2 Days in Great Sand Dunes National Park

How to see all the highlights in just 48 hours.

Photo: Ellen Fitzgibbon

Short on time? Make 2 days count with our detailed itinerary in Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. This other-worldly park boasts the tallest sand dunes in North America.

Day 1

See the Views

Autumn at Great Sand Dunes National Park
Golden aspen trees over Star DuneNPS Patrick Myers

Experience the tallest sand dunes in North America hands-on by hiking to the top! Start early during the summer months to avoid scorching sand that can reach up to 150° F. There are no trails on the dunes, so hike as short or as far as you like. Feeling ambitious? Star Dune, the tallest dune in North America at 750 feet, is a five-hour roundtrip hike. You’ll be surprised at how hard it can be to hike short distances in the soft sand. Bring plenty of water! The visitor center also has a sand-equipped wheel chair available for reservation.

Cool Off

Children playing in Medano Creek at Great Sand Dunes National Park
Children playing in Medano CreekNPS Patrick Myers

After hiking on the dunes all morning, you’re sure to be hot! If you’re at Great Sand Dunes in the early summer months, Medano Creek may be running. Splash, build sand castles and cool off at the entrance to the dune fields. If the creek is dry, drive 12 miles from the visitor’s center to the trailhead for Zapata Falls. Hike half a mile to the creek where you can wade in to see the 30-foot-tall falls.

Zapata Falls near Great Sand Dunes National Park
Zapata Falls near Great Sand Dunes National Park (Photo: NPS/Patrick Myers)

Attend a Ranger Program or Sunset Hike

Sunset at Great Sand Dunes National Park
Sunset over the dunesAdobe Stock

Spend your evening at a free ranger program or on a ranger-led sunset hike. Weekly activities are posted online at www.nps.gov/grsa/planyourvisit/calendar.htm or at the visitor center and are great for all ages.

See the Stars

The Milky Way above the dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Park
The Milky Way over the dunesKim Belverud

Just because the sun sets doesn’t mean the fun has to stop. Great Sand Dunes is open 24/7, so stay after dark and watch in awe as the stars come out.

Tip: If you’re hiking on the sand dunes at night, buy some glow sticks and leave them at the edge of the dune field by the trail to the car. That way, you won’t get turned around trying to get back in the dark. Just make sure you practice Leave No Trace and pick them up on your way back out.

Farm to…Pint Glass?

Stop in to Square Peg Brewerks (www.squarepegbrewerks.com) in Alamosa for a truly unique experience. Childhood friends Mark Martinez and Derek Heersink both grow the local barley that goes into the beer and own the tap-room. Relax after a long day of exploring with their 20-plus beers on tap.

Day 2

Have a Picnic

Locavores meals assembled to order in Alamosa, Colo.
Meals of locally-grown ingredients are assembled to orderTyler Olson

Stop by farm-to-table, fast-casual restaurant, Locavores, in Alamosa and grab to-go food for a picnic before you start your day. A true taste of the San Luis Valley, Locavores specializes in healthy, fresh fare made with ingredients from local farms such as their Cilantro Spice Salad featuring green chiles or their Colorado Cubano with pork from local ranchers. It opens at 7 a.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. on weekends and is open until 8 p.m.

Go for a Drive

Medano Pass Primitive Road in Great Sand Dunes National Park
The view from Medano Pass Primitive RoadKen Lund/Flickr

Rent a four-wheel drive vehicle in Alamosa or bring your own and explore Medano Pass Primitive Road. You will encounter soft sand, rocky terrain and creek crossings. Stop and eat your Locavores picnic along the way, or put it in a backpack and eat it on the shores of the breathtaking alpine Medano Lake, a 3.2 mile one-way hike from the trailhead along Medano Pass.

Fly a Kite

Spend your last hours at Great Sand Dunes National Park soaking it all in. The often-windy weather is ideal for kite flying, so bring your favorite wind toy and watch it soar over the blue Rocky Mountain skies.

Wondering where to head next?

Mesa Verde National Park is only a 4.5-hour drive from Great Sand Dunes. Check out our 48-Hour Mesa Verde itinerary.


Download an official Great Sand Dunes National Park map for basic road and attraction locations. Want a detailed topographical map of trails in the park and beyond? Buy the Trails Illustrated Sangre de Cristo map at REI.com. This map includes updated trails, trailheads, points of interest for the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness, Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, Blanca Peak, Crestone Needle, Crestone Peak and Humboldt Peak printed on waterproof, tear-resistant material.