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Why You Need to Visit the Sand Dunes in Colorado

The Great Sand Dunes National Park is located in the southern part of central Colorado. Covering an area of about 30 square miles, the sand dunes in Colorado are both the tallest and most extensive sand dunes in North America.

The national park is open 24 hours a day, which means that night adventures are an option. And the  sand dunes in Colorado are an exceptional star-gazing spot. A number of backcountry camping permits are available on a regular basis, which means you can sleep right on the dunes if your heart desires.

Why You Need to Visit the Sand Dunes in Colorado
The dunes of southern Colorado

Why you need to visit the sand dunes in Colorado

The most alluring part of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is the variety of terrain you’ll see in a very small area. Ecosystems are incredibly diverse due to the unique location of the sand dunes. And the park is lined with magnificent mountains.

In order to make your way to the sand dunes, you have to cross Medano Creek. Medano Creek is a seasonal creek and typically flows pretty low. You might get your feet wet while crossing it, but it’s generally no deeper than 3-4 inches. And it runs completely dry in the late summer and fall.

Highlights of the Sand Dunes 

  • High Dune (699 ft) offers views of all the dunes
  • Star Dune (755 ft)
  • Sand Pit (1.5 miles to picnic area)
  • Medano Creek (seasonal)

Ecosystems in and around the sand dunes

The Great Sand Dune National Park is located in the high-elevation desert. The San Luis Valley is part of what makes the ecosystems so unique. Ecosystems are particularly diverse including grasslands, wetlands, conifer forests, aspen forests and alpine tundra.

Alpine tundra is one of the fiercest ecosystems in the park due to the elevation. This is the area where the altitude creates an incredibly cold and windy climate and can support very little tree growth. The highest variety of wild and plant life can be found in the subalpine forests.

Why You Need to Visit the Sand Dunes in Colorado
People are dwarfed by the sand dunes in Colorado

11 things you can do in or near the Sand Dunes in Colorado

  • Backpack
  • Mountain bike
  • Sand sled and sand board
  • Picnic
  • Participate in free Ranger Programs
  • Photography
  • 4wd Medano Pass Road
  • Horseback ride
  • Fish
  • Hunt
Did you know the sand temperature can be as hot as 150F?
Did you know the sand temperature can be as hot as 150F?

Suggested attire for the sand dunes

Prepare for high winds. Bring layers, goggles, and lots of water.

Noteworthy information 

The sand can get up to 150°F in the summer. And lightning is a threat to be conscious of while hiking.

Colorado Sand Dune Elevations 

They range from 8,200 feet to 13,604 feet. If you’re not a high-country dweller, be careful at these heights. Drink a lot of water. Altitude sickness is very real and can be life threatening.


The park does not rent or sell sand sledding and sandboarding equipment but Kristi Mountain Sports in Alamosa will. If you’re looking to spend time hunting or fishing in the area, be sure to check on state requirements.

Great Sand Dune National Park Camping and Hotels

There are camping options within the park and public land nearby. The nearest town is about a 40 minute drive from the park but offers all necessary services (groceries/automotive/lodging).

Why You Need to Visit the Sand Dunes in Colorado
Juxtaposition of Colorado sand dunes and mountains

Nearby attractions

Zapata Falls

8 miles south of the park. From Zapata Falls Recreation area, you can hike 10 miles (round trip) to an Alpine Lake. Blanca Peak, Colorado’s fourth highest mountain, is 8 miles from South Zapata Lake.

San Luis State Park 

In 2017, the park actually became a wildlife area rather than a state park. But the area provides a habitat for wildlife like coyotes, elk, and kangaroo rats. It’s located south of Highway 150.

Final thoughts

Colorado’s Sand Dunes are incredibly unique, and definitely worth a visit. But if you don’t take proper precautions like watching the weather and bringing goggles, they can get pretty uncomfortable. Make sure to be prepared before you head out into the sand dunes.

Further reading on things to do in Colorado

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

Why You Need to Visit the Sand Dunes in Colorado

Mary Beth (Mouse) Skylis is a freelance journalist and long-distance backpacker who specializes in personal narratives, and gear reviews. While she spent most of her life near Detroit, Mouse is a mountain girl at heart and can currently be found residing in Denver, Colorado. 

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. If I might add one suggestion, make sure you check the campground hours before you make any overnight plans. I visited last December, only to find the campgrounds within the parks all closed for the season, as was San Luis State Park. My closest option was the Sand Dunes Swimming & RV Park. It was a pretty cool place with its hot springs pools, but 30 miles from the park…

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