Your Guide To The Great Sand Dunes National Park

The Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park: General Summary

U.S. National Park Service, restoration/cleanup by Matt Holly [Public domain] The Great Sand Dunes National Park is one of Colorado’s most unique and mysteriously beautiful tourist attractions. The dunes were formed through a natural geological process. The sand was essentially left behind by prehistoric lakes that had dried up. This mass then started blowing towards the Sangre Cristo Mountains, and slowly developed into crescent-shaped dunes that we know today.

It was Lt. Zebulon Pike who inadvertently discovered the dunes. In 1930, there was a gold mill established at the area but the venture slowly ended when locals and regulatory bodies protested for the sight to be conserved. Hence, in order to preserve the Great Sand Dunes, in 1932, a protection bill was drawn by President Herbert Hoover to preserve the land. The park was officially established as a national heritage site in 2004, and since then has been a popular attractions for both locals and tourists alike.

Although, the Great Sand Dunes receives visitors throughout the year, the most popular season has been from May to June. This is the peak of springtime and one of the best times to visit the seasonal stream at the Medano Creek. With so many natural and man-made attractions at the dune-fields, the place has a fantastic Visitor’s Centre that offers a 20-minute movie about the park, exhibit areas with photography and exquisite paintings, and an elaborate Park store with souvenirs and informational goods! With so much to offer, let’s explore this beautiful vacation spot!


Introduction

Colorado is often referred to as America’s most beautiful state, and for the right reasons. Whether you’re an avid traveler or someone who has been saving up for the trip of their life, by all means, Colorado should be at the top of the bucket list. It has everything – from picturesque mountain views, adventurous hikes, and delicious cuisine to the most gorgeous, relaxing spas, awesome heritage sites, and of course, wildlife.

As an all-rounder vacation spot, many places in Colorado offer so much more than what meets the eye. Ranked as one of the most active and healthiest states of the US, Colorado is a green and verdant wonderland for those who want to revive in nature. Consistently noted as one of the best places to visit during summers, Colorado truly stands out for its strikingly scenic natural landscapes. For this feature, we’ve decided to cover the spectacular Great Sand Dunes National Park.

It’ll truly be a great loss if you miss out on this slice of heaven. Not only is it super affordable but also a wonderful retreat for those who are searching for some soulful silence in their lives. Don’t be fooled by the arid desert dunes. They are but ripples – full of life and vigor. The Great Sand Dunes National Park is one of Colorado’s best kept secrets, and it’s time to unfold the pure wonder hiding under its landscape.

Keep your eyes open for the magnificent wildlife in the sky and on land as you travel through the national park. Proudly boasting the highest and most beautiful sand dunes in the world, this national park is where dreams come true.

Prepare to be amazed by the brilliant black sand shimmering over the dunes as you hike to the highest spot. Made from pure magnetite deposits, the park hosts some of nature’s most eerie and visually striking marvels. So, waste no more time and delve into an out-of-this-world experience at the Great Sand Dunes National Park!


Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

1. A Memorable History One simply can’t appreciate the humbling beauty and simplicity of the Great Sand Dunes unless they learn about its history. Colorado is actually home to a total of 13 national parks, and the Great Sand Dunes is one of them. Compared to the rest of the natural sites, this one is fairly new.

Located in the San Luis Valley, the dunes are known for this distinct and unique landscape. Home to the tallest and towering sand dunes in America, the landscape was formed through a series of several interesting natural events.

The dunes were formed from the sand left behind by prehistoric lakes. Once they had dried up, the sand blew towards the Sangre de Cristo Mountains at a low curve and slowly shaped into the great dunes. In fact, Lt. Zebulon Pike is the first recorded explorer in history who crossed the Sangre de Cristo Mountain to get to the Great Sand Dunes. Under the auspices of Thomas Jefferson, the team of explorers was searching the Louisiana Purchase Territory when they came across these beautiful sand dunes.

What’s even more interesting is that in 1930, there was a gold mill erected in the area because there were speculations that there was gold hidden in the sand of the dunes. This eventually led to heightened protection of the local area in order to preserve the Great Sand Dunes. Eventually, in 1932, the bill for protection was signed into law by President Herbert Hoover.

Fast forward to a few decades later, the regulatory bodies decided to expand this landscape into a magnificent national park for visitors to enjoy. The dunes finally turned into a national park in 2004.

2. Planning Your Itinerary Whether you are traveling solo, with family, or have booked a group tour, everything in this guide will certainly help you plan the perfect itinerary no matter how short or long your stay at the Great Sand Dunes National Park is.

The national park may seem too huge to be explored in just a two-day trip. Hence, if you truly want to enjoy a fun-filled vacation, make sure your stay is at least a week long. Anyone who comes here mostly starts their trip with sight-seeing and admiring the tallest dunes. Most people who come here during the early summers usually pre-book a time for hiking. Since the landscape is made up of sand dunes, the hikes are usually short but stretch far and wide. So, if you have kids who are new to hikes, the dunes are an excellent place to start. The Great Sand Dunes National Park is famous for the Visitor Centre, the Medano Creek, the San Luis Valley, and of course, sand-boarding on the dunes. This guide covers all the popular spots to help you enjoy a well-rounded trip at the dunes and help you plan your itinerary accordingly!

3. The Best Time to Visit

Although the national park can be visited during any time of the year, the best months begin from May. During the spring, the snow melts and therefore the water starts to run. The Medano Creek runs faster; however, it’s never too deep or dangerous. The water reaches a foot or so and is perfect to enjoy a splash.

Although the summers are pleasant, you will have to stay wary of mosquitoes in the night. You can also visit the park during winters, but the Great Sand Dunes may not be the ideal place on an especially windy day. You can expect sandblasts and a lot of inconvenience, so it’s best to avoid windy days.

Try to visit the area during pleasant summers, early spring, and cool to cold winters. The daytime summer temperatures at the dunes typically vary from 21-27 Degree C. In the night, you can expect them to drop way below that, so prepare accordingly.

If you’re especially looking to avoid high winds, then late April to early June are the months you should be looking to avoid. Winter nights at the Great Sand Dunes can go below zero, while March is the snowiest month in the region. Hence, use this information to plan your trip.

It’s always a good idea to check the forecast for at least the next two to three weeks to prepare sufficiently.

4. Calculating Travel Costs Many people book a vehicle – either a commercial or private one – to explore the dunes. Apart from your travel costs of coming to Colorado, the Great Sand dunes is actually a very affordable place to visit. The entry fee for non-commercial vehicles is $20, while motorcycles are charged only $15. If you’re using a large vehicle with people who are at least 16 or above, you can expect $10 per each passenger.

On top of all of this, you can also gain annual access to the park for at least a year for just $80. You can use these passes to enjoy the national park and the wildlife. And, if you have kids who are 9 or under, there’s also a bonus pass for 4th graders that allows free entry for the duration of completing that school year.

There are many cheap hotels that offer up to 50% off near the Great Sand Dunes National Park. You can check out hotels.com for suitable hotel packages and recommendations. You can filter the hotels by average nightly rate, guest review rating, or even star rating. Rest assured the traveling costs aren’t that much compared to other places in Colorado. And if you decide to camp out, you can save up a few dollars there too!


