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9 Things You Can’t Miss at Great Sand Dunes National Park

Visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park? Here’s everything you need to know.

After having visited White Sands National Monument and Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes at Death Valley, we thought we could handle hiking up the dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Park. Well.. the dunes were massive and we felt like passing out mid-hike. The Great Sand Dunes are the tallest in North America and you immediately feel small when you see them.

Great Sand Dunes National Park - home of the tallest sand dunes in North America //

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Last Updated: March 14, 2024

How Big are the Sand Dunes?

Some of the dunes in the park are up to 750 feet tall! Just to give you an idea of perspective, those little tiny dots are people on their way up. #tinypeoplebigplaces

9 Things to Do at Great Sand Dunes National Park

1. Hike the Highest Dune You Can!

“High Dune” is on the first ridge, and contrary to how it looks, it’s not the tallest in the park but still takes quite some effort to ascend! It sits at 699 feet and takes roughly 2 hours round trip to hike. If you have the time and energy, Star Dune is another mile and a half away and is the tallest dune in North America at 750 feet from base to top. It takes roughly 5 hours round trip to get there.

At the Top of High Dune at Great Sand Dunes National Park Colorado - home of the tallest sand dunes in North America //

2. Sandboarding and Sand Sledding

The most unique and fun thing to do at Great Sand Dunes is sandboarding. They don’t do rentals at the park, so you have to rent special sand boards or sleds off-site, but it’s so worth the stop! We got a board and sled at Kristi Mountain Sports in Alamosa, who are the only ones that rent out gear year round. The staff was really helpful and knowledgeable, and they kept their gear in good condition.

Sandboarding felt a lot like snowboarding and the dunes were steep and scary at first. Jacob got the hang of it quick, while my sandboarding skills were just as good as my snowboarding skills, which meant lots of falling on my butt. Fun times! Eventually, I decided to just sled.

Local Tip: If you prefer, you can buy your own sled too!

3. Splash Around in Medano Creek

The creek runs along the dunes and you have to cross it to reach the dunes. During the late Spring and early Summer season, the flow is much higher and attracts a lot of folks just to play in the water and go tubing.

Medano Creek in Great Sand Dunes National Park Colorado - in the early summer the flow of the creek is great for tubing //

4. Drive Deep into the Park in a 4WD

Medano Primitive Road will give you access to the remote portions of the park and preserve. You do need a 4WD vehicle with high clearance as it gets rough and sandy.

Off Roading at Great Sand Dunes National Park - home of the tallest sand dunes in North America //

5. Experience the Night

Get a backcountry permit and camp during the full moon. It will give you a totally different experience. If you’re not into camping, you can still stop by at night to view the dunes from afar. We took this 6 sec exposure lit by moonlight from our campground, Great Sand Dunes Oasis.

The Great Sand Dunes National Park Colorado - lit by moonlight - home of the tallest sand dunes in North America //

6. Shoot Endless Photos

The dunes are constantly changing, which gives you endless opportunities for photos! During our visit, winds picked up during sunset and we were able to see the sand shift and wash away any existing footprints.

Pro Tip: Be sure to bring something to protect your camera if it gets too windy. Jacob’s camera broke that day from the sand blowing in.

See More: Best Cameras for Bloggers – Your Essential Guide

7. Explore the Park on Horseback

Most of the park can be explored via horseback. You can cover a lot more ground and get a chance to see more of the dunes. Check online and with the visitors center for rules and guidelines.

8. Go Fat Biking

Unfortunately, you can’t ride your bike in most places in the park, but you can go fat biking on the Medano Primitive Road. These special bikes with fat tires help you get through the terrain without hurting the landscape.

9. Stop by the Visitor Center

The visitor center can be a great resource for the current conditions of the park and they can point you in the right direction, so you can make the most of your time in the park. A lot of the rangers explore on their own and may know hidden gems that you won’t find in the pamphlets.

Great Sand Dunes National Park Visitor Center //

Bonus: Hike to Zapata Falls

Although it’s not within the park, this is a popular hike that’s located roughly 5 miles from the entrance of the park. The road to the trailhead is a rough, washboard 3-mile drive, and the hike is only one-mile round trip. During the summer, you will have to wade in the creek through a slot canyon to see the falls. In the winter, the creek freezes over in parts.

Essential Tips

  • Pick up an Annual National Park Pass before heading to the park. It saves you money if you visit multiple parks.
  • However long you think it will take you to hike a dune, double it. Hiking on sand is hard and it’s better to give yourself plenty of time rather than have to rush.
  • Bring lots of water, whether it’s in a bladder or an insulated bottle. These are our favorite travel water bottles.
  • Bring layers, especially if you plan on staying until sunset. The temperature drops, and it can get windy.

Where to Stay

Planning Checklist

Have you visited any dunes? What activity interests you most? Would you try sandboarding?

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Esther and JacobPin

Esther + Jacob

Esther and Jacob are the founders of Local Adventurer, one of the top 5 travel blogs in the US. They believe that adventure can be found near and far and hope to inspire others to explore locally. They explore a new city in depth every year and currently base themselves in Las Vegas.

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