Many of my friends who have seen my pictures of Great Sand Dunes National Park have the same reaction: “Really?! That’s in Colorado?! Where?”
It’s in south-central Colorado. We stopped at Great Sand Dunes for a few hours on our way from Colorado Springs to Mesa Verde National Park. Combined with several hours of driving on both ends, that adds up to a full day. Before you head to the park, plan to stop at the Great Sand Dunes Oasis or in the town of Alamosa where you can rent a sand sled and a sandboard from Kristi Mountain Sports. (Rentals can be reserved in advance.) You might also want to eat lunch or buy some snacks because you won’t find a restaurant or snack bar at the park. Then head to the park. The sand dunes are some of North America’s tallest dunes and are visible from quite a distance away. You can see them to the left of the park sign.
Stop at the Visitor Center where you can get your park passport stamped, watch a 20-minute film about the park, and ask questions of a park ranger. They also have a bookstore and a few exhibits, some just for kids.
See what sand looks like under a microscope.
Learn about the wildlife that lives in the park.
The patio of the visitors center has an amazing view of the dunes, but to experience the dunes, you’ll want to drive to a different parking lot. If you want to hike the dunes, it helps to be prepared. Be prepared for the sun: wear sunscreen, sunglasses, and maybe a hat. If it’s windy you’ll also want some protection from blowing sand: long pants and goggles. And if you’re going to go sandboarding, you’ll want to wear socks. Definitely pack plenty of water. We had rented both a sled and a sandboard and gave them a good waxing before we headed out.
To get to the dunes, you have to wade across a creek.
It was at this point that we noticed that some visitors didn’t appear to have any interest in hiking the dunes. They looked like they were on a beach vacation. They had swimsuits, beach chairs, umbrellas, blankets, and sand toys. The water wasn’t deep, but if you have very young children, that would be a big positive. It’s hard to go wrong with sand and water for little ones.
After we crossed the creek and put our socks and shoes back on, we hiked up one of the dunes. And, yes, it is tiring to hike on sand. My husband decided to give sandboarding a try while my kids tried the sled.
You might be wondering if you could save some money by bringing your snow sleds instead. The park newspaper says that plastic snow sleds don’t slide on sand. The sand sled did slide, but it was hard to control. We tipped over on some of the runs. It helps to have someone push you to get started.
My youngest daughter wanted to try sandboarding.
At this point, the kids had distinctly different opinions on what they wanted to do next. The older two greatly preferred hiking over sledding and sandboarding. The youngest was loving sandboarding and greatly preferred that over hiking. So we split up. My husband took the older two and the three of them set off to hike to the top of High Dune, at the height of 699 feet. We watched their progress. After the first picture, they become so small that I added arrows to point out their location. I had to really zoom in to find them on the last photo.
I bought my kids a sticker that proclaims that they hiked to the top of High Dune. I know that I couldn’t do it, but my kids love to hike on sand dunes. After they got back they said it was strenuous but very fun. The blowing sand was troublesome though. That’s where the recommendation for goggles comes from. Sand in your eyes is not a good thing.
I stayed with my youngest daughter who worked on becoming a proficient sandboarder. And she did get pretty good at it.
After she finished sandboarding, we had some fun taking photos, starting with this selfie.
Then she obliged me with some jumping shots.
We had such a good time at Great Sand Dunes National Park that we stayed longer than planned. We didn’t get to our next hotel until well after dark. But it was one of those memorable and unique experiences that made it worth it.
Ready to visit?
Great Sand Dunes National Park
11999 Highway 150
Mosca, Colorado 81146
Open daily, year-round.
Visitor Center open 9 am – 4:30 pm, longer in spring, summer, and fall.
Admission: $3 per adult (16 and over), 15 & under are free
This attraction appears in my e-book, How to Visit All 50 States in 12 Trips.
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