enigmatic Medano Creek and the opportunity to scale 14,000- and 13,000-foot peaks like Crestone Needle, Crestone Peak, Cleveland Peak, and Mount Herard.
At an elevation of 8,200 feet and with its remote location, Great Sand Dunes National Park is a favorite among stargazers. The park hosts special astronomy programs from May to September and offers a Junior Ranger program for children ages 3 to 12.
Camping options include the Piñon Flats Campground, managed by the National Park Service, with 88 sites available on a first-come, first-served basis or through advance reservations. For 4WD vehicle owners, 21 campsites are available along Medano Pass Road within the park. Backpackers can obtain free backcountry permits from the visitor center and camp anywhere in the 30-square-mile dune field outside the day-use area. Backpacking is also allowed in the foothills and mountains along the Sand Ramp Trail within the park.
Several private and public campgrounds are available within an hour’s drive of the park, including San Luis Wildlife Area, offering a range of facilities from primitive to luxurious.
Experience the magic of the park by choosing your own path up the dunes, especially at dusk when the golden light casts mesmerizing shadows across their wind-sculpted ridges. The park also provides special sand wheelchairs for reservation at no cost, as well as an accessible picnic area and ranger-led programs.
Fascinating Facts About Great Sand Dunes National Park:
- The park contains North America‘s tallest sand dunes, with Star Dune standing at 750 feet and High Dune at 699 feet.
- The world’s tallest sand dunes are located in Inner Mongolia, China, at a height of 1,600 feet.
- Great Sand Dunes officially became a national park on September 13, 2004, and welcomed 500,000 visitors in 2022.
- The dunes were formed millions of years ago when water from melting glaciers flowed into the San Luis Valley, depositing sand and sediment.
Best Activities at Great Sand Dunes National Park:
- Walk on the dunes and experience their sheer size.
- Hike to High Dune or Star Dune, North America’s tallest dune.
- Try sandboarding or sand sledding for an exhilarating adventure.
- Camp under the stars and immerse yourself in the park’s beauty.
- Stargaze and enjoy the park’s certified International Dark Sky status.
- Photograph the stunning dunes and surrounding landscapes.
- Drive the Medano Pass Primitive Road for an off-road adventure.
When to Visit:
The best time to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park is during spring and fall, when temperatures are mild. The park can be visited year-round, but be aware of high temperatures in summer and freezing conditions in winter.
Lodging Options Near Great Sand Dunes National Park
Within the park, there are no lodging establishments. However, visitors can choose to camp at the Piñon Flats Campground or acquire a backcountry permit to park on the dunes.
- Great Sand Dunes Lodge: Situated just outside the national park’s boundary, this modest lodge has earned positive reviews and offers a swimming pool for guests.
- Great Sand Dunes Oasis: This establishment provides motel accommodations, a campground with 20 RV sites, and sandboard rentals. It is conveniently located adjacent to the Great Sand Dunes Lodge.
The nearest sizable town to the park, Alamosa, is 35 miles away and requires a 45-minute drive to reach Great Sand Dunes. Alamosa is home to numerous chain hotels and a selection of reputable restaurants. Although it may not be the most picturesque town, it serves as a practical base for visitors exploring the national park.
To get to Great Sand Dunes National Park, follow these directions based on your mode of transportation:
By Car: The park is located in south-central Colorado, about 35 miles northeast of the town of Alamosa. From Alamosa, take US Highway 160 East for approximately 16 miles to CO Highway 150 North. Drive 20 miles on Highway 150, and you will reach the park entrance.
By Air: The nearest airports to Great Sand Dunes National Park are Alamosa’s San Luis Valley Regional Airport (ALS), which is about 38 miles away, and Colorado Springs Airport (COS), which is approximately 165 miles away. Denver International Airport (DEN) is another option, located about 225 miles from the park. After arriving at the airport, you can rent a car and drive to the park following the directions provided above.
Keep in mind that public transportation options to the park are limited, so planning ahead and renting a car is highly recommended.