Insider's Guide to Great Sand Dunes National Park
Planning a Trip to Great Sand Dunes National Park
Colorado is home to four phenomenal national parks, including Great Sand Dunes National Park in the San Luis Valley.
What makes this place so special? For starters, it’s home to the tallest sand dunes in North America! Combine these giant dunes with a snow-capped mountain backdrop and you’ve got the perfect combination of scenery.
Here’s everything you need to know to plan the perfect outing to the dunes.
Camping at Great Sand Dunes National Park
There are several camping opportunities available at the Dunes. The Piñon Flats Campground is closest to the Visitor Center, offers amenities like restrooms, and has great views of the dunes. Reserve a space online at recreation.gov
between May 4 and September 18 to make sure you snag a spot.
You can also camp on the dunes by obtaining a free permit from the Visitor Center. However, only 10 permits are issued each day. If you’re set on camping on the dunes during the peak summer season your best bet is to plan a weekday trip.
Hiking and exploring the dunes
Exploring the dunes is a must-do when visiting this national park, and there are tons of ways to get up close and personal with these giants.
Hiking and horseback riding are the two main modes of transportation. If you’re hiking, it’s best to make the trek in the morning or closer to sunset (the sunsets are excellent in these parts). That’s because the sand is scorching during the heat of day, plus you’ll likely want to hike sans shoes (it’s easier to move around in the sand without them).
Bring plenty of water and be prepared for a workout — hauling yourself to the top of the tallest dune is no small task. And remember: there aren’t any maintained trails.
Daytime activities include splashing in Medano Creek, which is always a blast. The water flow changes throughout the year, too. You could have plenty of rushing water or only a small trickle.
Driving up Medano Pass Primitive Road
If you have a capable 4-wheel drive vehicle with high clearance, driving up Medano Pass Primitive Road will give you another unique perspective into these lands. You’ll have to navigate creek crossings (8 total), deep sand, rocks, and other obstacles.
You may even need to deflate your tire pressure to 20psi when the sand is soft and dry. There’s a free air station in the Amphitheater parking lot, but bringing your own air compressor is a smart move.
Are dogs allowed in Great Sand Dunes National Park?
This is one of the few national parks that allows dogs. You can hike the dunes with your dog, and they’re also welcome in the campgrounds.
Your dog must be on leash, you cannot leave them unattended in the park, and always remember to clean up after your pup.
More information on Great Sand Dunes National Park
For even more details about Colorado’s newest national park (it was established in 2004), review the official Great Sand Dunes Visitor Guide
. It’s incredibly detailed, but the park rangers are also willing to offer tips and suggestions. Just stop by the Visitor Center when you arrive and they’ll make sure you have an excellent visit.