“Dunes” barely even begins to describe the mountains of sand within the park’s boundaries. It doesn’t feel like you’re in southern Colorado, it feels like a different country altogether. Take a moment to appreciate the views of the dunes with the epic, snowcapped mountains in the background and the streams in the foreground, and then take your shoes off before wandering through the creek and right up the dunes. It’s exceptionally beautiful at dusk, and the stargazing here is legendary.
“The tallest dunes in North America”
Great Sand Dunes National Park has the tallest dunes in North America are the centerpiece in a diverse landscape of grasslands, wetlands, conifer and aspen forests, alpine lakes, and tundra. Experience this diversity through hiking, sand sledding, splashing in Medano Creek, wildlife watching, and more! Medano Creek, flowing at the base of Great Sand Dunes, is one of the few and best places in the world to experience "surge flow", where creek water comes in rhythmic waves. Whether you splash in Medano Creek, slide down the dunes, go birdwatching in wetlands, or ascend a 13,000' peak, you'll discover many kinds of wilderness recreation at Great Sand Dunes. One of the most valued features of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is one that can't be seen. According to a recent Soundscape Study conducted by the National Park Service, this park is the quietest national park in the 48 contiguous United States. Many visitors to the site try to sled down the dunes. The Park Service provides hints as to the best time to sled (when the sand is wet) and which equipment works best. Visitors anytime other than late fall through early spring are also advised to avoid bare feet or sandals, and stick with sturdy, closed footwear. While the sand looks alluring, its chocolate color absorbs heat. The daylight sand temperature can reach 140 degrees and will burn bare feet. Some of the first people to enter the San Luis Valley and the Great Sand Dunes area were nomadic hunters and gatherers whose connection to the area centered around the herds of mammoths and prehistoric bison that grazed nearby. They were Stone Age people who hunted with large stone spear or dart points now identified as Clovis and Folsom points. Like nearly everyone else until about 400 years ago, they walked into the San Luis Valley. They apparently spent time here when hunting and plant gathering was good, and avoided the region during times of drought and scarcity. Gold and silver rushes occurred around the Rockies after 1853, bringing miners by the thousands into the state and stimulating mining businesses that operate to this day. Numerous small strikes occurred in the mountains around the San Luis Valley. People had frequently speculated that gold might be present in the Great Sand Dunes, and in the 1920s, local newspapers ran articles estimating its worth at anywhere from 17 cents/ton to $3/ton. Active placer mining operations sprang up along Medano Creek, and in 1932 the Volcanic Mining Company established a gold mill designed to recover gold from the sand. Although minute quantities of gold were recovered, the technique was too labor intensive, the stream too seasonal—and the pay-out too small—to support any business for long.
How is this place not awesome?
There is nothing like it and its a gem located all the way down in south of Colorado.
Drove hours after a flight from Houston and it was worth it. The view was breathtaking.
Great Sand Dunes entrance fee is only $3 per person. Always remember to check the weather and not go during storm/rainy days. Its too risky.
This place is huge and the hiking is a bit difficult. Make sure you wear appropriate clothing and shoes. I was a idiot not to. Oh and get prepared to be sandblasted! I recommend to bring a towel in case there is a wind and you would want to protect yourself from the sand in your eyes or being sand blasted all over your naked legs (If you are wearing shorts). You can even bring a ski mask or sunglasses to protect yourself. Remember to wear sunscreen too!
If you stop by Great Sand Dunes Oasis you can rent out Sandboards or Sandsleds for only $21 (includes tax) and get some breakfast.
I really wish I could of camped out here but my road trip had limited days so I was already set off to my next adventure.
Really neat! Definitely worth a stop.
I didn't climb to the top of the dunes as I am out of shape and was limited on time, but it sure seems as if it would be worth it.
Also, there's a free dry camping spot on the way to the dunes that I stayed in, right under Sacred White Shell Mountain. Just in case you're into that, GPS coordinates are 37.527, -105.5935.
One of the greatest wonders in North America. Bring a sled, a camera, and extra socks. The dunes go on forever, and you can spend hours checking the place out.
We almost deleted this stop from our trip...so glad we didn't. It turned out to be one of our family's favorite. Our young girls enjoyed splashing in Medeno Creek.
Great Sand Dunes National Park is one of the most incredibly surreal experiences one can ever have in the continental United States. Having gone in September 2014, my girlfriend and I made the lengthy trek to the highest dune in the park, some 800 ft. in the air. It is mesmerizing to look ahead and feel as though you're in the Sahara, then turn around and see the footsteps of the Rockies. The trek to the pinnacle is among the most physically demanding things I have ever done, but man was it worth it. The view from the top would take anyone's breath away, overlooking the dunes where the desert meets the mountains. It is an otherworldly opportunity.
The campgrounds are clean, well maintained, and very nice despite having few amenities. There is enough room to feel private, yet spaced close enough to feel safe. I was blown away by my experience at Great Sand Dunes. I cannot wait to return again the first chance I get.
The drive to the dunes was so infuriating. I could see the dunes for over an hour, but it seemed we'd never arrive. Just wasn't used to the West, where you can see such distances. But upon arriving it was truly amazing. I'm not sure if there's another similar place on Earth. Arriving in late May or early June would be best - as this is when the snow is melting in the mountains, and a shallow, wide stream of water rushes through the dunes. The kids played, we picnicked, and they rode the sleds down the dunes. Initially I thought I'd climb the highest dune I could find. I quickly found my endurance wasn't up to the task. Be prepared if you plan to hike. No sandals and lots of water.
This was one of the top stops of our vacation to Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico. We climbed to the top of the highest peak one morning and arrived just as the sun came over the horizon. We were the only ones there and the views were just amazing. Worth all the effort. We also stayed at the campgrounds which were very well maintained and spaced beautifully.
Definateley a cool place, reason i gave it four not five stars: two reasons. Im a photographer and the dunes are very well traveled in the spots i went to so photos without footprints are gonna require longer hikes which is ok. But the river brings alot of musquitos. Just be advised. No im not that guy who complains about everything. This is a place i would love to camp with friends and relax, not take photos at.
So much fun here! We rented a sandboard and a sled and stayed out until it was completely dark. I see other suggestions about bringing goggles and I wish I had done that! The sand kept blowing into my eyes which was miserable. We stayed in a camping cabin at the Great Sand Dunes Oasis, but I would probably just tent camp next time.
This park is ridiculous. I had no idea what to expect and I was not ready. I suggest going in the morning, as the afternoons usually have storms due to the nature of the geography. I need to go back so that I can spend a few hours climbing the dunes and getting amazing photos.
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Great Sand Dunes National Park
- Sun - Sat: 12:00 am - 11:59 pm
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Good for bird watching, hiking, and 6 more activities. Has a design vibe.
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