Colorado has so many things to do and so many places to explore that I stopped counting at some point. I visited this national park on my first visit to Colorado. First, I saw the mountains and then I saw the dunes. It felt out worldly. How can a place be this beautiful! Colorado has amazed me over and over and I must say it is always a happy surprise. Do you know that Great Sand Dunes is home to the tallest dunes (around 755 ft) in North America? Located in the southeast part of Colorado, this dune is surrounded by a diverse landscape that includes mountains, grasslands, forests, wetlands, tundra, and alpine lakes. The snowcapped 14000-foot peaks and desert-like landscape- what a combination it is! Totally mind-blowing and a must-visit place in Colorado.
Now the main question, what should you do while visiting the sand dune? There are a lot of things to do, but that always depends on how much you want to explore or how further you want to take your experience. The first thing I would suggest is going hiking. On the dunes, there are no exact trails. You can hike a very small part of the dune, be close to the parking lot location. Or you can hike to the Star dune. From the parking lot, the highest dune you will be able to see is the High Dune. It’s really hard to miss. Once you have reached the High Dune, look for the highest dune named Star Dune on the Eastside. There is a stream named Medano Creek located and curved through the edge of the dunes. During late Spring and early Summer, you can enjoy tubing, which is a very popular activity in the park, and beachside activities. Sandboarding and sand sledding are perfect activities to utilize the sand slopes. I saw many children, as well as adults, were enjoying both activities.
If you are a photographer like me, this would be an ideal place for you to capture the milky way aligned with the dunes and the mountains. Due to the minimal light pollution, the sky is so clear here that you can spend the whole night watching the stars. It’s a perfect place for stargazing. If you camp at the dunes, that’s like a dreamy night full of stars. Camping here is permitted and free. You don’t have to apply for a permit beforehand or try your luck to get a permit. The only problem is that the permits are limited to 20 parties per night with a cap of six people per party. So, you have to go very early to secure a permit. You can simply get a backcountry permit from the visitor center, and you are good to go for a perfect dreamy night full of stars. There is a 30-square-mile dune field which is around 1.5 miles from the park entrance and one of the very popular places for overnight camping. If you are planning to backpack, please know about the camping locations in detail and research about it. Another factor you need to consider while camping is the wind. A little bit of wind even can get into everything- the gear, tent, clothes, everywhere. But this will be a raw and remote experience and it's quite unique.
The temperature varies a lot from day to night in the dunes. Sometimes from 800F to 450F. And another thing to consider is the fact that sand temperature and the temperature in general in the region are not the same. Even if the temperature looks okay, the sand temperature may be higher than you can imagine. Also, during the wintertime, the temperature drops a lot. Also, you may face high winds in the afternoon. So, keep this in mind while visiting the dunes. Sometimes, thunderstorms roll in the dunes. If you see any kind of lightning, please get off the dunes as soon as possible.
Visiting the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado was a very happy memory for me. Winter months made it soothing for me. The combination of mountain and sand dune is amazing. Though I did not have a chance to camp here, and I am going back for that amazing experience.
At a glance
- Activity: hiking, camping, sightseeing, sandboarding, sand sledding
- Address: Visitor Center, 11999 Highway 150, Mosca, CO 81146
- Park Hours: open 24 hours, year around
- Visitor Center: 9:00 am to 4:30 pm (Labor Day to Memorial Day weekend: fall, winter, and spring) / 8:30 am to 6:00 pm (Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day: Summer)
- Permit/fee: fee required to enter the National Park. If you have a National Park pass, the entry is free. No reservation is needed to visit this national park.
- Overnight Permits: you can get an overnight backcountry permit from the Great Sand Dunes Visitor and overnight permits are free.
- Contact: (719) 378-6395
- Check the weather condition and dress according. It’s better to dress in layers and bring extra clothes (warm clothes), gloves, wool socks, hats during winter. During the summer months, if you want to spend time near Medano Creek, do not forget to bring a bathing suit, extra clothes, hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, etc.
- This National Park is located at a higher elevation. Anytime, if you feel nausea, headache, fatigue, that means you are having altitude sickness. Please take rest, drink enough water. If you feel dizzy and vomit, please leave the place immediately to a lower elevated place and please see a doctor if required.
- It’s easy to get lost in the dunes and hard to tell the direction. If you are hiking or camping, please bring a hand GPS with you. If possible, please carry an SOS. It’s peace of mind.
- If you are camping, do not forget to bring sufficient water and food with you.
- Whatever you are getting in, should be out with you. Please practice leave no trace principle.