The Top Ten Things to Do at Great Sand Dunes National Park

The Great Sand Dunes National Park— a national heritage site— is everything you would dream of. Experience an unmatched sense of wonder as you travel and admire the soft dunes that look like luscious ripples of an ocean under the night sky. Colorado may be home to the some of the most scenic national parks, but nothing beats the Great Sand Dunes in its simple splendor, natural magnificence, and adventurous avenues.

The spectacular wonders of this park are unique and slowly reveal themselves to the visitor, unlike the instant gratification from traveling through the Grand Canyon or trekking up the mountains to relish the awe-struck view of the mighty Crater Lake. You will have to remain patient and calm to truly enjoy the slowly-revealing landscape that is full of national secrets and fun activities.

The landscape unfurls in slow motion. As you begin to approach the sand dunes, the soft swerves of the desert will start to appear, revealing its exotic beauty. The dunes may appear small against the even more beautiful backdrop of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains at first.

And, they will continue to be dwarfed by their surroundings until you reach the border. Standing 750-feet tall, stretching for mile after mile, this ocean of a desert will simply leave you in awe. The sand hills are breathtaking, and in the words of Zebulon Pike, resemble the “a sea in a storm”. Truly, the dunes are the calmest sea you will ever witness. Even when it’s devoid of vegetation, the Great Sand Dunes are nothing short of spectacular and have a mysterious charm of their own.

If you wish to break away from the daily grind and relish the quietude of nature, then there really isn’t a better place to visit this summer. Whether you’re traveling with your beloved, your family, or your friends, everyone can find a place and time they will love spending at the Great Sand Dunes National Park. So, without further ado, let’s explore the top ten things you can do at this gorgeous vacation spot!

1. Hiking on the High Dune

Colorado is home to many of the highest and tallest natural landscapes. The Great Sand Dunes is also one such place where you will find the tallest sand dune in North America. Whether you’re a professional trekker or harbor a passion for heights, the High Dunes offer a wonderful opportunity for ambitious travelers to hike on the summit that reaches as high as 750 feet.

You’ll be surprised to know that the Great Sand Dunes National Park is one of the few, rare places that also allows pets to accompany you on the trails. So, if you’re looking to spend some quality time, overcoming an adventure with your furry pal, then the High Dunes is where you need to be.

However, it may take around five hours for you to reach the dunes. If it feels too overwhelming, you can just settle for the unnamed dune that looks the tallest from the parking lot. Even the nearest dunes offer a spectacular view of the entire horizon that is simply not to be missed! Also, since this is a desert, you have to be careful of the temperatures, especially during the summers.

They can spike up really high during the hotter months, so make sure you’re traveling during a safe time period. Climbing dunes is always a wonderful experience as it brings you closer to nature. Just make sure you are well-equipped with food, water, and a safety gear. Many travelers have described this beautiful summit to be “simply exotic”, “simply un-missable”, and “a true revelation”. The miles to cover will certainly be tough, but once you’ve made your way through the sand ridges and finally find yourself standing at the heights of the High Dune, the experience will be nothing short of spiritual and euphoric. It might take you a little more than 30 minutes to complete the journey and if you’re up for it, do venture further up to reach the official highest dunes of North America – the Star Dune. However, during your time there, stay wary of the downpour or even worse, a storm! Make sure you’re fully prepared for the weather predictions to enjoy your time at the dunes to the hilt!

2. The Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center

The Visitor Center is the first place most people associate with the Great Sand Dunes National Park. The Visitor Center is brimming with interactive exhibits for people who harbor a love for photography and ancient art paintings. Find out about the history of the Great Sand Dunes and all the fun activities you can do here in an entire day!

Your visit to Colorado will remain incomplete if you don’t visit this place as it offers a wonderful travel guide for both veteran and new visitors for the Great Sand Dunes. Here you can enjoy learning about the Dunes, their topography and history, and how they came to be one of the finest national heritage sites of Colorado.

If you have little kids, you should definitely take a trip to the visitor center, as it will be a fun, learning experience for the little ones. You will come across small gift shops and a park store that is brimming with informational and fun books, T-shirts, posters, postcards, and magnets for you and your kids to take home as souvenirs.

The rangers during the guide are extremely polite, friendly, and helpful and they make your visit to the center a truly memorable one. As a warm weather activity, the visitor center is a wonderful place to learn all about the dunes while actually exploring the landscape itself! It’s also a great place for people who find the elevated dunes a bit too overwhelming so they can spend their time at the visitor center for a virtual experience.

The staff also provides solar viewing through a telescope facility and stunning moonlight walks to admire the landscape in all its grandeur and beauty. All in all, you will simply love your time spent here! The Great Sand Dunes are truly a wonder to behold and the visitor center should be the first place to hit after you reach here. With interactive displays and many informative guides on the wildlife and plants that engulf the sand dunes, your visit here will be memorable. Make sure to take plenty of water and hydrate yourself during your travels as the desert climate can be dehydrating.

3. Exploring the Medano Creek

The Medano Creek is yet another heavenly vacation spot that you will fall head over heels in love with. Prepare to be enraptured by the vagaries of nature at this place – a seasonal stream that hits its peak flow during the month of May. Colorado enjoys pleasant springtime during this time around, which makes it the perfect time to dip into the Medano Creek. Late May is one of the best times to visit the creek and enjoy some water splashing with your family and friends. For an arid and rather dry place like the Great Sand Dunes, the Medano Creek can be an exciting spot to cool off and beat the heat. Temperatures in May are usually milder, ranging from 60-70 Degree F with occasional high winds during the afternoon. However, you should stay on the lookout for light showers in May as the elevation does receive snowfall during this time period.

Make sure you check the weather and climate forecasts so that you dress and pack accordingly for the trip. Even when the humidity levels can high, there are rarely any mosquitoes in May. However, you will have to stay wary of “no-see-ums” in the region. Early June is also a good time to experience the highest flowing streams of the Great Sand Dunes. Enjoy with inflatable water toys and plan water activities with your children as the peak seasons offer a great floating space.

The beauty of Medano Creek is indescribable. The ice-cold water flows down from the mountain peaks with some ice sparkling in the sunshine and then gradually warms up as the amber beams of the sun intensify. It only takes a few hours before the stream water reaches the perfect temperature to take a swim in. Tourists and locals, both flock around from different regions to taste this seasonal phenomenon. It is no surprise that the creek is incredibly popular during late May and early June. At this point, you will be met with long traffic lines and humongous crowds engulfing the region. Both the beaches and the parking lots are overflowing with families there to enjoy some water-splashing. Planning a trip during this time of the year will truly be unforgettable!

If you visit the creek during September or August, the water will have completely dried up. It will, however, have a gentle flow that is usually 1-2 cm deep near the eastern edge of the dunes. If you have a 4WD, you can visit the creek in late summer after covering a hiking trip, which is exactly 3.5 km from the Dunes Parking lot. All in all, this place is a great escape for when you want to take a dip in a cold, sparkling stream!

4. Driving on the Medano Primitive Road

Now that you’re familiar with the word Medano, here’s another treat for you. You can go on a long drive and explore the stunning strip of the Medano Primitive Road. If you’re into adventurous trips into grand forest areas, then you will seriously enjoy your drive through the risky yet exciting Medano Pass Road. When you start your journey from the Great Sand Dunes, this road will cross the Medano Creek at least nine times to try to reach the Medano Pass.

As we discussed earlier, the creek flow is at its peak during late May, highest at dawn and mild during the afternoon period. The road is a beautiful stretch of autumn trees, refreshing foliage and forest life that will simply take your breath away. The road connects the Wet Mountain Valley and the Great Sand Dunes with the Colorado State Highway 69 as the intersection.

