5 Tips to Having an Amazing Time at Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park, located in beautiful southeast Colorado, is a park like none other. This unique park contains the tallest sand dunes in North America. These amazing sand dunes line up along the backdrop of incredible mountain scenery to create an experience you will never forget.

Dunes and mountains are the perfect mixture to creating a “playground” inside a “sandbox” that makes you feel like you are in a real life “sandcastle” in the words of our 2 year old. She painted a really good picture from her perspective of what this National Park has to offer and what sets it apart from all the others. Our first visit to the Sand dunes was incredible.

Here are some things we learned along the way that hopefully will help your family have the same great experience we did.

1) Surf the Dunes – The Sand Dunes are beautiful just to look at, but if you really want an AMAZING experience and get the most out of this park, then I would suggest sledding or sandboarding down the dunes.

The National Park does not rent boards, but rentals can be found at Great Sand Dunes Oasis just outside the park entrance or in nearby Alamosa. We paid $20 plus tax for an all day rental per board. In our opinion, it was totally worth it! We had a blast sledding and boarding down the sandy dunes and this is an experience you don’t get everyday.

We did see people bring personal sleds and pieces of cardboard to slide down the dunes for a more budget friendly option, but the rentals are meant for sand and seem to work the best. As fun as this is, you have been warned! Be prepared because we have been cleaning sand out of places I didn’t even know existed for days. This says a lot because I am a nurse, so that makes me pretty familiar with the human anatomy. Just saying.

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2) Protect Yourself – Coming prepared with lots of WATER, sunscreen, bug spray, socks, and sunglasses will help protect you from all the elements nature throws at you. It is dry out there so packing plenty of water is a must. The sun is beating down on the sand in the summer so make sure to lather on the sunscreen and bug spray to keep those pesky mosquitos from “sucking the fun” out of your trip. Sunglasses are a great way to protect your eyes from the blowing sand and sun rays as well. Any kind of hat or bandana is also a bonus as well. Wearing the correct shoes is crucial. It is recommended to wear sturdy and closed footwear in the summer months.

The daytime sand temperature can reach 140 °F, so walking on the hot sand with bare feet feels like you are walking on lava, if I had to guess what that felt like anyway. I wore my keen sandals with socks (fashion police siren just went off, don’t judge me) and this was the best combination that I discovered in the heat and for climbing in the sand. Sandals are great for wading in the seasonal creek below the dunes.

3) Be Prepared – There are five dunes over 700 feet tall and can take up to an average of 5 hours roundtrip to hike to the tallest dune. Climbing these massive sand dunes is a workout! I consider myself “fitish” which if you look up the definition of that it means I workout, but I equally like food. With that being said, I was surprised how out of breath I got climbing the dunes with a board. I also had a toddler in a carrier on my back which didn’t make it any easier, but be aware it does take some effort and mother nature makes you work to climb the dunes to sled down.

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Needless to say we did not even attempt to hike those dunes. I actually woke up sore the next morning. If this does not sound fun to you, then anyone can come just to admire the amazing scenery with little to no effort. Although, if you want to do some climbing or catch some ariel views from the top, get ready to get your workout on! We were pretty exhausted by the end. 

4) Bring Water Shoes and Toys – Medano Creek runs at the base of the dunes during certain months of the year and the depth and duration are directly linked to snowpack in the mountains above the dunes.  What makes this so neat is now this park is the trifecta of the perfect combinations of mountains, sand, and water.

The water level peaks in early June and starts to decline and dry up around the end of July. Why the water is flowing take advantage of this liquid gift from mother nature and go skimboarding or build sand castles. Pack a lunch and enjoy the spectacular views. Around the creek mosquitos can be TERRIBLE though! Did I mention to bring bug spray?

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5) Don’t forget Zapata Falls – If you have some extra time in the area then check out this stunning waterfall on the southeast side of the park entrance. This half mile hike to these hidden falls in some icy water will be a great family activity as well as catching some great views from the trail parking lot. Be prepared for 3 miles of bumpy roads to reach the trail head, but definitely worth it to catch this gem. Don’t forget your water shoes, camera, and bug spray!

Great Sand Dunes National Park is one of the most incredible and unique parks in the U.S. There is so much to do and with this park being open 24 hours a day 7 days a week you have plenty of time to see all this park has to offer including viewing thousands of stars on a clear moonless night. There is something for everyone such as hiking trails, biking, off roading trails, horseback riding, and where else can you surf sand dunes?

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None of that appeals to you? Then pack a picnic and enjoy the amazing scenery that is so beautiful, you will feel like you are trapped in a painting. Lets face it, who doesn’t like a picnic? Check out the visitors center to catch a quick video on how the dunes where created and check out some of the interactive activities offered by the park. You will not have a dull moment. Check out our  youtube video to see more! 

Here is the park website to see more this park has to offer! https://www.nps.gov/grsa/planyourvisit/things-to-do.htm

Author: Marissa

Hi, I’m Marissa! I’m a a nurse, wife, mother, and sister of 6 brothers and sisters. I love being outdoors and traveling to new places. As a family we enjoy hiking, running, biking, or just hanging at the lake with friends.


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