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Sand Dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park

Sand Dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park

I have always wanted to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, but never had the chance until August 2018 when we took a road trip west. We've visited Jockey's Ridge State Park in NC, the tallest active sand dunes in the US, and were expecting something similar in Colorado. We were not expecting the shear size of the sand dunes in the park. Jockey's Ridge covers 426 acres, whereas the Great Sand Dunes cover about 30 square miles and the tallest dune is about 750 feet high. The main dune is about 4 miles long.

Great Sand Dunes with mountains in background
Great Sand Dunes National Park

There is only one short paved road in the park. It basically takes you from the park entrance to the visitor center and the parking lot for a walk to the dunes. Then there is another unpaved road the requires a 4 wheel drive vehicle that take you over the mountains and out of the park. The road include a stretch of soft sand where you need to reduce tire pressure. We did not attempt it with our mini-van.

There is an excellent visitor center with an explanation of how the dunes were created.

The sand dunes are the reason for the park. They're the playground for climbing, sitting, sliding, enjoying. In the spring there is also a creek in front of the dunes for wading and splashing. In the fall, when we were there, the creek was dry. In 2018 was so dry that the creek didn't reach the dunes. The dry weather was the reason for all the nasty fires in Colorado that year.

Great Sand Dunes with bush in foreground
Great Sand Dunes

You can get some idea of the scale of the dunes from this picture of people climbing the dune. This is the dune nearest the parking lot. There are dunes behind it. Like I said, the dunes are huge

People climbing  Sand Dunes
Climbing Sand Dunes Great Sand Dunes National Park

There are a few of thing to keep in mind when climbing on the dunes. First is that the elevation is over 7,500 feet, so there's not a lot of air. Second, then the wind is blowing, as does blow most of the time, the sand stings when it hits bare legs and arms. Third, there's no water, do be sure to carry plenty with you. And finally, the sand can be hot when the sun shines.

The color of the sand changes with the time of day and the weather.

There is no lodging, except for camping, inside the park. The Great Sand Dunes Lodge is a modern motel just outside the park and is where we stayed. It has a limited number of room so plan on making reservations ahead of time.

Great Sand Dunes Oasis located at the main park entrance, is the only restaurant within 25 miles of the national park. The food is good and reasonably priced.

If you plan to camp, you need to heed the park service's advise quoted here. During the peak flow of Medano Creek in late May and early June, expect all campsites to be reserved well in advance. On weekends during peak flow, expect long lines of traffic, overflowing parking lots, and most campgrounds within 20 miles to be full. For a better experience in early summer, plan your visit on weekdays.

Grass in the  Sand Dunes
Grass on the sand dunes

Hummingbirds at feeder Great Sand Dunes National Park
Hummingbirds at Great Sand Dunes National Park


Four species for hummingbirds are summer residents of the park. They nest in grass nests in the foothills. But can be seen wherever flowers are present. The easiest way to see them is at the feeding stations at the Great Sand Dunes Lodge. Unlike the hummingbirds we have at home in NC, the ones here share feeding stations. The hummingbirds at home are very aggressive in protecting their food sources.

Sunset Great Sand Dunes National Park
Sunset at Great Sand Dunes National Park