The area is only accessible during the warmer months through a 4WD as by this time, the creek usually dries up. You can also easily visit the Great Sand Dunes National Preserve and the Medano Creek. If you’re interested in some mountain wild-life, brace yourself for the natural habitat of bighorn sheep and exhilarating areas of deep sand. Your drive will probably last around 3 hours at most, provided that your pit stop exceeds more than 20 minutes.

During your drive, you will have to make sure that the tire pressure is reduced to at least 20 psi. This is because during this time period, the sand is rather dry, soft, and squishy. For your vehicle’s safety, it’s best to keep the speed slow and steady throughout your drive. You will have to re-inflate the tires once you start over the big rocks and boulders in Medano Canyon. Again, the rule is to drive slowly to avoid causing any damage to your vehicle or engine.

Here’s a great opportunity for roadside camping along the Medano Road. If you’re looking to stop over and enjoy a night with nature, then there are a total of 21 campsites at the Great Sand Dunes National Preserve that can be accessed throughout the stretch of the road. The camping spots start from the Piñon Flats Campground, about 5.2 miles from where the actual road begins. However, in order to make roadside camping a safe experience for tourists and families, car camping is only allowed for a designated number of places within the national preserve. These areas are strictly monitored for safety when it comes to creek, snow, and road conditions. The camping sites are open around late spring till early fall.

5. Sand Boarding and Sledding

Your trip won’t be complete without sand boarding at a dune-field. Whether you’re new to the activity or a veteran in the making, the best thing about sand boarding at the dunes is that they are naturally less riskier than other sports on elevated areas. If you want to taste the thrill and elation of snow-boarding without icicles rushing down your throat, then you should opt for sand boarding. When done right, this could be the most fun venture you ever embark on. However, you have to make sure that you only use sand sleds and sand boards for the activity. Snow sleds, cardboards, or even soft plastic items that look like they’ll slide fail to do so over and down the dunes. Although considered generally safe, it’s always a good idea to accompany your children as they explore the dunes sliding.

The best thing about sand-boarding, skiing, and sledding is that you can do these activities anywhere across the dune-field as long as they don’t disturb the vegetated areas. Your journey can start from the main Dunes Parking Area, which offers a wonderful landscape for beginners with their small and medium-sized slopes. But if you have teens and adults accompanying you, then feel free to venture the longer, higher slopes near the high ridges of the Great Sand Dunes.

Of course, this sports activity will need protective gear and equipment, which can be easily rented for very reasonable rates. The rentals are located in different regions near the dune-field. One rental is called Kristi Mountain Sports, which is by far the most popular in Alamosa. About 41 miles from the Great Sand Dunes Visitor Centre, the place rents sand boards, protective gear, and sleds throughout the year. Only when the sand is frozen will the place close their rented services because it may damage the sand boards.

Another great place to buy sand-boarding equipment is Spin Drift Sand Board Rentals. This one is located 25 miles from the Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center, in downtown Blanca. The equipment is available from late April through mid-October and is quite affordable.

People come to the dunes to enjoy fun picnics and of course, splashing in the sand. As a get-away, the dune-field is altogether a different and electrifying experience that you simply can’t miss! You get to enjoy sceneries that you have never seen before. There’s really nothing like enjoying the calming view of rolling sand dunes with beautiful prairies and vistas of mountains right in the heart of Colorado. The landscape beckons everyone to put their adventurous boots on and step into the gorgeous fields of never-ending dunes. Colorado truly has it all. Soak in the warm sun and explore the adventurer in you as you head into the mysterious but wildly beautiful Great Sand Dunes!

6. Night Sky-Watching and Star-Gazing

The International Dark-Sky Association has officially designated The Great Sand Dunes as the International Dark Sky Park. Quite fairly, this park does deserve that honor and more. The dunes are laden with mysterious beauty, soft rolling hills, and pleasant winds that blow across the entire park throughout the year. The Great Sand Dunes National Park is certainly one of the most beautiful places to spend an entire night.

With the exceptional crystal-clear quality and grandeur of its dark sky in the night, the Great Sand Dunes has been recognized for its natural, raw beauty. This is one reason why tourists from all around the world flock to the dunes to appreciate, admire, and capture the magnificent view of the night sky. Nothing quite beats the view at this national park—the stars blazing across the dark mass and the stunning clouds floating across the sky. The best thing about this place is that the regulatory bodies make a special effort to educate tourists, families visiting the area, and of course young, curious people on how they can preserve the beauty of the night sky.

The Great Sand Dunes actually joins three other national park sites, including a total of two dozen other parks as designators of the International Dark Sky Parks. This only goes to show that the natural wonder of Colorado is unbeatable when it comes to its magnificence and preservation. The high elevation of the dune fields, dry air, and lack of pollution and of course, the light make this place truly deserving of its night sky admiration.

So, how can you enjoy the night sky? In order to see the most stars, you should plan your visit around nights with a late moonrise. You can check out the moon calendar to enjoy moonless nights. Half the park is admired after dark, so you won’t be needing a flashlight to amble through the soft dunes. If you’re visiting on a full moon night, the light will be enough to get you through the entire landscape.

However, before you visit, make sure you’ve gone through the weather forecast to evade any rainy or excessively windy periods. Exploring the dunes after dark is adventurous and exciting; however, make sure you’re travelling with guides or know your way back to the vehicle. The dunes cover a humongous landscape, so come prepared with your maps, fully charged phones, and snacks to make sure that you as well as your kids enjoy the journey safely.

When you start hiking back to the Dunes Parking Lot, take the path along the Medano Creek leading towards the left end, right next to the long line of trees. And, be careful not to use your flashlight too much as it can obstruct your view and block the gorgeous, dimly lit scene of the wildlife and the night sky.

7. Fun Weekly Ranger Programs

Since the Great Sand Dunes is already a natural attraction for its unique landscape, the place is really big on preservation and education about the environment. Conserving the sand dunes is one of the biggest objectives of the regulatory bodies, and the ranger programs are a wonderful initiative to educate visitors about the environment.

Ranger programs typically start from mid-May all the way to October, which is also accompanied by pleasant winds and lovely springtime. Although they’re available other times of the year as well, May and June are the best times to hop on one of these enlightening programs.

This can be especially fun for your little kids who get to learn about the topography, how it was formed centuries ago, and how people are taking care of it and preserving it for later generations to admire. During the exploration, you can enjoy Solar Telescope Viewing that will simply take your breath away once you look at the sun as the spectacular, blazing ball of fire that it is.

The Ranger program has an entire schedule that is listed on the National Park Service website. Plan a trip depending on your schedule and make sure to book a spot during the weekends. The program includes “The Singing Sands”, which is a thrilling symphony of animal and geological sounds. The idea behind the program is to make visitors appreciate the hidden beauty and songs in nature. You can find the schedule at the Visitor Center. Apart from this, there is also a Dunes Dance and Magic Workshop, Whispering Sand Station, and Shaker Building Station that you and your kids will absolutely love!

8. Sunset Hiking at Escape Dunes

The geological wonders of this national park simply do not end. Another natural phenomenon waiting for you is the Escape Dunes. Only the luckiest people are able to witness these masses of land. The escape dunes are small dunes that retreat away from the main dune and mostly occur once a year.

