If you plan a trip to the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, you’re sure to have an action-packed adventure coming up soon. Paying a visit to Colorado’s largest outdoor sandbox is fun for everyone. From family thrills to bucket list adventures to scenic memories, you’ll be guaranteed an unforgettable experience.
1. Feed Your Adrenaline with Sand Sledding
If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, then sledding down the massive dunes of pure golden sand will certainly get your heart racing. The Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve draws countless adrenaline junkies every year looking to fulfill their bucket list of extreme and high-flying adventures.
With elevations in the park ranging from 8,200 to 13,604 feet, the high altitude makes a big difference for newcomers looking to explore the sandy terrain – it’s important to stay hydrated and well-rested to prevent altitude sickness from occurring.
You’ve got two options when it comes to sliding down the dunes – on a board or on a sled. The board is much more of a challenge. If it’s your first time on either, try the sled first – they seem to get going faster anyway.
2. Climb North America’s Tallest Sand Dune
The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is home to one of the tallest sand dunes in North America (Star Dune), with heights reaching over 750 feet tall. Those brave enough to make the taxing several hour trek will be rewarded with jaw-dropping views. If you’re looking for an easier alternative, make the quicker trek to High Dune which rises 699 feet off the ground.
In the summer, sand temperatures can soar up to 150 degrees F. Be sure to wear closed-toe shoes to protect your feet and check the temperature of the sand before taking your four-legged friends with you on the dunes. Plan to hike early in the day so you can be off the dunes during the afternoon. This will help you avoid extreme temperatures and afternoon lightning storms.
3. See Every Star within the Milky Way
Colorado is home to some of the most remote and beautiful destinations in the world – and lucky for stargazers, the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is open 24 hours a day for watching the night sky. The big open stretches of delicate sand and incredibly quiet evenings spent in the dunes makes for the perfect opportunity for catching a glimpse of the milky way shining brightly against the mountain sky.
4. Brace Yourself for an Off-Roading Adventure
Immerse yourself in the mountainous beauty with a scenic drive up Medano Pass Primitive Road. Connecting the Great Sand Dunes with the Wet Mountain Valley and the Colorado State Highway 69, this 22-mile road provides an unforgettable and unique off-roading adventure. Be sure to set aside at least 2.5 – 3 hours for making this scenic journey. It’s also important to know that ATVs are not permitted anywhere inside the park.
4WD vehicles with high-clearance are required for traveling along this rocky, sandy, and creek-crossing route. For current road conditions and closures, click here. This can be a risky activity. Participate at your own risk.
5. Camp Out Under The Stars
Aside from specular mountain scenery, the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is the place to go for sleeping in the great outdoors and camping under a star-filled sky. Campsites at the Pinon Flats Campground, which is located just one mile from the Visitors Center, can be reserved up to 6 months in advance for peak season dates from May through September. Pets are welcomed but must be leashed at all times. For additional area campgrounds within 40 miles of the Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center, click here.
6. End Your Day with A Beautiful Mountain Sunset
If you’re the type of traveler that craves a colorful and awe-inspiring sunset, the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is the place for you. Among the golden hours, visitors are almost guaranteed to catch a breathtaking sunset or sunrise with mountain ranges shadowing off in the distance. A sunrise here is one travel experience worth waking up for!
7. Go Waterfall Chasing with a Hike to Zapata Falls
Discovering Zapata Falls is as easy as a quick road trip away from the park. This 0.9 moderately trafficked out and back trail will lead you to a beautiful waterfall (sometimes frozen) tucked away in a slot canyon. Along the way, you’ll catch stunning views of the Sand Dunes and the Sangre De Cristo Range. While the hike to the falls is relatively short, the drive to the trailhead consists of a 3-mile road of rough terrain and deep potholes. It can be damaging to some cars.
Zapata Falls is also another great option for camping. Just be prepared to have a backup plan in mind, as campsites are available on a first-come, first served basis.
8. Swing by The Visitors Center
Make your first stop at the Visitors Center and pick up a trail guide. At the Visitors Center, you’ll also find park films, interactive exhibits, updated weather forecasts, and a number of rangers who will help you make the most out of your travels. Backcountry permits can also be obtained here, as well.
9. Discover the Natural Beauty of Alpine Lakes
If you’re headed to the Great Sand Dunes National Park, then you don’t want to miss these stunning alpine treasures. Whether you’re looking for a beautiful day-hike or an overnight backing adventure, Medano Lake (7.4 miles round-trip) and Upper and Lower Sand Creek Lakes from Music Pass Trail are great options. For a longer and more strenuous trek, check out Little Sand Creek Lakes Trail.
10. Have Yourself a Sandy Photo Shoot
Pretty much anywhere where you point-and-shoot at these scenic sand dunes is going to result in a postcard-ready photo. Whether you’re after beautiful landscapes, sunset captures, or mountain ranges alone, you’ll definitely want to bring your camera for this sandbox adventure!
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