I have lived in Colorado for over five years now and had no idea that the highest sand dunes in North America are right over my nose. There are not many places where you can find creeks, forest, alpine tundra, and […]
I have lived in Colorado for over five years now and had no idea that the highest sand dunes in North America are right over my nose. There are not many places where you can find creeks, forest, alpine tundra, and a massive sandy beach next to snow-capped mountains. That is what you will encounter at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in southern Colorado.
About 35 miles northeast of Alamosa is nature’s sandy playground. As you drive up Highway 150 towards the dunes, you will capture a view of the diverse setting. A sandy colored foundation sits at the base of alpine mountains with grassy fields in the foreground. On this particular day, a blue sky added a splash of color to the landscape.
The juxtaposition of stretches of sand and mountains without a large body of water nearby is an odd sight in the middle of a dry-locked state. I thought so. What is the deal?
Essentially, the sand in the San Luis Valley river beds built up and strong gusts of wind carried the sand until it reached the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, where it plopped down, eventually creating massive sand dunes.
The Great Sand Dunes Activities
Right before you get to the entrance of the park, you can follow a washboard windy road up to Zapata Falls, a short hike that ends with layers of waterfalls. At the trailhead, you will glimpse a panoramic view of the dunes below.
Once you are in the park (there is a small fee), head to the visit center to get more info on the sand dunes and other activities in the park. With about 150,000 acres, the National Park and Preserves contain practically endless activities that involve the dunes, the creek, and the surrounding mountains.
As you approach the dunes, you will see a shoreline along the intermittent Medano Creek. This beach is for splashing around, sunbathing, tubing, and cooling off. There also exists some great photographic opportunities.
Once you cross over the creek, the fun begins. If your visit is in the summer, the sand will be scorching, so be prepared. Starting your climb in the early morning could alleviate some of that hot, hot, hot feeling. Or visit in the cooler months.
If you have ever hiked in sand before, you know that it is a bit of a challenge. Flip-flops do not work well, but are easy to remove. Shoes that attach to your feet may be another option.
On the dunes, visitors can climb up, and then run down, walk down, or the adventurous and prepared can sandboard down. Sandboarding is the same as snowboarding except sand replaces snow. And much warmer. Sledding is also an option.
There are no rules, the dunes really are one giant sandbox. Sink your feet for a free exfoliation. Build a castle on the beach. Splash in the creek. Create tiny avalanches as you roll down the sand on your butt. And when you are done, explore the mountains and the forest. Beyond the dunes are numerous hiking trails, picnic areas, and four-wheeling trails to explore.
For visitors who want to spend the night, the best option is to camp. Camping near the dunes offers the chance to spend the day in the park without feeling rushed. There are campgrounds right outside the park, or within a short distance.
If you are visiting Colorado, or LIVE here – this is a must to add to your day trips or weekend getaways.
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