They can be seen at the Medano Creek, towards the east side of the main field. Scientists have been documenting its movement since a very long time and have named them as the “Escape Dunes” as they tend to move further away from the direction of the main dune fields. They form sand, which is naturally-occurring and not recycled by Medano Creek.

So, how does Sun Set Hiking fit into all of this? There is no doubt that both the sunset and sunrise are beautiful beyond imagination, and what makes them even better is when you’re slowly climbing towards them.

The Escape Dunes are one of the best places to experience this scene as the sun slowly dips into the horizon. Whether you choose to climb barefoot or put on your favorite boots, the entire journey is simply surreal and gives you many opportunities for Insta-worthy pictures! While the Escape Dunes are just one part of the entire landscape, the field is brimming with different folds of dunes such as the Parabolic Dunes, the Barchan Dunes, and the Nebka Dunes.

For hiking purposes, you can easily find protective gear and rent it or simply pack yourself a survival kit, put your boots on, and get going. The journey up the sand dunes is worth taking and opens your eyes to a whole new world of beauty!

9. San Luis Valley

The San Luis Valley is nothing short of the beauty that the Great Sand Dunes boasts of. Mystic, stunning, and full of exciting places, this valley comprises a total of seven counties and towns that are home to the most delicious cuisine and tourist-worthy attractions.

Some of these towns that you’ve probably heard of are Alamosa, Del Norte, South Fork, La Veta, Creede, Crestone, and Fort Garland.

The valley covers nearly 500,000 acres worth of public land that is filled with soaring mountains, flat prairies, geothermal wells that have produced enjoyable hot springs, and chilly mountain streams. The valley has nearly half of the natural topographic wonders in its fold.

There are spas where you can relax and rejuvenate yourself after a rigorous climb up the dunes, and rough and tumble rodeos for a fun, sporty activity.

In the evenings, you can spot the rare wildlife hiding in the dune fields and revel in the pleasant springtime wind blowing across the park. At night, brace yourself for the magnificent dark sky that is emblazoned with endless stars.

The best thing about the San Luis Valley is that it’s so much more than just a natural attraction. When you visit the San Luis Valley, you can enjoy the free concerts, auto racing opportunities, eclectic music venues, and gorgeous, historic downtown buildings. The San Luis Valley is just unmissable.

10. Picnic at Alamosa

Colorado has never failed to captivate the attention of visitors and tourists from all around the world. Alamosa is a popular, well-established refuge for rare wildlife and migratory birds that make a stop at this beautiful town.

Alamosa is truly the perfect vacation spot as it has many kid-friendly options and its natural beauty is surrounded by gigantic black and brown mountains at the back. To reach this town, it will take around four hours from Denver, but every second is worth it. For people who want something more than just the Great Sand Dunes, Alamosa is a wonderful place to visit.

Home to the breath-taking Zapata Falls, Alamosa offers great views of water bodies, mountain streams, and of course, the sand dunes to admire and enjoy. While the Great Sand Dunes is the crown jewel when it comes to top-notch attractions, there are still many other places in Alamosa that are certainly worth your time and money.

Your kids will absolutely love sledding down and climbing over the naturally-occurring soft dunes that run all through the Medano Creek. Once you arrive at the Zapata Falls, the scene will impel you to slow down and soak in the beauty before you. After a lovely time at the dunes, you can end the day by visiting these falls, which are located just a half a mile from the Dunes parking lot. Your kids can splash and frolic in the natural stream while you relax or join them in the fun. The Zapata Falls is also a good place to enjoy a picnic and spend an entire afternoon simply listening to the gushing water behind you. You can easily access the falls from Highway 150 as it is a short and easy drive.

Another great attraction at Alamosa is the Rio Grande. If you haven’t had the opportunity to spot wildlife in the region, then the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge is the place to go for hunting and hiking. On your visit there, you will be able to spot beautiful migratory birds like the willow flycatcher, Lewis’ woodpecker, and the yellow-billed cuckoo. To make your trip memorable, enjoy hot springs, the Rio Grande River Trail, and the delicious cuisine at the Campus Café!


The Best Accommodations

When it comes to the best accommodation, you need to look at your budget, proximity to the national park, and of course, the duration of your stay. For this reason, here are some of the best places to stay in during your time at the Great Sand Dunes National Park.

1. Great Sand Dunes Lodge As a popular hotel for tourists, the lodge is located at Highway 150 and offers one of the most reasonable rates for a week-long stay. The place is a favorite spot for hikers, photographers, stargazers, and bikers. Since this lodge is the closest to the national park, located right at the foothills of the Front Range of the Rockies, the backyard is brimming with beautiful pinion pines that rise up all the way towards the soaring peaks. Along with spacious bedrooms that are ideal for couples and large families, the lodge also offers amazing food, a heated indoor pool, and cookout in the gas grills as well as other amenities to enjoy your tour of the dunes!

2. Comfort Inn & Suites This one has really nice suites, so if you’re planning for a long stay, Comfort Inn and Suites is a great economical choice. Located 28 miles from the Great Sand Dunes National Park, the lodge is a clean, quiet, and enjoyable place for families and couples. With relaxing hot tubs, heated pools, and easy access from the highway, Comfort Inn and Suites takes second place on our list.

3. Mountain View Motor Inn Offering excellent customer service and non-smoking rooms-- this hotel offers a kid-friendly zone to enjoy the fantastic view of the dunes. Located just 30 minutes away from the national park, the place also offers sledding and sand boarding equipment for visitors at extremely reasonable rates.

4. Valley Motel Next is the Valley Motel, which feels just like your second home. Offering free parking and breakfast throughout your stay, this place has five-star guest rooms with all the amenities that you could wish for! Located in Alamosa and only 26 miles from the national park, Valley Motel is a great, economical place for a short stay with kids.


A Few Take-Away Travelling Tips

Even though the Great Sand Dunes is Colorado’s best kept secret, you will need to practice safety and precaution when exploring the sand dunes. To ensuring that both you and your kids enjoy a memorable time at the venue, here are some tips to follow.

  • Always keep a map with you. The dunes are huge and never-ending; hence, getting lost is more common than you think. Whether you are hiking, in your RV, or exploring the park, having a map by your side will help you find your way back quickly.

  • Always make campground reservations beforehand. This rule applies if you’re planning to camp alongside the Pinion Flats. Since the reservations go quickly, it’s best to book your spot somewhere between April and October.
  • Pick the right season for your activities at the dune. Late May and June are the best times to visit the dunes as the landscape can get extremely hostile during rainfall, snowy, and windy seasons.
  • If possible, rent a jeep for your family. While you can explore much of the dunes in your RV, the real enjoyment starts when you go down and explore the Medano Pass, revealing alpine lakes, mountain passes, and snow peaks.

In addition to this, always stay prepared with your snacks, water, and safety gear because you never know when you’ll be needing them!


Parting Words

If you think you’ve ticked all the places from your bucket list, then you might need to re-think. The Great Sand Dunes National Park certainly stands out for its unique, mysterious, and beautiful landscape. For your next trip, book a ticket to this wonderful place and experience a new found-love for rolling dunes, icy mountain streams, roadside camping, and of course, sand-boarding!

Make sure to follow the safety tips, check the weather forecasts, and have an emergency kit with you all the time! With that, it’s time to have the time of your life, so book a ticket, make your reservations, and off you go.

Safe Travels!

