Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado, USA
hiking,  north america,  outdoors

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Did you know Great Sand Dunes National Park has the tallest dunes in North America?

It’s over 750 feet in height and 30 square miles long. Elevation of 8200 ft (2499 m).

 

GETTING THERE

Great Sand Dunes is open 24/7. The park is a 4-hour drive from Denver, Colorado. Admission is free with the America the Beautiful pass. Otherwise, you pay $15 per vehicle.

During the summer, the sand can reach up to 150 degrees F. It’s best to hike early in the morning or in the evening.

 

THINGS TO DO AT GREAT SAND DUNES

Hike to High Dune

Hike Date: August 2018
Distance: 2.5 mile (4 km) roundtrip
Level of Difficulty: Difficult

My friend and I started this hike around 10 am and reached the first ridge, called High Dune, around 11 am. It’s 700 feet (213 m) high. The trail is not marked but just follow the steps of others and take your time.

High Dune Trail, Great Sand Dunes National Park
Trail to the High Dune

 

The farther up you go, the sand is more fine and no rocks. I kid you not, it will be a struggle trekking to the top. When people said walking in sand is tough, they weren’t lying.

This isn’t like regular hiking. Requires a lot more strength. I had to stop every 2 minutes to catch my breath and give my legs a rest. (Disclaimer: I’m not physically fit) 

It also didn’t help that the sand was already hot around 10 am. It was about 80 degrees Fahreneit.

Regardless, it was all worth it for the beautiful views at the top. The view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains (part of Rocky Mountains) and the sand dunes itself.

The highest point of the dunes is Star Dune, which is 755 feet (230 m) high. We didn’t go past the first ridge.

Top of the High Dune, Great Sand National Park
On top of the High Dune

 

What about footwear?

You can do without shoes and just wear socks like my friend and I did. If you choose to wear shoes, DO NOT wear flip-flops or any open-toe shoe if the sun is out. I wore flip-flops for a few seconds and the sand felt hot. 

There were many hiking in their shoes. So if you do want to walk with shoes, choose a closed-toe shoe. 

The Medano creek was dried up. Best time to see it wet is between April and July.

Dried up Medano Creek at Great Sand Dunes National Park
Medano Creek in August

 

Read: Hiking at Colorado’s Best National Park

 

Try Sandboarding or Sand Sledding
You can rent a sand sled or sandboard from the following:

  • Kristi Mountain Sports: $18/day + tax
  • Oasis Store: $20/day + tax

The Oasis Store is very close to the park and recommend it over driving to Kristi in Alamosa.

We rented a sandboard and sand sled from Kristi. The clerk demonstrated how to apply wax to the board and sled. You have to apply the wax before you slide down each time or else you’ll have a hard time.

No shoes are allowed on the bindings. You must put your bare feet or socks on the board.

Holding a sandboard and sand sled (Colorado)
The sandboard is to the left. The sand sled is to the right.

 

Tried sand sledding and sandboarding twice. The first attempt with the sand sled was from the High Dune. It was such an adrenaline rush! Felt scary as hell but nonetheless fun. Unfortunately, no photos of me were taken.

On the second attempt of sand sledding, I flipped. I was done. It goes so fast that I lost control. Plus the sand was so hot that I didn’t know how to use my hands to slow down.  

The sand got everywhere. In my ears, nose, eyes, mouth, and headwrap. I sneezed twice 4 minutes apart and it was because my nose had sand inside.

Panoramic View from High Dune

 

As for sandboarding, it is SO MUCH harder. Somehow I scratched myself. And I would fall 2 seconds later. Not sure what I was doing wrong.

In short, sand sledding is much more easier.

 

Stargazing

We arrived the day before and stopped at the dunes as the sun was setting, but it got pitch dark and you need a flashlight. No lights in the parking lot.

If you would like to see a lot of stars, visit NPS’ website for tips on how to plan your visit.

stargazing

 

Zapata Falls
The plan was to hike this falls but we ended up skipping it. It’s about 3 miles from the national park.

The road to the falls is a very rocky path. You will need to hike through the water into the cave to see the falls. It’s a short hike, about 0.5-mile roundtrip.

It’s a 20 foot high waterfall. You’ll get a view of the entire dunes and Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It’s a 8 mile drive.

 

ACCOMMODATION

My friend and I shared a room at Rodeway Inn in Alamosa, which is 30 minutes from the park.

Price: $76 per night

Looking for closer hotel? Here are some:

You can also book using the tool below.


Booking.com

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

  • If it’s very windy or you’ll be sand sledding or sandboarding, cover your face if you don’t want a running nose. I had sand in my ears for a couple of days after this adventure.
  • If hiking to the top, best to complete the hike before 10 am or in the evening.

 

Disclaimer: Some links in this article are affiliate links, which means if you do book through my link, I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for your support!


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Exploring Great Sand Dunes National Park

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