Great Sand Dunes National Park
What to See and Do and Where to Stay When Visiting
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve:
Get critical information, insider tips, and pictures, as well as ideas for where to stay when visiting this national park with the tallest sand dunes in North America, located in south-central Colorado.
Details and Background
Address: 11500 Highway 150, Mosca, CO 81146 Phone: 719-378-6300 Date established as a national park: Sept. 13, 2004 Size: 107,000 acres
Visit the Official Park Service Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve site for park (which includes information such as entrance fees).
Shoes are necessary for walking on the dunes as sand can burn bare feet. [NG] Carry plenty of water -- more than you normally would -- for hikes of any length. [NG] Wear sunscreen and protective head covering. [NG]
10 interesting facts about Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
- Some of the park's dunes are as tall as 750 feet, the tallest in North America. [NG]
- The dunes were caused by dried lake and stream beds releasing particles of sand, which the wind then carries to the foothills of the Sangre de Cristos Mountains. [NG] Learn more. [NPS]
- The park has one of the most fragile and complex dune systems in the world. [NPS]
- Winds of up to 40 mph continually reshape the dunes. [NG]
- There are no snakes or scorpions in the dunes. [NG]
- The park hosts a great diversity of plants and animals, including insect species found nowhere else on earth. The system, which spans high desert to alpine life zones, supports rare biological communities that are mostly intact and functional. [NPS]
- The park contains some of the oldest (9,000+ years before present) known archeological sites in America. The dunes have been identified as having special importance by people of various cultures, and the area is recognized for the culturally diverse nature of human use. [NPS]
- Ute, Apache, and other tribes peeled bark from pine trees for food and medicine. More than 100 of these culturally peeled trees are still living in Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. [NPS]
- Alpine lakes such as Upper Sand Creek Lake are part of the mountain watershed of Great Sand Dunes, and provide a dramatic contrast to the stark dunefield. [NPS]
- Great Sand Dunes is home to at least six endemic insect species -- found nowhere else on earth. The Great Sand Dunes Tiger Beetle is the best known of these endemics. [NPS]
10 tips for getting the most out of a visit to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
- You can enjoy a visit to the park any time of the year, although summer is very hot (and the most crowded time); spring and fall have the best temperatures.
- Free ranger programs are offered regularly at Great Sand Dunes from May-September, and on request the rest of the year. Most programs welcome all ages. [NG]
- Photography is best early and late in the day when the shadows accentuate the contours of the dunes. [NG]
- Night walking on the dunes is said to be both thrilling and peaceful. [NG]
- Activities available in the park include hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, mountain climbing, splashing in Medano Creek, free ranger programs, sandboarding/sledding, driving Medano Pass with a high clearance 4WD, commercially provided tours (Medano Pass Primitive Road Tour or a Bison Tour). [NPS]
- It takes the average person an hour or so to reach the top of the first dune ridge. [NPS]
- Some of the most dramatic views of the 14,000-foot Crestone Peaks are from the north side of Great Sand Dunes National Park. [NPS]
- Sandboarding, sledding and skiing are possible on the sand -- with the right gear and conditions. [NPS]
- In average to wet years, Medano Creek is a popular beach environment at Great Sand Dunes. When creek flow is high, some children even raft the shallow waters. [NPS]
- Also at Medano Creek, watch for waves in the water, a phenomenon called "surge flow." As mounds of sand form and fall in the creek bed, water surges, similar to the action of waves at a beach. [NPS]
Where to stay when visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park
Pinyon Flats Campground (National Park Service) 719-378-6399 First come, first served. Fills Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from May through September. Fills by mid-day every day during Medano Creek's seasonal flow, usually May-June. Medano Pass Primitive Road Campsites (high clearance 4WD only) San Luis Lakes State Park (campground only, 15 miles west on County Lane 6): 719-378-2020; 1-800-678-2267 for camping reservations.
Oasis Campground and Motel. 719-378-2222. Accomodates RVs. Showers, restaurant, store. Open generally April-October.
Great Sand Dunes Lodge. 719-378-2900. Open generally April-October. Zapata Ranch. 719-378-2356, ext. 110.
While you're visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park
While you're in the area, you might as well see the beauty of the national forests currounding the park by also visiting the Rio Grande National Forest to the west, as well as the San Isabel National Forest to the north.
Guide to sources:
NG = National Geographic Guide to the National Parks of the United States
NPF = National Park Foundation's The Official Guide to America's National Parks
KB = The National Parks: America's Best Idea by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns
AAA = AAA Guide to the National Parks
NPS = National Park Service Website