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Your Guide To The Great Sand Dunes National Park

Book AuthorGoglides
PublisherGoglides Publication
LanguageEnglish
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The Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park: General Summary

U.S. National Park Service, restoration/cleanup by Matt Holly [Public domain] The Great Sand Dunes National Park is one of Colorado’s most unique and mysteriously beautiful tourist attractions. The dunes were formed through a natural geological process. The sand was essentially left behind by prehistoric lakes that had dried up. This mass then started blowing towards the Sangre Cristo Mountains, and slowly developed into crescent-shaped dunes that we know today.

It was Lt. Zebulon Pike who inadvertently discovered the dunes. In 1930, there was a gold mill established at the area but the venture slowly ended when locals and regulatory bodies protested for the sight to be conserved. Hence, in order to preserve the Great Sand Dunes, in 1932, a protection bill was drawn by President Herbert Hoover to preserve the land. The park was officially established as a national heritage site in 2004, and since then has been a popular attractions for both locals and tourists alike.

Although, the Great Sand Dunes receives visitors throughout the year, the most popular season has been from May to June. This is the peak of springtime and one of the best times to visit the seasonal stream at the Medano Creek. With so many natural and man-made attractions at the dune-fields, the place has a fantastic Visitor’s Centre that offers a 20-minute movie about the park, exhibit areas with photography and exquisite paintings, and an elaborate Park store with souvenirs and informational goods! With so much to offer, let’s explore this beautiful vacation spot!


Introduction

Colorado is often referred to as America’s most beautiful state, and for the right reasons. Whether you’re an avid traveler or someone who has been saving up for the trip of their life, by all means, Colorado should be at the top of the bucket list. It has everything – from picturesque mountain views, adventurous hikes, and delicious cuisine to the most gorgeous, relaxing spas, awesome heritage sites, and of course, wildlife.

As an all-rounder vacation spot, many places in Colorado offer so much more than what meets the eye. Ranked as one of the most active and healthiest states of the US, Colorado is a green and verdant wonderland for those who want to revive in nature. Consistently noted as one of the best places to visit during summers, Colorado truly stands out for its strikingly scenic natural landscapes. For this feature, we’ve decided to cover the spectacular Great Sand Dunes National Park.

It’ll truly be a great loss if you miss out on this slice of heaven. Not only is it super affordable but also a wonderful retreat for those who are searching for some soulful silence in their lives. Don’t be fooled by the arid desert dunes. They are but ripples – full of life and vigor. The Great Sand Dunes National Park is one of Colorado’s best kept secrets, and it’s time to unfold the pure wonder hiding under its landscape.

Keep your eyes open for the magnificent wildlife in the sky and on land as you travel through the national park. Proudly boasting the highest and most beautiful sand dunes in the world, this national park is where dreams come true.

Prepare to be amazed by the brilliant black sand shimmering over the dunes as you hike to the highest spot. Made from pure magnetite deposits, the park hosts some of nature’s most eerie and visually striking marvels. So, waste no more time and delve into an out-of-this-world experience at the Great Sand Dunes National Park!


Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

1. A Memorable History One simply can’t appreciate the humbling beauty and simplicity of the Great Sand Dunes unless they learn about its history. Colorado is actually home to a total of 13 national parks, and the Great Sand Dunes is one of them. Compared to the rest of the natural sites, this one is fairly new.

Located in the San Luis Valley, the dunes are known for this distinct and unique landscape. Home to the tallest and towering sand dunes in America, the landscape was formed through a series of several interesting natural events.

The dunes were formed from the sand left behind by prehistoric lakes. Once they had dried up, the sand blew towards the Sangre de Cristo Mountains at a low curve and slowly shaped into the great dunes. In fact, Lt. Zebulon Pike is the first recorded explorer in history who crossed the Sangre de Cristo Mountain to get to the Great Sand Dunes. Under the auspices of Thomas Jefferson, the team of explorers was searching the Louisiana Purchase Territory when they came across these beautiful sand dunes.

What’s even more interesting is that in 1930, there was a gold mill erected in the area because there were speculations that there was gold hidden in the sand of the dunes. This eventually led to heightened protection of the local area in order to preserve the Great Sand Dunes. Eventually, in 1932, the bill for protection was signed into law by President Herbert Hoover.

Fast forward to a few decades later, the regulatory bodies decided to expand this landscape into a magnificent national park for visitors to enjoy. The dunes finally turned into a national park in 2004.

2. Planning Your Itinerary Whether you are traveling solo, with family, or have booked a group tour, everything in this guide will certainly help you plan the perfect itinerary no matter how short or long your stay at the Great Sand Dunes National Park is.

The national park may seem too huge to be explored in just a two-day trip. Hence, if you truly want to enjoy a fun-filled vacation, make sure your stay is at least a week long. Anyone who comes here mostly starts their trip with sight-seeing and admiring the tallest dunes. Most people who come here during the early summers usually pre-book a time for hiking. Since the landscape is made up of sand dunes, the hikes are usually short but stretch far and wide. So, if you have kids who are new to hikes, the dunes are an excellent place to start. The Great Sand Dunes National Park is famous for the Visitor Centre, the Medano Creek, the San Luis Valley, and of course, sand-boarding on the dunes. This guide covers all the popular spots to help you enjoy a well-rounded trip at the dunes and help you plan your itinerary accordingly!

3. The Best Time to Visit

Although the national park can be visited during any time of the year, the best months begin from May. During the spring, the snow melts and therefore the water starts to run. The Medano Creek runs faster; however, it’s never too deep or dangerous. The water reaches a foot or so and is perfect to enjoy a splash.

Although the summers are pleasant, you will have to stay wary of mosquitoes in the night. You can also visit the park during winters, but the Great Sand Dunes may not be the ideal place on an especially windy day. You can expect sandblasts and a lot of inconvenience, so it’s best to avoid windy days.

Try to visit the area during pleasant summers, early spring, and cool to cold winters. The daytime summer temperatures at the dunes typically vary from 21-27 Degree C. In the night, you can expect them to drop way below that, so prepare accordingly.

If you’re especially looking to avoid high winds, then late April to early June are the months you should be looking to avoid. Winter nights at the Great Sand Dunes can go below zero, while March is the snowiest month in the region. Hence, use this information to plan your trip.

It’s always a good idea to check the forecast for at least the next two to three weeks to prepare sufficiently.

4. Calculating Travel Costs Many people book a vehicle – either a commercial or private one – to explore the dunes. Apart from your travel costs of coming to Colorado, the Great Sand dunes is actually a very affordable place to visit. The entry fee for non-commercial vehicles is $20, while motorcycles are charged only $15. If you’re using a large vehicle with people who are at least 16 or above, you can expect $10 per each passenger.

On top of all of this, you can also gain annual access to the park for at least a year for just $80. You can use these passes to enjoy the national park and the wildlife. And, if you have kids who are 9 or under, there’s also a bonus pass for 4th graders that allows free entry for the duration of completing that school year.

There are many cheap hotels that offer up to 50% off near the Great Sand Dunes National Park. You can check out hotels.com for suitable hotel packages and recommendations. You can filter the hotels by average nightly rate, guest review rating, or even star rating. Rest assured the traveling costs aren’t that much compared to other places in Colorado. And if you decide to camp out, you can save up a few dollars there too!


