Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado, was authorized to become a National Park in 2000 to protect the highest sand dunes in North America. It took a few years for the National Park Service to purchase all the additional land covering the areas water sources, but the Dunes finally became a Park on September 13th, 2004.
Visitor Rating (write your own review below)
|Scenery||Vast dunes nestled into beautiful snow-capped peaks|
|Uniqueness||These are the tallest dunes in North America|
|Wildlife||Deer, birds, rodents and other mountain animals|
|Diversity||Lots of explorable mountains, but the dunes prevail|
ILNP Park Review
In a Word “Inviting”
“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it it is going.” -John 3:8
Our Visit I’ve visited the Great Sand Dunes four times, once in September with my parents, once in the summer with my wife, once with my wife and our then 2-year-old in October and most recently in February with our then 7- and 4-year old boys. The fall visits were by far the most scenic, though climbing was easier in February.
Our Weather September was very pleasant but a bit breezy and very overcast. Our summer visit was windy and rainy the entire time we were there. October was partly cloudy and hazy but otherwise fabulous weather with a temperature in the 70s, and February was clear and sunny but only in the 30s.
Overall Impression The Great Sand Dunes seem very out-of-place in the mountains of Colorado. To get there, you drive through pine forests, snow-capped mountains and passes to end up in the San Luis Valley guarded by the beautiful Sangre de Cristo Mountains. While the dunes may initially look small compared to their setting, once you’re on them, you have no doubt they are enormous and climbing them will take all your strength. To have an immense field of sand here when there is no desert nearby is certainly intriguing, but to climb and play on the dunes is to be a kid again.
Favorite Spot Climbing to High Dune
Minimum Time Required About 2 hours. In this time, you can drive to the visitor center at Mosca Creek and climb around the dunes for a while. While it may appear simple to climb to the ridge and peer over the other side, this will take more time than you think because the dense sand literally makes it 2 steps forward, one step back. Don’t let this deter you, though, because even a little time spent trudging through the sandscape is worthwhile. Early fall adds an extra dimension of color to the dunes with large patches of yellow foliage.
A Longer Visit To really climb the dunes and see the rest this place has to offer, plan on at least 1/2 to a full day. In a 1/2 day, Mosca Creek and the dunes should still be your priority, but now you’ll have time to climb to the top (about 70 to 120 minutes depending on what kind of shape you’re in). When you finally peer over the rim, you’ll see miles and miles of more dunes!
The dunes are a phenomenal place for kids. Mine enjoyed rolling down hundreds of feet of dune at a time. Because the wind reforms the dunes fairly quickly, there are very few restrictions on what you can do. No motorized vehicles are allowed on the dunes, but you can take skis, snowboards, toboggans, etc. onto the dunes to make for a more exciting trip down. As of the time of this writing, dogs are also allowed on the dunes (check with the NPS website before taking your dogs).
When you’re through with the dunes for a while, consider hiking through the low pine forests to the east of the dunes where there’s picnic areas and a great chance you’ll see wildlife. We’ve seen a lot of mule deer in our visits.
Suggestions Take two pairs of shoes and socks because the sand will get everywhere! Hiking takes longer than you might initially think, so plan on packing some water with you on your dunes trek.
When you hike the dunes, stick to the ridgelines on the way up. It will make the hike longer, but it will also be less strenuous.
Take your camera to the top of the dunes with you–don’t be a dummy like me and leave the only camera with the one who isn’t going to make the top.
If you can help it, don’t go when it’s supposed to rain much of the day. Most Colorado storms will blow over in an hour-or-so, making them easy to work around, but persistent rains and wind equal soaking misery on the unprotected dunes.
We found hiking the dunes much easier in the winter because the sand was still moist from recent snow-melt. The harder sand made steps more productive with less sliding. Be sure to pick a day with sun and low winds, and don’t expect the scenery to be as nice.
Nearby Towns Mosca, Alamosa, Walsenburg (Colorado)
Other Nearby Attractions San Luis Lakes State Park (bird watching), and believe it or not, there is an alligator farm which caters to visitors just northwest of the dunes.
Official NPS Website Great Sand Dunes NP and Preserve
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