The Great Sand Dunes National Park: A Natural Wonder
The Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado is truly a natural wonder. At first glimpse, you are wondering how a bunch of sand wound up in the middle of nowhere, pushed up against the mountains. And “wow that must have been one massive lake or maybe it was an ocean?”.
They are truly bizarre, the scenery is unlike any other place on Earth. A work of art carved out by this powerful planet. It makes you wonder what life used to look like in the San Luis Valley. Dating back through the centuries there is a lot of rich history and mystery behind it.
When you first set foot in the San Luis Valley you notice the wind patterns like to stir up the land. We quickly found ourselves caught in a few dust storms while we were passing through.
Lake Alamosa once sat in the valley but dried up around 440,000 years ago. The very winds we witnessed in our car are constantly moving the land and the lake bed to form the dunes. The energy of the wind and the Earth in the valley makes this place feel enchanted.
Native Americans have always held this land sacred and have called it “the bloodless valley” because no wars were ever fought here. When you are on this land you feel the powerful presence of the Earth and how important it is to protect it. And there are many organizations working to protect this land to this day.
Summer Road Trip Season Is Here
This is the summer to hop in your car and go see the Great Sand Dunes, National Park, or any National or State Park near you. Don’t let this summer pass you by. Belive me a summer road trip to a far off destination is the perfect way to travel while keeping our distance.
Adventure and nature will always be the best cures for our mental health. We truly don’t have to live out this bizarre year at home watching the news in fear and argue with complete strangers on social media over the state of affairs, none of that does us any good. I know we could all use a break from it all. So follow my lead and head outdoors. If you are close to Colorado I’ll help you plan a trip to the dunes with this guide.
Getting to the Sand Dunes
Driving from Denver takes about 4 hours to get to the Sand Dunes. If your flying into DIA and renting a car to head to the dunes or any mountain destination make sure you consider either a 4-wheel drive or even a camper van.
Rental agencies with 4-wheel drive cars:
Subaru’s from Hertz
Jeeps from Enterprise
If you give your self more time, the more stops you can make along the way. Breaking the drive up is a good way to see all the sights that Colorado has to offer. Then you can take on the long winding road in much smaller chunks. Road trips always go better if you’re not in a rush so make sure you give your self enough time to really explore. Map out a plan for your drive there and a plan for your drive back. On this blog post, I listed a few stops that you won’t want to miss on your way to the Sand Dunes.
Where to Stay
Camping is the best option because there aren’t very many accommodations near the Sand Dunes. The campgrounds are open from April to November. You can get a free backpacking permit or stay at the Pinon Campgrounds in the park. But you will have to get there early if you want a backpacking permit to camp in the park. Or you will have to reserve your spot at the Pinon campgrounds here. But don’t worry if you don’t make it there are many other campgrounds close by that you can stay at.
Other campgrounds near the dunes:
- Oasis Campground
- Zapata Falls Campground
- San Luis Lakes Campground
- Rustic Rook Resort
- Sand Dunes Swimming Pool and Campground
- Base Camp Family Campground and RV Park
- KOA Campgrounds
- Cool Sunshine RV Park
If you really want to explore as much of the Great Sand Dunes National Park as you can then camping is the way to go for an extended stay near the Dunes.
But if you are looking for a cute and cozy place, Crestone has a ton of cute Airbnb’s and it is only an hour away from the Sand Dunes. There is a lot to explore in Crestone and you can easily make a day trip to the Sand Dunes.
Here are some cute Airbnb’s to check out near the dunes:
- Mountain Carriage House in Crestone
- Eclectic Cottage in Crestone (we stayed here and loved it!)
- The Lazy Bear Cabin in Crestone
- The Delightful Dome in Crestone
- The Log Cabin in Crestone
- The Day Dream Inn in Westcliffe
- Secluded Farm House in Blanca
- The Magic School Bus in Blanca
Things To Do at The Dunes
- Learn more about the history of the dunes by stopping by at the visitor center. Watch a short film and check out the historical exhibits. Also, connect with park rangers to ask questions and get fully submerged into the great mystery of the dunes.
- Park in the second parking area to get access to Medano Creek. The creek is from snowmelt so it is only available seasonally from spring to fall. Because of drought conditions this year the creek was very small. But if you have good timing it is said that hanging at the creek is like hanging at the beach.
- Sandboarding and sand sledding is another fun activity at the dunes. But make sure you plan this ahead of time because rentals have to be found off the park in various retailers in the San de Cristo Valley. Some of the shops are 45 minutes or more away so make sure you plan accordingly. Here are four retailers that have them: Kristi Mountain Sports(Alamosa), Sand Dunes Swimming Pool (Hooper), Spin Drift Sandboards (Blanca), Oasis Store (4mi away), Spanish Peaks Outfitters (La Veta).
- The Sand Dunes Swimming and Recreation Center
- Stargazing is a must when you visit the Sand Dunes. This National Park has some of the darkest skies in the country. On a clear night, you can see up to 15,000 stars. It is the perfect time to get a glimpse of the Milkey Way.
- Zapata Falls travel up a bumpy road and hike up about 0.9 of a mile up to the falls that are tucked into a slot canyon. Be prepared to wade in some water to get all the way up.
- Visit the National Wildlife Refuges, there are three. Baca, Alamosa, and Monte Vista.
- Off-roading at Medano Pass Primitive Road. A 2-3 hour scenic drive especially in the fall. But you have to go at your own risk and make sure you are equipped with a high clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle. And also be prepared to deflate and re-inflate your tires.
As always there is so much to discover. Even in the tiniest of places. The Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado and the surrounding area have so much to explore. It is hard to list it all on one blog post. If you are planning a trip make sure you also check out this blog post about pitstops you can make on your way to the dunes. Colorado is never lacking in adventure and it is time to dedicate some of your free time to go explore what is out there. Let me know where you are planning to go and if you have been to the dunes in the comments below. I would love to know what your favorite part of your trip was. I think I already know that I have to go back to catch some attractions that I regret I missed. But until then it’s time for the next adventure. Where to next?