The Top Ten Things to Do at Great Sand Dunes National Park

The Great Sand Dunes National Park— a national heritage site— is everything you would dream of. Experience an unmatched sense of wonder as you travel and admire the soft dunes that look like luscious ripples of an ocean under the night sky. Colorado may be home to the some of the most scenic national parks, but nothing beats the Great Sand Dunes in its simple splendor, natural magnificence, and adventurous avenues.

The spectacular wonders of this park are unique and slowly reveal themselves to the visitor, unlike the instant gratification from traveling through the Grand Canyon or trekking up the mountains to relish the awe-struck view of the mighty Crater Lake. You will have to remain patient and calm to truly enjoy the slowly-revealing landscape that is full of national secrets and fun activities.

The landscape unfurls in slow motion. As you begin to approach the sand dunes, the soft swerves of the desert will start to appear, revealing its exotic beauty. The dunes may appear small against the even more beautiful backdrop of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains at first.

And, they will continue to be dwarfed by their surroundings until you reach the border. Standing 750-feet tall, stretching for mile after mile, this ocean of a desert will simply leave you in awe. The sand hills are breathtaking, and in the words of Zebulon Pike, resemble the “a sea in a storm”. Truly, the dunes are the calmest sea you will ever witness. Even when it’s devoid of vegetation, the Great Sand Dunes are nothing short of spectacular and have a mysterious charm of their own.

If you wish to break away from the daily grind and relish the quietude of nature, then there really isn’t a better place to visit this summer. Whether you’re traveling with your beloved, your family, or your friends, everyone can find a place and time they will love spending at the Great Sand Dunes National Park. So, without further ado, let’s explore the top ten things you can do at this gorgeous vacation spot!

1. Hiking on the High Dune

Colorado is home to many of the highest and tallest natural landscapes. The Great Sand Dunes is also one such place where you will find the tallest sand dune in North America. Whether you’re a professional trekker or harbor a passion for heights, the High Dunes offer a wonderful opportunity for ambitious travelers to hike on the summit that reaches as high as 750 feet.

You’ll be surprised to know that the Great Sand Dunes National Park is one of the few, rare places that also allows pets to accompany you on the trails. So, if you’re looking to spend some quality time, overcoming an adventure with your furry pal, then the High Dunes is where you need to be.

However, it may take around five hours for you to reach the dunes. If it feels too overwhelming, you can just settle for the unnamed dune that looks the tallest from the parking lot. Even the nearest dunes offer a spectacular view of the entire horizon that is simply not to be missed! Also, since this is a desert, you have to be careful of the temperatures, especially during the summers.

They can spike up really high during the hotter months, so make sure you’re traveling during a safe time period. Climbing dunes is always a wonderful experience as it brings you closer to nature. Just make sure you are well-equipped with food, water, and a safety gear. Many travelers have described this beautiful summit to be “simply exotic”, “simply un-missable”, and “a true revelation”. The miles to cover will certainly be tough, but once you’ve made your way through the sand ridges and finally find yourself standing at the heights of the High Dune, the experience will be nothing short of spiritual and euphoric. It might take you a little more than 30 minutes to complete the journey and if you’re up for it, do venture further up to reach the official highest dunes of North America – the Star Dune. However, during your time there, stay wary of the downpour or even worse, a storm! Make sure you’re fully prepared for the weather predictions to enjoy your time at the dunes to the hilt!

2. The Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center

The Visitor Center is the first place most people associate with the Great Sand Dunes National Park. The Visitor Center is brimming with interactive exhibits for people who harbor a love for photography and ancient art paintings. Find out about the history of the Great Sand Dunes and all the fun activities you can do here in an entire day!

Your visit to Colorado will remain incomplete if you don’t visit this place as it offers a wonderful travel guide for both veteran and new visitors for the Great Sand Dunes. Here you can enjoy learning about the Dunes, their topography and history, and how they came to be one of the finest national heritage sites of Colorado.

If you have little kids, you should definitely take a trip to the visitor center, as it will be a fun, learning experience for the little ones. You will come across small gift shops and a park store that is brimming with informational and fun books, T-shirts, posters, postcards, and magnets for you and your kids to take home as souvenirs.

The rangers during the guide are extremely polite, friendly, and helpful and they make your visit to the center a truly memorable one. As a warm weather activity, the visitor center is a wonderful place to learn all about the dunes while actually exploring the landscape itself! It’s also a great place for people who find the elevated dunes a bit too overwhelming so they can spend their time at the visitor center for a virtual experience.

The staff also provides solar viewing through a telescope facility and stunning moonlight walks to admire the landscape in all its grandeur and beauty. All in all, you will simply love your time spent here! The Great Sand Dunes are truly a wonder to behold and the visitor center should be the first place to hit after you reach here. With interactive displays and many informative guides on the wildlife and plants that engulf the sand dunes, your visit here will be memorable. Make sure to take plenty of water and hydrate yourself during your travels as the desert climate can be dehydrating.

3. Exploring the Medano Creek

The Medano Creek is yet another heavenly vacation spot that you will fall head over heels in love with. Prepare to be enraptured by the vagaries of nature at this place – a seasonal stream that hits its peak flow during the month of May. Colorado enjoys pleasant springtime during this time around, which makes it the perfect time to dip into the Medano Creek. Late May is one of the best times to visit the creek and enjoy some water splashing with your family and friends. For an arid and rather dry place like the Great Sand Dunes, the Medano Creek can be an exciting spot to cool off and beat the heat. Temperatures in May are usually milder, ranging from 60-70 Degree F with occasional high winds during the afternoon. However, you should stay on the lookout for light showers in May as the elevation does receive snowfall during this time period.

Make sure you check the weather and climate forecasts so that you dress and pack accordingly for the trip. Even when the humidity levels can high, there are rarely any mosquitoes in May. However, you will have to stay wary of “no-see-ums” in the region. Early June is also a good time to experience the highest flowing streams of the Great Sand Dunes. Enjoy with inflatable water toys and plan water activities with your children as the peak seasons offer a great floating space.

The beauty of Medano Creek is indescribable. The ice-cold water flows down from the mountain peaks with some ice sparkling in the sunshine and then gradually warms up as the amber beams of the sun intensify. It only takes a few hours before the stream water reaches the perfect temperature to take a swim in. Tourists and locals, both flock around from different regions to taste this seasonal phenomenon. It is no surprise that the creek is incredibly popular during late May and early June. At this point, you will be met with long traffic lines and humongous crowds engulfing the region. Both the beaches and the parking lots are overflowing with families there to enjoy some water-splashing. Planning a trip during this time of the year will truly be unforgettable!

If you visit the creek during September or August, the water will have completely dried up. It will, however, have a gentle flow that is usually 1-2 cm deep near the eastern edge of the dunes. If you have a 4WD, you can visit the creek in late summer after covering a hiking trip, which is exactly 3.5 km from the Dunes Parking lot. All in all, this place is a great escape for when you want to take a dip in a cold, sparkling stream!

4. Driving on the Medano Primitive Road

Now that you’re familiar with the word Medano, here’s another treat for you. You can go on a long drive and explore the stunning strip of the Medano Primitive Road. If you’re into adventurous trips into grand forest areas, then you will seriously enjoy your drive through the risky yet exciting Medano Pass Road. When you start your journey from the Great Sand Dunes, this road will cross the Medano Creek at least nine times to try to reach the Medano Pass.

