Great Sand Dunes National Park, CO

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We finally had our first trailer outing of the year and it was really nice to get back out in that thing. We went down to Great Sand Dunes National Park, and when we arrived it was dark but were able to find a spot and set up shop. We decided to stay in San Luis State Park which has electrical hookups. We had a pretty good idea what our view would be like from having looked at the campground map and knowing which direction we were facing, but it was even more amazing than expected. We were on the edge of the campground with the lake in front of us (though the lake is dry at this time but it’s still a unique sight with various plants growing in the bottom and white sand patches). Past that are the sand dunes backing up to the mountains.

The sunrise over the mountains was gorgeous and is was worth being up for. We didn’t specifically plan that, rather our dog Maggie woke us up earlier than we’d wanted. It was her first trip in the trailer and she did really well overall. She was definitely confused and kept looking around the trailer and sitting by the door as if she couldn’t figure out what we were doing there. But she settled down and we had bought a softshell crate that we can unzip the top and sides of during the day to use more like a regular dog bed, and zip up at night to keep her confined. We’d definitely recommend these for travel because they fold flat if you want to put it out of the way. Something else we didn’t have for this trip but have since bought after seeing our neighbor’s setup is a stake and a tether, so she can be outside and have more mobility. This time we had just tied her to the stairs with her regular 6 foot leash which worked too but isn’t as ideal. Our neighbor’s dog was very friendly and it was good for Maggie to have a playmate!

The park Visitor Center is a good place to start your visit. It has a park movie, exhibits, and a great patio area overlooking the dunes. Next, head down to the dunes themselves. Medano Creek was flowing while we were there, but it is only a seasonal stream. It’s worth going when the creek is flowing because taking your shoes off and walking in it as you look at the dunes is really nice. It’s also a great way to keep your pets’ paws cool or cool off after you hike up into the dunes. We only went partway up because if you go to the top it’s a 2 hour round trip and that would’ve been too much for Maggie in the heat of the day. There were a lot of people sledding down the dunes too. We’ve been on other sand dunes in the past, but this park has the tallest dunes in North America. It’s also pretty spectacular to have the mountain backdrop immediately adjacent to the dunes.

After spending quite a bit of time on the dunes and in the river, we drove down Medano Pass Primitive Road. If you have a high clearance 4WD vehicle like we do this is a great road to drive down. The views are great from here, but you do have to watch for other vehicles so you can find a place to pull over since the road is pretty narrow. Also, soft sand and some river crossings will need to be negotiated.

Outside of the park on BLM land, there’s another gem worth checking out. It’s called Zapata Falls. The road up to the trailhead is pretty bumpy and washboarded out, but once you get to the top you’re rewarded with far-reaching views of the San Luis Valley and the dunes from above. The trail is not long, only about half mile out to the falls. The last part of the trail requires some rock scrambling to get back into the crevasse where the falls are and a hiking pole definitely comes in handy to help avoid getting your feet wet. The falls are 25 feet high. This time of year the left hand side of the falls was frozen over and the right hand side was running pretty strongly. It seemed like we may have gotten the best view of all seasons!

The Basics

Who: We saw people of all ages. Kids especially were having a great time splashing in the river and sledding down the dunes. Hiking up the dunes may be more strenuous for some but there are great views from all around the park regardless if you hike out or not. This national park is actually one of the most pet friendly as most parks only allow them in parking lots and campgrounds, but here you can take them into the day use area of the dunes and in the preserve while keeping them on a leash.

What: The tallest sand dunes in North America!
Where: A little over 3 1/2 hours southwest of Denver, CO. Alamosa is about 40 minutes away.

When: Our visit in the spring entailed nice warm weather, but it got pretty windy at times and the mornings and evenings were chilly. If you go in the summer, the creek may have stopped running and you’ll want to be even more careful being out in the high heat and watch out for thunderstorms. In the winter it would be really neat to see snow contrasting with the dunes.
Why: Explore the dunes, go hiking or sledding, take astounding pictures, play in Medano Creek, visit a nearby waterfall, the list goes on and on!
How: Drive in from home or hop a flight to Denver, Colorado Springs, Albuquerque or even a small airport in Alamosa and head in from there.
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