San Luis Wildlife Area
Tony and I stayed in San Luis Wildlife Area about 15 minutes outside the park where we paid $36 per adult for a Colorado Wildlife Management pass for the year and we could camp for up to 14 days there! No reservations were needed and we had access to free electric! Crazy!
There was a shaded picnic table at each campsite and a fire ring as well. With a dump on site and great cell signal we were almost set.
The downside was that there was no fresh water nearby. Oh, and there were SO many tiny biting flies. By the time we left, we all looked like we had chickenpox!
Sand Surfing Or Sledding
One of the most popular activities in Great Sand Dunes National Park is sledding down the giant mounds. It can be an exhausting trek to the top of the dunes but getting back to the bottom is quick and exhilarating, especially when you take a sled or sand surfboard with you. Even if you dont have a sled just running or rather hopping down the steep dunes is a blast as each hop sinks deep into the porous surface and you end up sliding down the dunes rather than actually hiking. It may take you hours to hike to the top but when sliding down you can cover the same distance in a few minutes. Sand boards and sleds can be rented from the Oasis store just before entering the park.
Great Sand Dunes National Park Airbnb
Most Airbnbs around Great Sand Dunes National Park are located in Alamosa, which mostly offers bungalows and a few apartments. Outside of Alamosa, there are rustic cabins and private campsites available.
For an experience thats more out there, head to Crestone, located just north of the park. This tiny town proudly calls itself the New Age Religious Capital of the World and it hosts a ton of religious institutions, including a Carmelite monastery, a Hindu temple, New Age churches, and many Buddhist centers. The Airbnbs in and around Crestone are definitely one-of-a-kind, including domes, adobe cottages, and star huts. It may not be everybodys cup of tea, but its certainly an experience you cant find elsewhere.
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Best Dispersed Camping Near Great Sand Dunes
Last Updated on March 15, 2022 by Ted Mosby
When you think of Colorado, sand definitely isnt the first thing that springs to mind. Dont be deceived, though. There is sand in this state of mountains, snow, and dramatic scenery. In fact, if you seek the right spot, youll find a lot of sand.
Giant, undulating sand dunes abound in the Great Sand Dunes National Park. You can climb for hours, your feet sinking deeper with each step, and still only just make it past the dunes edge.
Depending on how far away you are opting to camp and what kind of car you have, dispersed camping near Great Sand Dunes National Park is an option. It has something for all, and an even more pleasing part is that theres lots of room.
This article will go through some of the best dispersed camping sites near Great Sand Dunes.
The Attraction: Zapata Falls
The draw: A 0.5-mile walk delivers hikers to a rocky crevasse where a 30-foot-tall waterfall creates a misty refuge during hot summer days.
The drawback: Those with poor balance or an aversion to wet feet might not dig the fact that youll be fording the creek multiple times.
The details: From the park, drive south about nine miles on CO 150 and turn left at the sign for Zapata Falls Recreation Area. The road is an unpaved, 3.5-mile-long path that ends at a parking lot and campground. The short trail to the falls leaves from the parking lot.
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Activities At Great Sand Dunes
Backpacking, Camping, Hiking, Horseback Riding, Hunting, Picnicking, Sandboarding, Skiing & Sledding on the Dunes, 4WD Medano Pass Primitive Road, Swimming in Madano Creek, Visitor Center
Camping: Yes they fill up quickly during peak season.
- Pinyon Flats Campground Loop 1 , first-come, first-served | Loop 2 and 3 other group sites are reservable.
- Medano Pass Primitive Road Campsites Free, includes backpacking and car camping along the Medano Pass 4WD road, first-come-first-served. High-clearance 4WD is required for car camping along Medano Pass.
- Nearby Campgrounds San Luis State Park | Zepata Falls | Great Sand Dunes Oasis
Read about the camping near Alamosa, Sand Dunes, and the San Luis Valley.
Hiking: There are a number of exciting trails within the park, although most people just start hiking up the bib dune from Medano Creek. You can escape the crowds in the Great Sand Dunes Wilderness, which offers 32,643 acres of backcountry exploration.
Part of Park and Preserve holds a portion of the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness as well. Its home to 4 fourteener mountains, all close together known as the Crestone Group.
Horseback Riding: Permitted in the park leave the trailer at Medano Pass Primitive Road. There are also 3 licensed providers of guided horseback trips who will meet you in the park with horses by reservation.
Hunting: Only permitted in the National Preserve during designated seasons, not in the National Park.
Where Is The Great Sand Dunes National Park And Preserve
Featuring the towering dunes of North America, the Great Sand Dunes National Park stretches from the eastern edge of San Luis Valley to the Sangre De Cristo Range, in south-central Colorado.
Alamosa is the nearest city to the park and the best route to take is through Highway 150 or County Road 6.
Visiting Great Sand Dunes NP might be a great stop on your next Colorado Road trip.
