1. Stand on the Tallest Dune in North America
Great Sand Dunes National Park is home to the tallest sand dune in North America. If you’re feeling ambitious, hike to the 750-foot summit. If the five-hour round trip feels like too big of an undertaking, don’t fear! Hike to the unnamed dune that appears tallest from the parking lot and get a spectacular view of the area in a shorter time. Great Sand Dunes is also one of the few national parks that allows dogs off of paved trails. Your furry friends can hike with you as far as High Dune. Just remember, sand temperatures can be extreme in the summer months. Check the temperature of the sand with your hands frequently to make sure your pup’s paws are safe.
2. Go Sledding… in July!?
Sledding? In the middle of the summer? No matter the month, sand sledding or boarding is a fun activity for kids and adults alike. You can rent sleds or boards at Oasis Store (www.greatdunes.com/x-sports.html) or Kristi Mountain Sports (www.kristimountainsports.com/products/sandboarding#rental).
3. See the Milky Way
Seeing the stars over the highest dunes in North America is a once in a lifetime experience. The park is open 24/7, so don’t pack up when the sun sets. Want to try your hand at photographing the night sky at the dunes? Take our online course (www.nationalparktripsmedia.com/workshops) to sharpen your skills.
4. Go for a Drive
Rent a 4WD vehicle in Alamosa or bring your own and explore the Medano Pass Primitive Road past the point of no-return. You will encounter soft sand, rocky terrain and creek crossings on this thrilling alpine pass. Stop and camp at one of the 21 first-come, first-serve primitive camp sites or hike to beautiful Medano Lake at 7.4 miles round trip.
5. Release your Inner Child
Whether you’re 6 or 60, playing in the sand will release your inner child! Weather at the dunes can often be very windy, so take advantage and bring a kite to fly. In the early summer months when Medano Creek turns the entrance to the dune field into a beach, bring sand castle building supplies and create a masterpiece.
6. Go to a Ranger Program
Get to know the park from an expert and attend a ranger program. These free events take place Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with topics ranging from history to night skies. Stop by the visitor’s center for the weekly schedule.
7. Sleep on the Sand
For a truly unique experience, camp in the sand dunes! Arrive early for backcountry camping permits and hike in at least 1.5 miles. From there, the sky’s the limit! Sleep on the sand, gaze at the stars and watch the sunrise. If backpacking is not your cup of tea, Great Sand Dunes also has a campground, including RV sites.
8. Go on a Sunset Hike with a Ranger
Watch the sunset at this beautiful park and learn more about it from a ranger. The hikes that go to Escape Dunes are especially amazing. This area is off the beaten path and you’ll experience a culturally modified tree – a reminder that the San Luis Valley has a rich history!
9. See a Waterfall
Just outside of the park is the trailhead for Zapata Falls. This easy one-mile round trip hike is a great cool-off after a hot summer morning spent playing in the sand. In the summer, wade into a crevasse and watch the 30-foot-tall falls come thundering down. In the winter, the falls freeze over in amazing patterns.
10. Get a taste of the San Luis Valley
Hungry after a day of exploring Great Sand Dunes? Head to Alamosa and stop at Locavores for a taste of the San Luis Valley. This farm-to-table fast-casual restaurant is owned by Wendi Seger. Her husband is a farmer and her mission is to bring awareness to the diverse farming community in the San Luis Valley through fresh and tasty food. Love Locavores addictive sauces? Bring home a bottle!
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.