As we discussed earlier, the creek flow is at its peak during late May, highest at dawn and mild during the afternoon period. The road is a beautiful stretch of autumn trees, refreshing foliage and forest life that will simply take your breath away. The road connects the Wet Mountain Valley and the Great Sand Dunes with the Colorado State Highway 69 as the intersection.

The area is only accessible during the warmer months through a 4WD as by this time, the creek usually dries up. You can also easily visit the Great Sand Dunes National Preserve and the Medano Creek. If you’re interested in some mountain wild-life, brace yourself for the natural habitat of bighorn sheep and exhilarating areas of deep sand. Your drive will probably last around 3 hours at most, provided that your pit stop exceeds more than 20 minutes.

During your drive, you will have to make sure that the tire pressure is reduced to at least 20 psi. This is because during this time period, the sand is rather dry, soft, and squishy. For your vehicle’s safety, it’s best to keep the speed slow and steady throughout your drive. You will have to re-inflate the tires once you start over the big rocks and boulders in Medano Canyon. Again, the rule is to drive slowly to avoid causing any damage to your vehicle or engine.

Here’s a great opportunity for roadside camping along the Medano Road. If you’re looking to stop over and enjoy a night with nature, then there are a total of 21 campsites at the Great Sand Dunes National Preserve that can be accessed throughout the stretch of the road. The camping spots start from the Piñon Flats Campground, about 5.2 miles from where the actual road begins. However, in order to make roadside camping a safe experience for tourists and families, car camping is only allowed for a designated number of places within the national preserve. These areas are strictly monitored for safety when it comes to creek, snow, and road conditions. The camping sites are open around late spring till early fall.

5. Sand Boarding and Sledding

Your trip won’t be complete without sand boarding at a dune-field. Whether you’re new to the activity or a veteran in the making, the best thing about sand boarding at the dunes is that they are naturally less riskier than other sports on elevated areas. If you want to taste the thrill and elation of snow-boarding without icicles rushing down your throat, then you should opt for sand boarding. When done right, this could be the most fun venture you ever embark on. However, you have to make sure that you only use sand sleds and sand boards for the activity. Snow sleds, cardboards, or even soft plastic items that look like they’ll slide fail to do so over and down the dunes. Although considered generally safe, it’s always a good idea to accompany your children as they explore the dunes sliding.

The best thing about sand-boarding, skiing, and sledding is that you can do these activities anywhere across the dune-field as long as they don’t disturb the vegetated areas. Your journey can start from the main Dunes Parking Area, which offers a wonderful landscape for beginners with their small and medium-sized slopes. But if you have teens and adults accompanying you, then feel free to venture the longer, higher slopes near the high ridges of the Great Sand Dunes.

Of course, this sports activity will need protective gear and equipment, which can be easily rented for very reasonable rates. The rentals are located in different regions near the dune-field. One rental is called Kristi Mountain Sports, which is by far the most popular in Alamosa. About 41 miles from the Great Sand Dunes Visitor Centre, the place rents sand boards, protective gear, and sleds throughout the year. Only when the sand is frozen will the place close their rented services because it may damage the sand boards.

Another great place to buy sand-boarding equipment is Spin Drift Sand Board Rentals. This one is located 25 miles from the Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center, in downtown Blanca. The equipment is available from late April through mid-October and is quite affordable.

People come to the dunes to enjoy fun picnics and of course, splashing in the sand. As a get-away, the dune-field is altogether a different and electrifying experience that you simply can’t miss! You get to enjoy sceneries that you have never seen before. There’s really nothing like enjoying the calming view of rolling sand dunes with beautiful prairies and vistas of mountains right in the heart of Colorado. The landscape beckons everyone to put their adventurous boots on and step into the gorgeous fields of never-ending dunes. Colorado truly has it all. Soak in the warm sun and explore the adventurer in you as you head into the mysterious but wildly beautiful Great Sand Dunes!

6. Night Sky-Watching and Star-Gazing

The International Dark-Sky Association has officially designated The Great Sand Dunes as the International Dark Sky Park. Quite fairly, this park does deserve that honor and more. The dunes are laden with mysterious beauty, soft rolling hills, and pleasant winds that blow across the entire park throughout the year. The Great Sand Dunes National Park is certainly one of the most beautiful places to spend an entire night.

With the exceptional crystal-clear quality and grandeur of its dark sky in the night, the Great Sand Dunes has been recognized for its natural, raw beauty. This is one reason why tourists from all around the world flock to the dunes to appreciate, admire, and capture the magnificent view of the night sky. Nothing quite beats the view at this national park—the stars blazing across the dark mass and the stunning clouds floating across the sky. The best thing about this place is that the regulatory bodies make a special effort to educate tourists, families visiting the area, and of course young, curious people on how they can preserve the beauty of the night sky.

The Great Sand Dunes actually joins three other national park sites, including a total of two dozen other parks as designators of the International Dark Sky Parks. This only goes to show that the natural wonder of Colorado is unbeatable when it comes to its magnificence and preservation. The high elevation of the dune fields, dry air, and lack of pollution and of course, the light make this place truly deserving of its night sky admiration.

So, how can you enjoy the night sky? In order to see the most stars, you should plan your visit around nights with a late moonrise. You can check out the moon calendar to enjoy moonless nights. Half the park is admired after dark, so you won’t be needing a flashlight to amble through the soft dunes. If you’re visiting on a full moon night, the light will be enough to get you through the entire landscape.

However, before you visit, make sure you’ve gone through the weather forecast to evade any rainy or excessively windy periods. Exploring the dunes after dark is adventurous and exciting; however, make sure you’re travelling with guides or know your way back to the vehicle. The dunes cover a humongous landscape, so come prepared with your maps, fully charged phones, and snacks to make sure that you as well as your kids enjoy the journey safely.

When you start hiking back to the Dunes Parking Lot, take the path along the Medano Creek leading towards the left end, right next to the long line of trees. And, be careful not to use your flashlight too much as it can obstruct your view and block the gorgeous, dimly lit scene of the wildlife and the night sky.

7. Fun Weekly Ranger Programs

Since the Great Sand Dunes is already a natural attraction for its unique landscape, the place is really big on preservation and education about the environment. Conserving the sand dunes is one of the biggest objectives of the regulatory bodies, and the ranger programs are a wonderful initiative to educate visitors about the environment.

Ranger programs typically start from mid-May all the way to October, which is also accompanied by pleasant winds and lovely springtime. Although they’re available other times of the year as well, May and June are the best times to hop on one of these enlightening programs.

This can be especially fun for your little kids who get to learn about the topography, how it was formed centuries ago, and how people are taking care of it and preserving it for later generations to admire. During the exploration, you can enjoy Solar Telescope Viewing that will simply take your breath away once you look at the sun as the spectacular, blazing ball of fire that it is.

The Ranger program has an entire schedule that is listed on the National Park Service website. Plan a trip depending on your schedule and make sure to book a spot during the weekends. The program includes “The Singing Sands”, which is a thrilling symphony of animal and geological sounds. The idea behind the program is to make visitors appreciate the hidden beauty and songs in nature. You can find the schedule at the Visitor Center. Apart from this, there is also a Dunes Dance and Magic Workshop, Whispering Sand Station, and Shaker Building Station that you and your kids will absolutely love!

8. Sunset Hiking at Escape Dunes

The geological wonders of this national park simply do not end. Another natural phenomenon waiting for you is the Escape Dunes. Only the luckiest people are able to witness these masses of land. The escape dunes are small dunes that retreat away from the main dune and mostly occur once a year.