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Glamping Vs Traditional Lodging
Are you Glamping tough? Make sure glamping is for you
Our version of glamping is a cross between your traditional lodging and camping . Imagine if Miss Hotel Room and Mr. Tent fell hopelessly in love and despite their families warnings about their different lifestyles, got married and had a child. That child is Glamping at Rustic Rook. Glamping has lots of its mothers comforts, but still has lots of its fathers life on the edge, minimalist, adventurous lifestyle. Since glamping did not inherit its mothers climate controlled airtight space, her TV or her electricity, you could get hot, cold, or have desert insects wander into your tent. Thankfully, Glamping did inherent its fathers camp stove, starry nights, lanterns, and USB power chargers so you will still be able to stay warm on the chilly nights, watch the stars instead of the TV, and able to charge your phones to stay in contact with friends/family as much as you would like to.
What I loved about Rustic Rook
Proximity to the national park. Comfortable beds. We really enjoyed our stay!
What I loved about Rustic Rook
The stars were amazing to look at, the bed was very cozy and there was more than enough space for a couple. Accommodating check-in when arriving late, and the bathrooms were very well kept and clean, and nice hot water. Breakfast was delicious, good amount
What I loved about Rustic Rook
What I loved about Rustic Rook
Katherine FulfordKristy LyneHolly Bearden
The Attraction: Ufo Watchtower
The draw: The San Luis Valley has long been known as a magnet for paranormal activity, especially of the Close Encounters of the Third Kind variety. As such, rancher turned believer Judy Messoline built a 10-foot platform where groups of up to 60 can crane their necks to seewellwhatever it is people think theyre seeing here.
The drawback: This place isnt exactly a university-level observatory. And if youre not into ET or overlapping energy vortices, the I-was-abducted-by-aliens crowd might wear on your nerves.
The details: In the summer, the watchtower is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. You must request nighttime access. Admission is $2 per person or $5 per car. ufowatchtower.com
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Hiking The Great Sand Dunes Is Tough Work
Once on the other side you can begin hiking the dunes. If you have never hiked up a sand dune, then you may be surprised how challenging it is! Be prepared, bring water, and take time to rest. Also, in the summer months be sure to wear sunscreen and be careful of hot sand. During our visit we hiked up about 3 or 4 of the ridges, but we didnt go to the top. However, we saw a number of other ambitious visitors going all the way to the top!
A lot of people also choose to do a bit of sand boarding or sand sledding! Typical snow boards and snow sleds dont work well though, so be sure to rent some before you go out. However for us, we enjoyed just watching others do the sleddingand wondering just how long it would take them to get that sand out!
Take Time To Get To Know The Park And The Preserve Great Sand Dunes Charming Yet Split Personalities
If you look at a map of Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, youll notice that a thin boundary line bisects the chart. In the western sectionthe designated national parklies the star attraction: the dune field. Its the cant-look-away feature visitors travel here to see. And who can blame them? The dunes are sculpture art of the highest order. Each day, Mother Nature ever so slightly tweaks the angles and changes the way light and shadow dance on the sand. Its an otherworldly spectacle, especially at sunrise and sunset, when most guests make the decision to head home. But with everyones attention trained on these easily accessible mounds of sand, the eastern half of the mapthe preservecan get overlooked.
More than 41,000 acres of raw Sangre de Cristo Range wilderness tuck into the mountainsides adjacent to the dune field. Here, the earth is still sandy, but rocky outcroppings soar overhead forests of aspen and fir sway in the breeze subalpine meadows host mule deer, elk, and black bear and mountain lakes and streams teem with trout. Yes, the preserve is as lovely as any number of areas that can call themselves national parks however, unlike, say, Rocky Mountain National Park, there is little infrastructure and few easy ways to access the grandeur. From inside Great Sand Dunes boundaries, the two main entries into the preserves backcountry are the Mosca Pass Trail and the Medano Pass Primitive Road .
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Campgrounds Within 40 Miles Of Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center
Oasis Campground – located just outside the national park entrance. 90 sites total: RV sites with full hookups, tent sites, and camping cabins. Showers, laundry, restaurant, and store on site. Open April through October. Follow the link or call 719-378-2222.
Zapata Falls Campground – primitive campground on Bureau of Land Management land, located 11 miles south of the park Visitor Center, at 9000 feet in elevation. Spectacular views of the entire dunefield and valley. No water pit toilets fire rings at each site. $11 per night. Open year round bumpy dirt access road is not snowplowed in winter, but many vehicles drive on it, packing down the snow. No phone at campground BLM office number is 719-852-7074. Zapata Falls Campground is now available .
Sand Dunes Swimming Pool and Campground – privately owned facility located 32 miles west of Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center, 2 miles north of Hooper, CO. RV sites with hookups, tent sites, cabins, geothermal swimming pool, organic produce, salads and hot food items. Open year round, 719-378-2807.Base Camp Family Campground and RV Park – 27 miles southwest of Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center, 8 miles east of Alamosa. RV sites with full hookups, large tent sites, laundry, wifi. 719-589-2938.
