Tips And Tricks Specific To Great Sand Dunes National Park And Preserve
- Unlike many other national parks, pets are permitted in many areas of the Great Sand Dunes. Just be cautious of hot sand temperatures, cactus, and wildlife while exploring with your four legged family members.
- While its no surprise that the Great Sand Dunes is typically windy, visitors are often unprepared for the conditions. Wear protective sunglasses, layer your clothing, and remember that walking through the dunes is strenuous so dont over-pack. Of course during summer temperatures, bring plenty of sunscreen and water and protect your feet from the hot sand.
- Take the time to read and learn about the fascinating history of how the dunes formed. You can do this by reading it on the website or by stopping at the visitors center. Either way, it will give you a greater appreciation for the park.
For the latest info on visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, visit their website: Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.
Have you been to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve? What tips can you share?
About Great Sand Dunes National Park And Preserve Camping
Colorado is often associated with trees and 14ers, but people often forget that the state’s southern section is filled with desertscapes. Great Sand Dunes National Park is known for rolling dunes and larger-than-life sand structures. It isnt exactly peak-bagging, but you still can get a good workout.
Most visitors will be camping in the Piñon Flats Campground. Open April through October, this 91-site campground has a handful of RV sites but caters primarily to tents. Reservations are required and can be made up to six months in advance. Technically, Piñon Flats isnt the only campground. Besides backcountry spots, there is also high-clearance 4WD camping along the Medano Pass Primitive Road. If you dont stay in the park, the best camping near Great Sand Dunes National Park is the Oasis Campground or Sangre De Cristo Wilderness near Crestone, CO.
Find Lodging In These Towns Close To The Park
The closest town with major hotel chains, restaurants, activities and groceries is Alamosa, 38 miles from the park. Here, youll find major chain hotels like Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn Express and Best Western. There are also a variety of independent motels, inns and campgrounds. Alamosa is home to Adams State University and is a small college town with a historic downtown with independent restaurants, two breweries, major grocery store chains, a Walmart and chain fast-food and dining options.
Other towns near the park like Mosca, Fort Garland, Monte Vista, San Luis, Moffat and Crestone offer more limited lodging options.
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San Luis Lakes Wildlife Area Not Far From The Great Sand Dunes
Less than 10 miles away from the Sand Dunes is this wildlife area. I believe it actually used to be a State Park, but now its been downgraded to a wildlife area. They do still have camping available, and Ive heard that there is even a dump station and electricity! You will need a Colorado park pass, which you can buy in the nearby town of Mosca at the local Pit Stop . Its a great location which is close to the dunes and also inexpensive and not nearly as crowded.
Great Sand Dunes Information
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve spans over 30 miles and contains over 5 billion cubic meters of sand to create the largest sandbox in North America.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve spans over 30 miles and contains over 5 billion cubic meters of sand to create the largest sandbox in North America.
“Life is a desert of shifting sand dunes. Unpredictable. Erratic. Harmony changes into dissonance, the immediate outlives the profound, esoteric becomes cliched.” Ella Leya
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Where Is Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes is located in Southern Colorado, about halfway between Denver and Albuquerque. The drive to the park from either city is a little less than 4 hours, although the cities of Colorado Springs, Pueblo, and Santa Fe are a bit closer.
The closest town is Mosca, which has a gas station and post office and thats about it. If youre looking for more amenities, including restaurants, hotels, and shops, youre better off heading to Alamosa, which is about 37 miles away.
The closest national parks are Mesa Verde, located 200 miles southwest in Montezuma county, Colorado, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, sitting 230 miles northwest in Montrose county, Colorado, and Rocky Mountain National Park, a quick 260 miles north in Larimer, Grand, and Boulder counties.
Best Time To Visit The Great Sand Dunes
The sand was HOT and we, of course, made the mistake of going on a Saturday. I learned from the woman who rented us the sand boards that Saturday is the busiest day of the week too. So it may be best to visit during the week and earlier in the summer.
Tony and I took our older two with Ashleys older two kids up the dunes and did some sandboarding by about 10:30 am and it was HOT on our feet.
So if youve got kids with you like we did, plan to visit before 10am if you plan to walk among the dunes. Also avoid Saturdays because it might be stressful for the kids to explore around the area when there are so many people in combination with the heat.
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The Indian Grove Campground
Inside the limits of Great Sand Dunes National Park, a stand of roughly 190 ponderosa pine trees, many of which have been culturally modified, is located between a mountain pass and a perennial water supply.