They can be seen at the Medano Creek, towards the east side of the main field. Scientists have been documenting its movement since a very long time and have named them as the “Escape Dunes” as they tend to move further away from the direction of the main dune fields. They form sand, which is naturally-occurring and not recycled by Medano Creek.

So, how does Sun Set Hiking fit into all of this? There is no doubt that both the sunset and sunrise are beautiful beyond imagination, and what makes them even better is when you’re slowly climbing towards them.

The Escape Dunes are one of the best places to experience this scene as the sun slowly dips into the horizon. Whether you choose to climb barefoot or put on your favorite boots, the entire journey is simply surreal and gives you many opportunities for Insta-worthy pictures! While the Escape Dunes are just one part of the entire landscape, the field is brimming with different folds of dunes such as the Parabolic Dunes, the Barchan Dunes, and the Nebka Dunes.

For hiking purposes, you can easily find protective gear and rent it or simply pack yourself a survival kit, put your boots on, and get going. The journey up the sand dunes is worth taking and opens your eyes to a whole new world of beauty!

9. San Luis Valley

The San Luis Valley is nothing short of the beauty that the Great Sand Dunes boasts of. Mystic, stunning, and full of exciting places, this valley comprises a total of seven counties and towns that are home to the most delicious cuisine and tourist-worthy attractions.

Some of these towns that you’ve probably heard of are Alamosa, Del Norte, South Fork, La Veta, Creede, Crestone, and Fort Garland.

The valley covers nearly 500,000 acres worth of public land that is filled with soaring mountains, flat prairies, geothermal wells that have produced enjoyable hot springs, and chilly mountain streams. The valley has nearly half of the natural topographic wonders in its fold.

There are spas where you can relax and rejuvenate yourself after a rigorous climb up the dunes, and rough and tumble rodeos for a fun, sporty activity.

In the evenings, you can spot the rare wildlife hiding in the dune fields and revel in the pleasant springtime wind blowing across the park. At night, brace yourself for the magnificent dark sky that is emblazoned with endless stars.

The best thing about the San Luis Valley is that it’s so much more than just a natural attraction. When you visit the San Luis Valley, you can enjoy the free concerts, auto racing opportunities, eclectic music venues, and gorgeous, historic downtown buildings. The San Luis Valley is just unmissable.

10. Picnic at Alamosa

Colorado has never failed to captivate the attention of visitors and tourists from all around the world. Alamosa is a popular, well-established refuge for rare wildlife and migratory birds that make a stop at this beautiful town.

Alamosa is truly the perfect vacation spot as it has many kid-friendly options and its natural beauty is surrounded by gigantic black and brown mountains at the back. To reach this town, it will take around four hours from Denver, but every second is worth it. For people who want something more than just the Great Sand Dunes, Alamosa is a wonderful place to visit.

Home to the breath-taking Zapata Falls, Alamosa offers great views of water bodies, mountain streams, and of course, the sand dunes to admire and enjoy. While the Great Sand Dunes is the crown jewel when it comes to top-notch attractions, there are still many other places in Alamosa that are certainly worth your time and money.

Your kids will absolutely love sledding down and climbing over the naturally-occurring soft dunes that run all through the Medano Creek. Once you arrive at the Zapata Falls, the scene will impel you to slow down and soak in the beauty before you. After a lovely time at the dunes, you can end the day by visiting these falls, which are located just a half a mile from the Dunes parking lot. Your kids can splash and frolic in the natural stream while you relax or join them in the fun. The Zapata Falls is also a good place to enjoy a picnic and spend an entire afternoon simply listening to the gushing water behind you. You can easily access the falls from Highway 150 as it is a short and easy drive.

Another great attraction at Alamosa is the Rio Grande. If you haven’t had the opportunity to spot wildlife in the region, then the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge is the place to go for hunting and hiking. On your visit there, you will be able to spot beautiful migratory birds like the willow flycatcher, Lewis’ woodpecker, and the yellow-billed cuckoo. To make your trip memorable, enjoy hot springs, the Rio Grande River Trail, and the delicious cuisine at the Campus Café!


The Best Accommodations

When it comes to the best accommodation, you need to look at your budget, proximity to the national park, and of course, the duration of your stay. For this reason, here are some of the best places to stay in during your time at the Great Sand Dunes National Park.

1. Great Sand Dunes Lodge As a popular hotel for tourists, the lodge is located at Highway 150 and offers one of the most reasonable rates for a week-long stay. The place is a favorite spot for hikers, photographers, stargazers, and bikers. Since this lodge is the closest to the national park, located right at the foothills of the Front Range of the Rockies, the backyard is brimming with beautiful pinion pines that rise up all the way towards the soaring peaks. Along with spacious bedrooms that are ideal for couples and large families, the lodge also offers amazing food, a heated indoor pool, and cookout in the gas grills as well as other amenities to enjoy your tour of the dunes!

2. Comfort Inn & Suites This one has really nice suites, so if you’re planning for a long stay, Comfort Inn and Suites is a great economical choice. Located 28 miles from the Great Sand Dunes National Park, the lodge is a clean, quiet, and enjoyable place for families and couples. With relaxing hot tubs, heated pools, and easy access from the highway, Comfort Inn and Suites takes second place on our list.

3. Mountain View Motor Inn Offering excellent customer service and non-smoking rooms-- this hotel offers a kid-friendly zone to enjoy the fantastic view of the dunes. Located just 30 minutes away from the national park, the place also offers sledding and sand boarding equipment for visitors at extremely reasonable rates.

4. Valley Motel Next is the Valley Motel, which feels just like your second home. Offering free parking and breakfast throughout your stay, this place has five-star guest rooms with all the amenities that you could wish for! Located in Alamosa and only 26 miles from the national park, Valley Motel is a great, economical place for a short stay with kids.


A Few Take-Away Travelling Tips

Even though the Great Sand Dunes is Colorado’s best kept secret, you will need to practice safety and precaution when exploring the sand dunes. To ensuring that both you and your kids enjoy a memorable time at the venue, here are some tips to follow.

  • Always keep a map with you. The dunes are huge and never-ending; hence, getting lost is more common than you think. Whether you are hiking, in your RV, or exploring the park, having a map by your side will help you find your way back quickly.

  • Always make campground reservations beforehand. This rule applies if you’re planning to camp alongside the Pinion Flats. Since the reservations go quickly, it’s best to book your spot somewhere between April and October.
  • Pick the right season for your activities at the dune. Late May and June are the best times to visit the dunes as the landscape can get extremely hostile during rainfall, snowy, and windy seasons.
  • If possible, rent a jeep for your family. While you can explore much of the dunes in your RV, the real enjoyment starts when you go down and explore the Medano Pass, revealing alpine lakes, mountain passes, and snow peaks.

In addition to this, always stay prepared with your snacks, water, and safety gear because you never know when you’ll be needing them!


Parting Words

If you think you’ve ticked all the places from your bucket list, then you might need to re-think. The Great Sand Dunes National Park certainly stands out for its unique, mysterious, and beautiful landscape. For your next trip, book a ticket to this wonderful place and experience a new found-love for rolling dunes, icy mountain streams, roadside camping, and of course, sand-boarding!

Make sure to follow the safety tips, check the weather forecasts, and have an emergency kit with you all the time! With that, it’s time to have the time of your life, so book a ticket, make your reservations, and off you go.

Safe Travels!