Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, an extremely out-of-place heap of shifting sand located in the world’s largest alpine valley, is one of Colorado’s most remarkable natural wonders. The dunes were formed over millions of years by blowing sand meeting the unflinching barrier of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which rise from the valley floor to heights of more than 14,000 feet. Climbing to the top of High Dune, with a panoramic view of the dune field, surrounding valley, and distant mountain ranges, is a seminal Colorado experience. And Medano Creek, which disappears much of the year, becomes a popular swimming and wading spot in late spring and early summer.
The national park actually extends far past the dunes, from the valley floor to the craggy summits towering above, offering a wide range of adventures for hikers and four-wheel drive enthusiasts.
Here is your guide to Great Sand Dunes, by the numbers.
The number of years scientists estimate it took the dunes to form.
The per-vehicle entry fee.
The number of sites you’ll find available after 5 p.m. on any summer night without making a reservation first.
The number of ecological zones in the park, which in order from lowest to highest are the sabkha (wetlands), grasslands, dune field, riparian, montane forest, subalpine forest, and tundra.
The span of time experts suspect humans have been visiting Great Sand Dunes.
The number of water sources you’ll find after leaving the parking lot and Medano Creek.
13 billion cubic meters:
The estimated volume of sand in the dunes.
The number of animal species known to occupy the park and preserve, including 7 reptiles, 5 fish, 6 amphibians, and 59 mammals.
The highest elevation in the park, at the summit of Tijeras Peak.
The price to rent a sandboard for surfing the dunes at Kristi Mountain Sports in nearby Alamosa.
The year explorer Zebulon Pike became the first explorer to officially record his visit to the Dunes. He wrote, “When we encamped, I ascended one of the largest hills of sand, and with my glass could discover a large river [the Rio Grande] …The sand-hills extended up and down the foot of the White Mountains about 15 miles, and appeared to be about 5 miles in width. Their appearance was exactly that of the sea in a storm, except as to color, not the least sign of vegetation existing thereon.”
40 cubic feet per second:
The average peak flow of Medano Creek, usually reached in late May or early June.
0 cubic feet per second:
The flow of Medano Creek during winter.
What We Believe
We are driven by our deep respect for our environment, and our passionate commitment to sustainable tourism and conservation. We believe in the right for everyone - from all backgrounds and cultures - to enjoy our natural world, and we believe that we must all do so responsibly. Learn More