We spent a fun and relaxing 24 hours hiking, camping, and sand sledding at Great Sand Dunes National Park. Surrounded by groups of friends, families, solo travelers, and couples, this park offers something for every traveller.
- NPS Great Sand Dunes Camping Page
- Piñon Flats Campground (We stayed here and recommend it)
- Area Campgrounds
- 4WD Access
- Sand Sledding or Boarding
- Medano Creek (Seasonal in May-June depending on snow melt)
Exploring Great Sand Dunes
Trip Date: June 2018
A family member recommended that we stop by Great Sand Dunes National Park on our road trip and it was worth it! We drove about 2.5 hours to get there from Twin Lakes, CO after a morning hike in the Rockies. Since the drive through the desert was so flat, we could see a faint outline of the Sand Dunes in the distance from really far away. As we kept driving, the magnitude and magnificence of the Sand Dunes became clearer. We had never seen anything like it!
We reserved a campsite at Piñon Flats Campground ($20/night) abutting the dunes to give us an unobstructed view, which was perfect for sunset! Book your site in advance, the campground was quite crowded. Each site was equipped with bear proof lockers and a picnic table and there were communal bathrooms and water sources, but no showers.
As soon as we got there, we set up camp and took a hike up the sand dunes. A trail leads right from the campground so we didn’t have to drive anywhere to access the dunes. The path meanders through some shrubs and to a flat sand plain before the dunes. Medano Creek flows through this area seasonally around May to June with wavelike “surge flow” like low waves. The flow depends on the amount of snowpack and you can check the predictions and conditions on the National Park Service Medano Creek page. It was completely dry when we were there in mid June.
You can walk anywhere around the dunes, so we followed some ridgelines that were more packed down and gave us better footing. There are popular hikes that people recommend including High Dune and Star Dune, but we just wandered through the dunes exploring on our own, which we highly recommend! We had never been to a field of sand dunes like this before. It was truly a once in a lifetime activity. Cresting the first tall dune and gaining a vista over the entire field with the Sangre de Cristo Mountains as a backdrop was awe-inspiring. The dunes actually formed as prevailing winds blow sand that collects in the pocket formed by those mountains (read more about Great Sand Dunes Geology here).
After walking around the dunes for the afternoon, we returned to our campsite to watch the sun set behind them, which was spectacular.
The next morning, we drove just outside of the park and rented sand sleds at Great Sand Dunes Oasis (they also offer lodging and camping). Sand sleds and sand boards cost $20 per day to rent and they include board wax. You just need to rub a little on the bottom of the board before each run so it glides right over the sand. We spent the morning repeatedly climbing dunes and sledding down them, working up to bigger and bigger slopes until we had enough. It was a little exhausting and a ton of fun!
After the Great Sand Dunes, we hopped back in our car, still covered in sand, and began the 4.5 hour drive to Mesa Verde and the promise of a campground with showers.
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