Imagine a piece of the Sahara Desert being dropped in the middle of Colorado. You should now have a solid notion of what to expect from this incredibly unique US national park. The park’s huge sand dunes—the largest in North America—are a site unlike any other in the world, nestled between the snow-capped Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east and the broad San Luis Valley to the west. This is the place to go if you ever wanted to play in a large sandbox as a kid.
But Great Sand Dunes National Park is more than just a giant sand dune. Beautiful alpine lakes and wildflowers may be found in the area’s mountains, while herds of elk and pronghorns wander the grasslands in the mornings. Great Sand Dunes also has some of the best astronomy experiences in the area, thanks to its bright skies and high elevation.
Where is Great Sand Dunes National Park?
Great Sand Dunes is about midway between Denver and Albuquerque in southern Colorado. The travel to the park takes around 4 hours from each city, however, the cities of Colorado Springs, Pueblo, and Santa Fe are closer.
Mosca is the nearest town, which contains only a gas station and a post office. You’re better off going to Alamosa, which is about 37 miles away if you want more amenities like restaurants, hotels, and stores.
Mesa Verde, 200 miles southwest in Montezuma County, Colorado, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, 230 miles northwest in Montrose County, Colorado, and Rocky Mountain National Park, 260 miles north in Larimer, Grand, and Boulder counties, are the closest national parks.
How to get there?
Simply drive I-25 south until you reach Walsenburg, then turn right onto US-160 west. After crossing Blanca, turn right onto CO-160 North. At the park’s entrance, the road will come to an end.
Follow I-25 north from Albuquerque until you reach Santa Fe, then take US-285 north to Alamosa. Turn left onto CO-150 North, then right onto US-160 East.
The months of May and June are the busiest for visitors to the Great Sand Dunes. The weather is pleasant at this time of year, but expect crowds on weekends, particularly around Medano Creek. While the water level in Medano drops for the rest of the summer, July and August are still excellent months to visit, with wildflowers in bloom. October and November are also wonderful months to visit because of the pleasant weather and lack of visitors. The alpine routes may be too snow-covered from December to February, but there are usually enough mild days to make the dunes accessible. March and April are the worst months to visit since the winds are the strongest and the snow is the heaviest, making the trails and dunes impassable.
The Pion Flats Campground is only available from April to October, although the Great Sand Dunes National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day, the Visitor Center is open every day. From Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day Weekend, it is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily, and then from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day the rest of the year.
Due to COVID-19, the park’s operations are now restricted. Check out the current circumstances at Great Sand Dunes National Park for the most up-to-date COVID information and frequent updates.
Park Entrance Fee
For a non-commercial vehicle, a seven-day pass to Great Sand Dunes National Park costs $25. This pass is valid for all passengers in the car. The charge for a motorcycle is $20. You might also want to consider purchasing an Interagency Annual Pass, which costs $80 and grants you free entry to all US National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands all year.
Great Sand Dunes National Park Hiking Trails
Dunes Overlook Sand Ramp Trail
Montville Nature Trail
Pinyon Flats Campground Trail
Sand Dunes Loop
Dunes Overlook Trail
High Dune Trail
Dune Trail from Pinyon Flats
High and Star Dune Loop
Where to stay?
The Great Sand Dunes Lodge, located just beyond the park’s entrance, is the nearest lodging option. This modern motel offers standard rooms as well as premium units with kitchenettes. Patios look out over the park, and an indoor pool is available for cooling off. Breakfast is served on a continental basis. While there is no restaurant on site, the Great Sand Dunes Oasis Restaurant is located on the opposite side of the lodge and is only a short walk away. Bring your own meals or drive 38 miles to Alamosa, Colorado, for lunch and dinner.
The Great Sand Dunes Oasis camping cottages are located just south of the park entrance. Although there is no running water or restrooms in these primitive cabins, there is a nearby restroom with showers. There are tent and RV camping spots available, as well as a restaurant on-site.