The Indian Grove ponderosa pines, with their soaring, long trunks and reddish-orange bark made of wide plates, were skinned and collected by the Ute, Apache, and other native populations for medicinal purposes in the nineteenth century.
Indian Grove is 3.9 miles from Pion Flats campground and is one of six approved back-country campsites along The Sand Ramp Trail . A forest of ponderosa pines sits nearby, where Ute and Jicarilla Apache Indians peeled the trees. Shelter and medication came from the bark and cambium layers. It is a great spot for dispersed camping owing to its floral richness.
Great Sand Dunes National Park And Preserve
Rising up from a remote valley in south-central Colorado, the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is home to the tallest sand dunes in North America. And while the 30-square-mile dunefield is obviously the parks main draw, the landscape within and surrounding the national park is incredibly diverse with a wide range of ecosystems represented. Visitors can watch pronghorns graze at sunrise, summit a 13,000-foot mountain peak, plunge into an alpine lake, sled down dunes, off-road through seasonal creeks, and enjoy starry nights all in the same day.
Plan the perfect trip with this complete guide covering must-see points of interest, best hiking trails, other popular park activities, campgrounds, how to get there, and logistics like park fees and accessibility.
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Pack The Scooby Snacks
Pack the Scooby snacks because Great Sand Dunes is one of the few dog-friendly national parks in the country. Dogs are allowed on the Dunes Overlook Trail, Mosca Pass Trail and in the dunefields up to the first high ridge of dunes. Grab a map at the visitor center to ensure you stay in pet-friendly areas. Your pets must be kept on a leash and you must clean up after them. Dont forget that temperatures can be deceiving. The sand heats up quickly in the summer. Make sure you are checking the temperature of the sand often by laying the palm of your hand against it. If its too hot for you to comfortably touch, its too hot for your dogs paws. We suggest hiking early in the day to avoid the heat and planning your visit for when Medano Creek is running, so your pups can cool off after a long, sandy hike.
Not All Us National Parks Are Dog
Its really important to know that not all US National Parks are dog-friendly. But we had researched and discovered that dogs are welcome in most areas of Great Sand Dunes National Park, so we were really excited to bring Hana here. They even have a National Parks BARK Ranger Program! And we were not disappointed, because Hana had a blast!
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Great Sand Dunes National Park Hours
Great Sand Dunes National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, although the Piñon Flats Campground is only open April to October. The Visitor Center is open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day. Its hours are 8:30am to 5:00pm daily from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day Weekend and then 9:00am to 4:30pm every day for the rest of the year.
The park is currently under limited operations due to COVID-19. For recent COVID status and frequent updates, check out Great Sand Dunes National Parks current conditions.
Activities In The Park
Tips for Snagging a Campsite Reservation
When to Go
Great Sand Dunes National Park is open year-round, but the campground is only open from April through October. The park is busiest when Medano Creek is at peak flow, typically from late May through early June. During the summer months, plan to head to the dunes first thing in the morning or in the evening, since the sand gets very hot in the middle of the day. If youre hoping to avoid the crowds, visit in early spring or late fall.
Know Before You Go
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How The Sand Dunes Formed
Wind and water eroded the mountains and streams deposited sand onto the valley floor. Southwesterly winds then collected sand from across the San Luis Valley before being block by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
The sand was then dropped at the base of the mountains. Wind also came from the northeast reversing the wind flow and blowing sand back toward the Dune Field.
Backpacking In The Great Sand Dunes National Park
Want to push the adventure? Go backpacking and stay almost anywhere you want on top of the sand dunes! No kidding.
A free permit is required, which must be picked up during office hours in person at the park. But once you have shown you have proper backpacking gear, can demonstrate bear awareness , and leave no trace principle knowledge, youll be good to go.
After hiking past the busy day-use area , you can camp anywhere your heart desires on the sand dunes themselves. Anywhere in the entire 30-square-mile Great Sand Dunes National Park can be your campsite. Talk about options.
Just remember that it will be sandy, likely a bit windy, and there is no water. Difficult conditions even under the best circumstances. Check the weather forecast carefully too because you will be exposed.
For more information on hiking and backpacking in the Great Sand Dunes National Park, visit the National Park Service information.
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Great Sand Dunes Is Officially Hanas Favorite National Park
As we learned last summer, Hana loves the beach. And one things she loves about the beach is running in the sand. So imagine her running and playing in a giant sand field and running up and down dunes! Plus, the water in Medano creek was cool, shallow and refreshing. So she loved even more being able to run about splashing in the water too.
