The Great Sand Dunes In Colorado

Plus, Great Sand Dunes Camping Intel

Against a backdrop of blue-tinged mountains, a stunning expanse of Sahara-like sand dunes creates a contradicting landscape in Colorado. The Great Sand Dunes, the tallest dunes in North America, feel out of place among the area’s otherwise mountainous features. The marvel of how these dunes even came to exist puts this park on our list of favorite national parks.

“It isn’t the mountain that wears you out; it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.” — Robert W. Service, a British writer

Researchers estimate the dunes began forming hundreds of thousands of years ago when glacial melt and torrential floods pushed sediment into the San Luis Valley, forming a large body of water that covered much of the valley floor. Over time, the waters receded, leaving sand behind. Eventually, predominant southwest winds pushed the sand into the dune formation visitors see today. However, the dunes are ever changing. Two mountain streams, Medano Creek and Sand Creek, border this natural wonder, continually feeding it with new sediment, while wind causes the dunes to shift daily.
And although the marvel was designated a national monument in 1932, it was until 2000, that the Great Sand Dunes was designated a national park and preserve. In that time, the Great Sand Dunes has since tripled in size to treasure the beauty of the dunes, as well as the surrounding grasslands, wetlands, and forests.

Great Sand Dunes Activities

  1. Visitors can sled or board down the dunes on special sand boards and sand sleds that can be rented from two area retailers. Avoid open-toed shoes as the sand gets very hot, especially mid-day. In fact, morning and evenings are the best time to hit the dunes.
  2. For off-road adventures, seek out Medano Pass, a rugged road that takes you around the eastern side of the dunes through soft sand and through a forested mountain canyon to the 10,000’ Medano Pass. 4WD vehicles are required for this road.
  3. Splash in Medano Creek, a seasonal stream that provides a welcome respite after hours of sand sledding. The creek is a marvel itself when underwater sand ridges build up and then break about every 20 seconds creating an ocean-like wave, called surge flow.
  4. Explore the Great Sand Dunes during the night. Plan your visit when the moon is full for a surreal hike. Minimize your use of lights, and use a red light if needed. You’ll be able to observe nighttime critters, like camel crickets, kangaroo rats and more.
  5. Hiking enthusiasts can explore the 30-square-mile dunefield, and although there are no designated trails, visitors can seek out the five dunes that are more than 700 feet tall. For a cooler hike, seek out the nearby forested paths and alpine trails.



The National Park Service’s Piñon Flats Campground can accommodate RVs, though there are no hookups and only select sites can fit RVs up to 35 feet in length. The campground, located 1 mile north of the Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center, features 44 reservable sites, as well as 44 first-come, first-serve sites. There are eight other campgrounds within 40 miles of the dunes.
Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
Visitor Center
11999 State Highway 150
Mosca, CO 81146