KOA Alamosa Campground – 31 miles southwest of Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center, 4 miles east of Alamosa. RVs, hookups, tents, cabins. Open warmer months only. Reserve: 1-800-562-9157 Info: 719-589-9757.
Why Visit Great Sand Dunes National Park And Preserve
Not only are the sand dunes a rare natural phenomenon, but the entire area surrounding the national park is filled with beauty. As you drive to the park, youll quickly fall in love with the San Luis Valley and be greeted with sweeping views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and on the east and the San Juan Mountains to the west.
Once inside the park, youll be amazed by the diversity it offers. Its high desert landscape is home to lakes, forests, wetlands, grasslands, meadows, and shrublands. Plus, with over 100,000 acres to explore, youre sure to find what excites you most! Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve was also recently named one of the quietest national parks, which is just another feature that makes it feel somewhat bizarre. Its truly a park of contrasts that you have to see to believe.
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When Is The Best Time To Visit The Great Sand Dunes
The Great Sand Dunes National Park is open all year although, the Pinon Flats Campground is NOT open all year long. When you visit really depends on what you are interested in doing and your weather preference. The weather fluctuates quite dramatically at the Great Sand Dunes due to its higher elevation of Colorado. The Spring and Fall months will have less crowds and the temperatures will be mild, with decently warm days and quite cool nights. However, the Medano Creek is not flowing during these times if thats something you are interested in enjoying.
The peak summer months can be quite hot at the Great Sand Dunes, making the sand extremely hot . Also, late in the summer the seasonal Medano Creek will be dried up. So if you want to play in the water, then you should go earlier in the summer .
During the late Fall, Winter, and Early Spring you will also not be able to drive the entire journey along the primitive road due to conditions. But you may at least be able to get to the Castle Creek picnic area if you have a good 4WD with high clearance. The middle of winter is quite a beautiful and quite time at the park though, if you dont mind the cold temperatures. It will snow a good bit, but in the early morning hours you can see all kinds of wildlife such as Elk and Pronghorn.
Four Walls But Nothing Else
The Great Sand Dunes Lodge, which sounds like it should be located inside the park, is actually an independently owned motel-style accommodation nestled into the base of the Sangre de Cristos just minutes from the parks entrance. Its nothing fancy, but its clean, well-priced , and conveniently located next to a diner and a general store with fuel pumps. gsdlodge.com Next-Best Options: The Oasis Duplex Motel , which is near the park entrance but only has two units, and the Oasis Camping Cabins rustic, primitive cabins with no linens or running water are located in front of the Great Sand Dunes Lodge. greatdunes.com
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Dispersed Campsites Near The Great Sand Dunes
Your final option for camping near the Great Sand Dunes National Park is to find a free, dispersed campsite on the adjacent Bureau of Land Management land. The BLM manages hundreds of thousands of acres of land throughout the country and generally allows for dispersed camping on it. You can find more information on dispersed camping on BLM land here.
Before heading out with a plan to look for dispersed camping near the Great Sand Dunes National Park we recommend reaching out to the Conejos Peak Ranger District to confirm current camping regulations. They can be reached at 480-9892.
Lake Como Road/Sacred White Shell Mountain BLM sites
The Lake Como Road/Sacred White Shell Mountain dispersed camping area is located east of State Highway 150 as you approach the Sand Dunes. The campsite is located approximately 25 minutes from the entrance to the National Park. Youll need to bring all of your own water and also be prepared to properly deal with your waste at this site, as there are no facilities. BLM regulations on dispersed camping allow you to camp for up to 14 days in a 28 day period, so be sure to observe that limit at this site.
It is especially important to practice Leave No Trace principles when dispersed camping.
How To Get There
Getting to the Great Sand Dunes National Park is no easy task, and a rental car will be needed. There are a few different airports that you can choose to fly into that are about equal distance. Both Denver International Airport and Albuquerque International Airport are about a 4 hour drive.
It is possible to save about an hour and half of driving when flying into the Colorado Springs Airport. However, it is usually a little more difficult to find direct flights in Colorado Springs, and usually requires a connecting flight.
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Visit Americas Most Unusual Castle
A few blocks from Antonitos downtown, Canos Castle rises. The castle was built entirely from beer cans, hubcaps, and other metal scraps, by Dominic Cano Espinoza. Unfortunately, you cannot enter the castle as its Canos private residence and no tours are given. But that shouldnt stop you from admiring the four towers from the road.
Great Sand Dunes National Park Entrance Fee
A 7-day pass to Great Sand Dunes National Park is $25 for a non-commercial vehicle. This pass covers all occupants in the vehicle. For a motorcycle, the fee is $20. You may also want to consider buying an Interagency Annual Pass, which costs $80 and gives you free, year-round access to all U.S. National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands.
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