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Scenic Drives

Roads to Ride: Denver to the Dunes

On a recent weekend ride we took Hwy 285 south to Great Sand Dunes National Park where we camped and enjoyed the beauty of the dunes both from inside the park and from our campground. Pack your gear, grab your motorcycle and head south from Denver to ride through amazing views of the central rockies and the southern Colorado landscape.

While I-25 South may be the quicker route to get you to the San Luis Valley, the beauty of the ride on Hwy 285 to Hwy 17 is unmatched—especially in the open air on a motorcycle. The route is dotted with many quaint, tiny towns that are perfect stops for gas, food or sightseeing. The highway winds up through the foothills just south of Denver, through several mountain passes and eventually opens up into the flat plains of the San Luis Valley Basin.

Kenosha Pass Fence
The view from the summit of Kenosha Pass on U.S. Highway 285 south.Linsey Dodaro

Peaks and valleys and up and over several mountain passes, the route brings you through the best scenic views of Colorado. After passing through Conifer and Bailey, the road brings you to the summit of Kenosha Pass, and down into the South Park basin.

U.S. Highway 285 south, before the town of Fairplay
U.S. Highway 285 south, before the town of Fairplay.Linsey Dodaro

The first towns in the basin are Fairplay and the historic town of South Park which are good for a pit stop for gas and food. After the town of Fairplay, 285 snakes between Gunnison National Forest and the Pike and San Isabel National Forests. The road will take you alongside several 14ers including Mount Antero as well as Mount Evans, and will pass over Trout Creek Pass and then Poncha Pass. After which Hwy 285 straight shots into the flats of Southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley Basin.

South Park hotel sign
A vintage sign in the historic town of South Park just outside of Fairplay. This is a good place to stop, stretch your legs, fill up on gas or grab a bite to eat.Linsey Dodaro

Dotted with telephone poles and low, desert-cacti, the valley is bordered by mountain ranges on each side, the Sangre de Cristo range to the east and the San Juan mountains to the west. These mountains have contributed to the formation and location of the valley’s main attraction—Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. With Medano Creek at the base, the dunes are the perfect place to spend an afternoon and morning at.

Medano Creek in Great Sand Dunes National Park
Medano Creek at the base of the sand dunes in the national park.Linsey Dodaro

As for places to stay, camping is always my favorite option. If you decided to pack your bike with camping gear and want to camp near the dunes there are several options. We camped at Great Sand Dunes Oasis, which includes both a lodge and a campground. If you choose either, be aware that the roads surrounding the Great Sand Dunes Oasis are rocky, dirt roads so take caution when riding your bike around this area. The Oasis has everything you may need for spending a night or two, a convenience store that carries food great for camping as well as firewood, a restaurant. There are also facilities such as laundry, running water and bathrooms near the campground.

Oasis Campground in Great Sand Dunes National Park
Motorcycle camping at Oasis Campground overlooking the Great Sand Dunes.Linsey Dodaro
Sunset at Oasis Campground at Great Sand Dunes National Park
Sunset over the San Luis Valley from Oasis Campground.Linsey Dodaro

There are also other camping options in the area such as Pinon Flats campground, San Luis Lake Wildlife area campground which has paved roads, the privately owned Sand Dunes Swimming Pool and Campground, KOA Alamosa, Zapata Falls Campground and others. Choose dispersed camping areas if you’re looking for something that is off the beaten path and that are free.

Oasis Campground \
“Happy Trails to You,” the sign as you leave Oasis Campground.Linsey Dodaro