Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Break out the beach chairs and settle into white sands in southern Colorado.

Photo: Grant Ordelheide

Bring your sled and your beach umbrella to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve 37 miles from Alamosa, Colo., and explore the tallest sand dunes in North America.

Hike the striking High Dune on First Ridge, a 2-hour, 2.5-mile round trip walk up 699 feet of sand to the top. Then sled down with a sand sled rented at Kristi Mountain Sports in Alamosa for extreme speed. Or beach it along Medano Creek, which flows April through June. Having water is critical to cooling down, so track the current and forecast flow at

With so much fun to be had, don’t leave your common sense behind. The sand’s surface can reach 150F mid-day in summer, which may be hard to conceive of when it’s cooler in the morning. Wear closed-toe shoes and avoid lightning strikes by getting out early in the morning. Blowing sand can be an extremely painful hazard if the wind picks up, so dress in layers. Lastly, the park’s elevation ranges from 7,515 to 13,604. Drink a lot of water.

From Alamosa, take either U.S. Highway 160 east and State Highway 150 north, or State Highway 17 north and County Lane 6 east from Mosca. Great Sand Dunes National Park officials urge visitors to rely on Colorado printed maps rather than computer mapping programs as travelers have ended up trying to drive on hiking paths or stranded at remote trailheads.

Great Sand Dunes National Park by the Numbers

149,137 acres
8,200 foot-elevation of the dune fields
7 summits of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains stretch over 13,000 feet
5 billion cubic meters of sand
750 foot Star Dune is the tallest sand dune in North America
40 mile-per-hour winds are not uncommon
150 degrees Fahrenheit is the temperature the sand can reach on a summer day

Source: National Park Service

Pets in Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is one of only a few national parks that permits pets in many areas. Pets are permitted in most commonly used areas of the park and all of the preserve. Read the NPS guidelines for pets.

Medano Creek

Hiker crosses Medano Creek in Great Sand Dunes National Park
Hiker crossing Medano Creek in the Great Sand Dunes National ParkGloria Wadzinski

Medano Creek flows from the mountains and around the dunes. This fascinating creek is one of two waters in the world that “surge.” Due to the sand features, it comes down in waves, sometimes big enough to surf on. The creek flows from April through June or July, with peak in late May depending on seasonal precipitation.

Slip Face Dune

Hikers brave the windswept sand at Great Sand Dunes National Park
Hikers traverse windswept dunes at Great Sand Dunes National ParkEllen Fitzgibbon

The “slip face” dune is the steepest dune in North America. At nearly 500 feet of vertical fun, sand boarders come from around the world to hit the sand slopes. Six species of insects at the national park are found nowhere else on earth, and other wildlife abounds.

Birders can spend weeks at the dunes and still not track down all of the species found there.

A Really, Really Quiet Place

A study recently found that the park, since it is so remote, is one of the darkest and quietest places on earth! That makes the park an excellent place for stargazing … and UFO sightings! (Nearby attractions include a UFO Watchtower and Colorado Gators Reptile Park.)

For more information:

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Colorado Visitors Center
(800) 258-7597
610 State Ave, Alamosa, Colorado