Great Sand Dunes

Visitors with sleds head up the High Dune
The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is one of the most exhilarating and enigmatic places I've ever visited. Here in the San Luis Valley, you will discover America's tallest sand dunes at the base of the towering Sangre de Cristo Mountains. This expansive 30 square mile geologic and ecological wonder, located in south central Colorado (2.5 hour drive from Colorado Springs, 3.5 hours from Denver, 3 hours north of Sante Fe, NM), attracts 300,000 visitors annually.

Medano Creek and Mt. Herald (13,345')
The dunes have been sculpted by the winds. For tens of thousands of years, the sand has been piled up against the mountains as the prevailing winds blowing from the southwest meet the storm winds coming down from the mountains to the north and east. Two creeks, Sand Creek to the west and Medano Creek to the east 'recycle' the sand as it blows against the mountains -- the sand is washed down to the south, and the process begins all over again.

San Luis Lake with Dunes in the Distance
Top Things to do at the Great Sand Dunes National Park:
  1. On your way into the park, stop off at the San Luis Lakes State Wildlife Area to get a beautiful glimpse of the dunes with the San Luis Lake in the foreground.
  2. Upon arriving at the park, be sure to stop by the visitor's center (elevation 8,175') -- this will help orient you to the park, learn of its history, and provide breathtaking views of the dunes and the mountains beyond. (Click here for Visitor Center Webcam)
  3. Walk across Medano Creek and hike up to the High Dune (about 2 hours roundtrip)
  4. Push on past the High Dune to the highest dune in North America, Star Dune (5 hour roundtrip hike).
  5. Explore the perimeter trails: Mosca Pass Trail, Montville Nature Trail, Wellington Ditch Trail, and the Sand Ramp Trail.
  6. For the truly adventurous take the Medano Pass Primitive Road over Medano Pass to Westcliffe, CO. You'll need a high clearance, four wheel drive vehicle! Click here for more information.
  7. Visit nearby Zapata Falls
  8. Camp under the stars in the Piñon Flats Campground or one of the many campgrounds in the area.
Hikers dwarfed by the scale of the dunes [click to enlarge]
The view upon entering the park
Fun Facts:
  • The Star Dune, North America's highest sand dune, stands 755' tall. High Dune reaches 699'.
  • The temperature of the sand can reach 140 degrees in the summer
  • The 22 mile drive over Medano Pass (10,040') requires 9 creek crossings and takes approximately three hours (expect to average less than 10 mph!)
  • 11 inches - the total annual precipitation at the dunes. 
  • Mount Herald is named for Ulysses Herard who homesteaded in the mountain meadows along Medano Creek in 1875. 
  • People have lived in the area of the dunes for 11,000 years.
  • The dunes are said to be among the quietest places in the US: 

Click here for an Insider’s Guide To Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Click here to see more of my photos of the park.

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