Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is in southern Colorado. It’s known for huge dunes like the towering Star Dune, and for the seasonal Medano Creek and beach created at the base of the dunes. The backcountry Medano Pass Primitive Road winds through a canyon toward the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Trails lead to forests, wetlands and alpine lakes like Medano Lake, which is home to trout and tundra wildlife
Established: September 24, 2004
Size: 107,345.73 acres
Visitation: 602,613 (2021)
What Makes This One of the Best National Parks
Imagine the Sahara Desert with a backdrop of the Rocky Mountains – you’re looking at one of the most underrated national parks in America, Great Sand Dunes National Park.
Great Sand Dunes is a spectacular park located in southern Colorado that features some of the most breathtaking and unique scenery anywhere in the world.
The tough part is getting to the park because it’s fairly remote and doesn’t easily make its way into a national park road trip. The good news is that when you arrive crowds will be minimal.
Entrance fees to Great Sand Dunes National Park are $25/vehicle. But if you plan to visit more National Parks within the next 12 months I suggest you go ahead and purchase the America the Beautiful Pass (which can be found at the entrance gates to most national parks). This pass gets you into all National Parks, Forests, Monuments, and more including 2,000 sites for free after a one time $79 fee.
Best Time to Visit Great Sand Dunes National Park
The Best Time to Visit Great Sand Dunes is late May through September.
Best Things to Do at Great Sand Dunes National Park
Explore the Dunes
Tips for Exploring the Dunes
Make a game plan beforehand and decide how long (time) you want to be out there. Set a timer and when you hit the halfway point turn around and start heading back.
Lather up the sunscreen! The sand magnifies the heat and will find a way to burn you.
Bring more water than you think you’ll need. Trust me when I say you’ll end up spending more time out there then you planned on originally. Even if it’s not a hot day, the sun will zap it right out of you.
Footwear: If you just plan on walking around a bit as opposed to hiking up the dunes then you’ll be fine barefoot (in the dunes will require footwear to get to them). Personally I prefer hiking in sandals with straps like these & these which I love and allow my feet to breathe on the dunes. Other folks prefer high ankle shoes or boots like these to prevent sand from getting into their footwear.
Bring a hat even if you don’t usually wear one. The sun is intense on the dunes.
Go Fishing in Alpine Lakes
Venture Out to Sand Creek Basin
Sand Dunes in the Snow
See the Bison
Check Out Zapata Ranch
Drive Medano Pass 4WD Road
Sandhill Crane Migration
See the Fall Colors
Sunset from Zapata Falls Recreation Area
See Zapata Falls
Hike the Mosca Pass Trail
Play in Medano Creek
Camp Out in the Dune Field
Hike the Tallest Dunes in North America (Star Dune & Hidden Dune)
Hiking Star Dune
Great Sand Dunes National Park Itinerary for Visiting
8:00am: Start your day by getting an early start and heading to the park. If you’re coming from a distance, you may want to spend the night in a nearby town or city, such as Alamosa or Colorado Springs. Alternatively, you can camp in the park itself, either in the campground or in the backcountry.
9:00am: Arrive at Great Sand Dunes National Park and stop at the visitor center to get a map of the park and learn more about the park’s history and natural features.
10:00am: Take a hike through the park’s dunes, starting at the Dunes Overlook trailhead. The hike will take you to the top of the dunes, where you’ll have a stunning view of the surrounding landscape.
12:00pm: Take a break for lunch at the picnic area near the visitor center.
1:00pm: Go sandboarding or sand sledding on the dunes. You can rent sandboarding equipment at the park’s rental shop or bring your own.
3:00pm: Take a scenic drive through the park, stopping at various points along the way to take in the views and learn about the park’s natural and cultural history.
5:00pm: If you’re camping in the park, set up your campsite and start a fire for cooking dinner. If you’re staying in a nearby town or city, head back to your accommodations for the evening.
8:00pm: After dinner, head to a spot with a good view of the night sky, such as the overlook near the visitor center. Great Sand Dunes National Park has some of the darkest skies in the country, making it an excellent place for stargazing. Bring a pair of binoculars or a telescope, if you have one, to get a closer look at the stars and constellations.
10:00pm: Retire to your campsite or accommodations for the night.