Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado
••• Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. Nancy Rose/Getty Images

With dunes up to 750 feet tall extending for miles, Colorado's Great Sand Dunes National Park feels like an ocean of sand hills. The park’s geology and biology also make it a fascinating destination. Visitors will have access to a large diversity of habitats, including sand dunes, pines and aspens, and even spruce-fir forests and tundras. 

History

Originally designated Great Sand Dunes National Monument, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve was created by an act of the United States Congress on September 13, 2004.

The park now contains 107,000 acres.

When to Visit

The park is available year-round but spring and fall may be the ideal time to plan a trip due to moderate temperatures. The sand dunes can get extremely hot in the summer, and summer tends to be the most crowded time to visit.

Getting There

If you are driving into the area, here are a few options:

From Denver, Colorado Springs, or Pueblo: The most common route is south on I-25 to Walsenburg, west on US 160, north on State Highway 150. For a more scenic drive from Denver with the same mileage, take US 285 south, then State Highway 17 south, then County Lane 6 east from Mosca.

From Albuquerque: Drive north on I-25 to Santa Fe, then north on US 285 to Alamosa. From Alamosa, take either U.S. Highway 160 east and State Highway 150 north, or State Highway 17 north and County Lane 6 east from Mosca.

From Westcliffe/Wet Mountain Valley: Travel Southeast from Westcliffe on Highway 69 toward Gardner, approximately 30 miles.

Turn West (right) on 550 RD, just before Gardner; drive for 6 miles, then turn South (left) onto 570 RD (turns into 572, then 29 RD), and look for small sign to "PassCreekPass.: Drive 12 miles until you turn right (West) on US Highway 160. Take a right (North) onto State Highway 150.

Commercial air service is available to a small airport at Alamosa, CO.

Colorado Springs, Denver, and Albuquerque are served by many commercial airlines and rental cars are available at all of the airports. If you are looking to save some money, check out the Alamosa Bus Company which has some services to the park. Call them at (719) 589-3384.

Fees/Permits

Entrance fees are $15 per vehicle are valid for one week from date of purchase. Children may enter the park for free at all times. Holders of any America the Beautiful parks pass can waive entrance fees.

If you plan on visiting the park often during the year, consider purchasing the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Annual Pass for $30. The pass admits pass holder and all family members in the vehicle into the park for one year from date of purchase.

Backcountry camping, including backpacking and car camping along the Medano Pass 4WD road, does require a free backpacking permit, which is available at the Visitor Center during business hours.

Things to Do

The wilderness of the area allows for numerous activities suitable for all ages. Visitors can choose from hiking, backpacking, camping, horseback riding, sandboarding/skiing/sledding, ranger-led programs, and more. Kids have an opportunity to participate in the Junior Ranger program, visit on Junior Ranger Day, and explore interactive exhibits.

 

Major Attractions

Medano Creek: Kids will enjoy splashing along this creek which meanders along the base of the sane dunes.

Medano Pass Primitive Road: The road leads up into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and offers ample opportunities to explore different habitats along the way.

High Dune: Towering at 650 feet above the floor of the San Luis Valley, this is a must see.

Star Dune: Named “star” as it has three or more arms, rather than one like most dunes.

Montville Nature Trail: An easy half-mile hike that showcases mule deer, chipmunks, desert cottontail, and if you’re lucky a coyote.

Medano Lake Trail: Climb 1,900 feet in four miles and pass through aspen groves, flowery meadows, and is your best shot at seeing an elk.

 

Accommodations

Within the park or main entrance there are plenty of options for lodging.

For visitors looking to camp, choose form the following campgrounds:

Pinyon Flats Campground: Group reservations may be made online for Loop 2 and Group Sites during warmer months. Loop 1 is first-come, first served. Call (719) 378-6399.

Oasis Campground: Just outside park entrance, this campground is only accessible for 4WD only. It accommodates RVs or tents, and offers showers, a restaurant, and astore. Generally open April-October. Call (719) 378-2222.

San Luis Lakes State Park: Located 11 miles west of park entrance on County Lane 6. Call (719) 378-2020 or 1-800-678-2267 for camping reservations.

Zapata Falls Campground: Offers 25 first-come, first-served primitivecampsites. Call (719) 852-5941.

For visitors looking for lodging, check out Great Sand Dunes Lodge located just outside the park entrance on highway 150). It is generally open from April-October. Call (719) 378-2900. Zapata Ranch is a historic ranch a few miles south of the main park entrance that offers rooms. Call (719) 378-2356 ext. 110.

One final option is Oasis Duplex and Camping Cabin offering two-room motel unit and four camping cabins. It is open generally April-October. Call (719) 378-2222.

Remember if you plan to camp in the backcountry, you must obtain a free permit from the Visitor Center.

 

Pets

Pets are permitted in most commonly used areas of the park and all of the preserve. They must be leashed at all times (except for licensed hunters in season in the national preserve only), and owners must clean up after them. Pets are not permitted in Dunefield outside the main day use area, in designated backpacking sites in the park, or in undeveloped parts of the park outside the day use areas and road corridors.

 

Contact Info

Visitor Center
11999 Highway 150
Mosca, CO 81146

Visitor Center (for general visitor inquiries): (719) 378-6399
Main Number (to access specific extensions, or listen to recorded park information): (719) 378-6300