PeaceJoyAustin

Cheap, free, and local-endorsed things to do in beautiful places

Great Sand Dunes National Park

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  • Tallest sand dunes in North America
  • Sledding & boarding allowed on the dunes
  • Hiking on the dunes and in the nearby Sangre de Cristo Mountains
  • Established as a national park in 2004

When To Visit: September-June to avoid the extreme heat of summer on the dunes

Climate: Dry. Hot in summer, cool to warm in spring & fall, cold in winter with some snow.

Location: Southern Colorado near Alamosa

One of America’s newest national parks, Great Sand Dunes offers some unique outdoor adventure opportunities and lots of freedom to choose your own path of exploration.

Photo: Great Sand Dunes from Zapata Falls Trail

What To See & Do in Great Sand Dunes

On your way into the park, stop at Great Sand Dunes Oasis store (open April-October) on Highway 150 just before the park entrance to rent sleds and/or boards for the dunes. (If you are in the off-season, rent your equipment before coming to the park.) Park in the lot near the Great Sand Dunes Picnic Area and head onto the dunes to hike, sled, board, or just relax. If you have time, also explore some of the park’s trails off the dunes.

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Sledding and boarding on the dunes

Great Sand Dunes Hikes

There are no designated trails on the dunes – you can explore them freely. Below are two of the most popular and scenic destinations on the dunes. Bring a sled and/or board so you can play as you hike.

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Hiking to High Dune
  1. High Dune

    • 3.5 miles round trip, out & back, 2-3 hours, strenuous
    • The most popular walk in the park, you’ll climb for over a mile before reaching this dune with sweeping views of the surrounding dunes and mountains.
    • Even if you can’t make it the whole way, this is a great area to explore
  2. Star Dune

    • 6.5 miles round trip, out & back, 4-5 hours, strenuous
    • The tallest dune in North America
  3. Zapata Falls
    • 1 mile round trip, out & back, 30 mins-1 hour, easy
    • If water levels are high, you’ll have to walk a short distance in the creek to reach the falls
    • Great distant views of the Great Sand Dunes from the trailhead

Click here to read an excellent blog detailing a visit to Great Sand Dunes.

Where To Stay & Eat in Great Sand Dunes

There are no food services or lodging in the park, but the Great Sand Dunes Oasis (open April-October) just outside the park entrance has a store, restaurant, cabins, and campsites. The Great Sand Dunes Lodge on the same property is the closest hotel to the park.

The park itself contains one campground – Piñon Flats, which has 44 first-come, first-served and 44 reservable campsites.

The park has one picnic area if you would like to bring food into the park.

For more dining and lodging options, take a half-hour drive to the town of Alamosa. There are several places to eat – here is my top pick.

  • Calvillo’s Mexican Restaurant: This large cafe has an all-day buffet with a variety of Mexican food and desserts, as well as a full drink menu. 400 Main Street, Alamosa. (719) 587-5500

Nearby Side Trips from Great Sand Dunes

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Dragon Point at Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park: A stunningly narrow canyon and river gorge that was one of the last places in the country to be mapped due to its precarious terrain. 3.5 hours from Great Sand Dunes. Read more.

Spanish Peaks – An hour east of the park, these gorgeous peaks offer great hiking, climbing, and exploring opportunities. I recommend the West Spanish Peak Trail (8 miles round trip, strenuous) which has amazing views of the surrounding landscape. There are several nice hotels and resorts near the towns of La Veta and Williamsburg.

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