Great Sand DunesColorado 

A sea of sand in Colorado far from any ocean.

Play in the sand.

The tallest sand dunes in North America are in Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. There are mile after mile of sand dunes extending up to 750 feet tall. The sand stretches across San Luis Valley, between the San Juan Mountains and the Sangre de Cristos. In total, there are more than 30 square miles of sand dunes being constantly reshaped by the winds reaching 40 miles an hour.

The park is located three hours southeast of Colorado Springs. It was originally declared a national monument in 1932 but Congress elevated it to national park and preserve status in 2004. the national park covers about 44,000 acres and the preserve protects another 41,500 acres (approximately). The sand dunes were formed from sand and soil deposits from the Rio Grande. The park also protects the water that lies a few inches under the sand.

Distance from Nearby Major Cities:

Denver, CO: 240 miles (3.75 hours)
Albuquerque, NM: 237 miles (4 hours)
Grand Junction, CO: 257 (4.75 hours)

Busiest Months

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Sand Dunes

Sandboarding and sand sledding are the park’s most popular activities. But you’ll probably need to avoid the heat of the day when the sand heats up. Grab a sand board or sand sled that is specially designed for sand. They are available for rent at two local retailers (but not from the national park). Snow sleds, skis, snowboards, cardboard saucers and soft plastic don’t work on the sand. You’ll also need to watch out for windy spring afternoons and thunderstorms.

Medano Creek

A seasonal stream that largely exists from late April through June with peak water flow in late May or early June. Weekends in late May and early June are popular here with large crowds. Wading, skimboarding, sand sculpting and sand castles are typical activities.

Medano Pass Primitive Road

A 22 mile scenic backcountry road requiring a high clearance four wheel drive vehicle to keep moving through the sand and creek crossings in the summer. Trail damage is a real possibility. Average speed on the road is 5-10 miles per hour. At the start of the route is the Pinyon Flats Campground and there are 21 campsites along the primitive road. Fat Bikes with their extra wide mountain bike tires are also allowed on the road. Four wheel drive tours and Jeep rentals are also available via Pathfinders 4×4.

Fishing Great Sand Dunes

Trout Unlimited did a blog post in 2016 about the “phenomenal” fishing opportunities in Great Sand Dunes. It recommended fishing for the catch-and-release only Rio Grande cutthroat trout in Medano Creek and Medano Lake. Another option is Lower Sand Creek Lake or Upper Sand Creek Lake, which is about a 3.5 mile hike from the Music Pass trailhead. Both lakes offers cutthroat genetics.

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Camping and Lodging:

Pinon Flats Campground is located one mile north of the visitor center and is open from April through October. There are three loops with a total of 88 campsites and three group sites. Additional camping is available for those traveling on Medano Pass Primitive Road.

The closest hotels to the park are in Alamosa, a thirty minute drive. The population of Alamosa is approximately 8,700.

Campground Reservations:

Pinon Flats Campground
47 Sites

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Roundtrip Flights to Colorado Springs

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