Camping Hiking And Horseback Riding
As the tallest sand dunes around, with one measuring 250 vertical feet, the Great Sand Dunes are quite a sight! The dunes are the main attraction in the park, as theres not too much else to explore. A seasonal creek runs around the dunes, but dries up, and is not fished. Surrounding the park are the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
These snow-capped peaks, fuel Medano and Sand Creeks which run seasonally at the base of the dunes. Medano Creek is one of the best places to see surge flow, where waves come in rhythmic, 15-second intervals due to sand buildup on the creek bed. Shortly after leaving the park, the creek disappears into an underground aquifer. The creek is usually dry by the end of the summer.
There are three large campgrounds loops, that all get fairly windy and crowded. Reservations are highly recommended. Pinyon Flats Campground has 88 total sites, half are reservable. High clearance 4×4s can find free, primitive camping on Medano Pass, first come, first serve. Folks with a 4×4 can access the Medano Pass Primitive Road.
Nearby San Luis State Wildlife Area has plenty of campsites that look out to the dunes and are generally less crowded. Although its reserved for those with a valid Coloradofishing or hunting license. Zapata Falls also has a campground loop that overlooks that beautiful San Luis Valley.
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How To Get To Great Sand Dunes
The Great Sand Dunes National Park is located in the town of Mosca in the south-center area of Colroado. Santa Fe, NM is about 3.5 hours away driving and Denver, CO is about 4 hours away driving.
If youre coming from Denver, you can go straight south on I-25 and eventually go west at Walsenburg. Or you can take 285 and go through Buena Vista for a more scenic route.
You can fly into Denver, Colorado Springs, or Santa Fe, but youre still going to have a drive ahead of you unless you can charter a plane into a small regional airport near the dunes. Check Skyscanner to get the best deals.
When you get near the park, you will approach from the southeast on 150. When you pass the Oasis gas station and store, you are almost to the park gates. The visitors center is about a half-mile inside the park.
The main parking lot to explore the dunes is another mile into the park. There are multiple restrooms here, along with beach-like showers to rinse the sand off when done. This is the spot to park for hiking, sledding, or do whatever it is you want to do on the sand dunes. The picnic area is next to it.
Lodging Near Great Sand Dunes
For lodging options near Great Sand Dunes, here are a few of my picks:
- Great Sand Dunes Lodge is the closest lodging near the park
More options include the nearby town of Alamosa, about 35 miles from the park. This quaint little city has great food and amenities if you dont want a rustic Great Sand Dunes camping experience.
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South Colony Basin Campground
Camping, hiking, backpacking, mountaineering, fishing, and hunting are just a few of the activities available in the South Colony Basin and the surrounding 14,000-foot peaks. South Colony Basin is the most popular tourist destination in the Sangre de Cristo Range because of the variety of activities available, the basins natural beauty, and the rough but practicable access given by the road.
Trailhead registration data indicates that 3,500 to 4,500 people frequent the small upper basin near the top of the South Colony stream during the summer season.
In this article, we are hoping that you will find most of the information on the best dispersed camping sites near Great Sand Dunes. Pick one that meets all your fascinations and gear up for an adventurous dispersed camping experience of your life.
We suggest that you check the current state of locations before deciding to visit one. Enjoy your camping!
Primitive Road On Medano Pass Camping
But for us, the campground is usually not the first choice. And if you have a high-clearance 4WD vehicle, then you are in for a treat! There are more primitive camping areas for free that are deeper in the park, technically just outside of the parks boundary in the Great Sand Dunes National Preserve.
There are 21 campsites along Medano Road, also known as the primitive road. And this road means it. Once you go past a point aptly named the point of no return you are going to be driving in spots with deep, soft sand. Youll also have to cross over streams which may be well over a foot deep. This is not for sedans, period. When we visited, we saw a very nice AWD Subaru sedan stuck in the sand, waiting for a tow truck to come to the rescue.
But if you have a high-clearance 4WD and want to camp near the park for free in an awesome setting, then look no farther. Just be prepared. Check the road conditions too. We arrived just after a major repair was completed, but the road was closed for weeks prior due to flood damage.
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To get to this camping area near the Great Sand Dunes National Park, you will enter the park, then drive just past the Pinon Flats Campground. Take note of the small parking area which has dumpsters, a water fill station, and an air fill station. All free. It is a 5-mile drive from this area to the first group of campsites.
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