The Great Sand Dunes National Park

This year late into summer, my friend Victoria and I decided to road trip to The Great Sand Dunes NP. Located in Southwest Colorado, I drove a total of 6 hours to get there from Firestone, Colorado (directly in-between Fort Collins and Denver). After picking up Victoria in Pueblo, we headed to the National Park where our only plans were to set up camp and enjoy the great outdoors.

The first time seeing the sand dunes is remarkable. I had no idea the dunes would be so massive- competing in size with the surrounding mountains. Placed in a valley of mountains, this unique landscape makes the park look like the Sahara desert on one end and a lush forest on the other. Inside of the visitor’s center there is an explanation of how the sand dunes have formed to create this natural phenomenon. The park service website explains, “The Great Sand Dunes have been formed over thousands of years, as sand deposited by mountain streams and playa lakes on the San Luis Valley floor is carried in the form of small dunes by predominant southwest winds toward a low curve in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.” This explanation is only a short snippet but I do suggest further reading into the fascinating natural history of this park.

The park is not very large; it includes the Sand Dunes, the visitor’s center, and a few mountainous hikes that you can do opposite the dunes. Although there is only one campsite inside the park, there are two campsites located a few miles down the road for nearly the same price per night. Victoria and I stayed at the Oasis campground a few miles outside the park and purchased the weekly park pass ($20) to get access inside the park every time we wanted to venture in.

When we set up camp and came back into the park we finally got the chance the explore the sand dunes. We arrived at around 10a.m. while the sand was still cool and hiked up to some of the major peaks located on the dunes. As you can imagine, hiking in sand is extremely difficult and after a certain time of day it becomes extremely hot. We ended up enjoying lunch atop one of the dunes and running back down after almost getting third degree burns wearing chaco’s (not the best choice of shoe). Although we didn’t get the opportunity, I recommend bringing a sled and sledding down the dunes after you hike to a peak. Going either in the morning or at night is your best bet to enjoy the sand. I definitely suggest going to the dunes at night. The stars there are no joke since there is no light pollution in the field of sand. I could see why the park had earned it’s nickname “the milky dunes”.

The Sand Dunes are some of the most unique and incredible natural landscapes I’d ever seen, with lots to explore and a beautiful night sky. I’d say it was worth the 6 hour drive (depending on where you come from). BUT- a word of advice…

  1. Be prepared with a camping reservation or camping supplies needed.
  2. Drive slowly in the park- from experience you will get a ticket.
  3. Also speaking from experience, if you can help it- do not get a flat tire the nearest town is Alamosa, a 45 minute drive.
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