The highest sand dunes in North America sit within Great Sand Dunes National Park at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in southern Colorado. The dune field encompasses some 30 square miles (78 square kilometers)—a vast area for hiking, sand sledding, horseback riding, camping, stargazing, or swimming in Medano Creek.
There’s a lot to explore within Great Sand Dunes National Park, so it’s a good idea to kick off your visit at the visitor center, where you can watch a 20-minute movie about the park and get help planning your visit from park rangers.
Two of the most popular activities within the park are sand sledding or sandboarding on the first ridge of dunes near the Dunes Parking Area. Ranger-led programs are offered from May through October and include nighttime telescope viewing, sketching sessions, and sunset hikes.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Great Sand Dunes National Park is a must-visit for families, outdoor enthusiasts, and adventure travelers.
- Dress in layers, as weather can change quickly at this high elevation.
- There is no Wi-Fi in or near the park, and cellphone coverage is limited.
- Parts of the park are wheelchair accessible, with mats from the parking area to the edge of Medano Creek and two sand wheelchairs available for loan.
How to Get There
There’s no public transportation to the park, so you’ll have to drive or join a guided tour. There’s a small airport in Alamosa about 38 miles (61 kilometers) outside the park, but the nearest major commercial airports are in Colorado Springs and Denver.
When to Get There
The best time to visit the park is in the autumn or late May, when weather is typically sunny and cool. Expect sand temperatures to top 150ºF (66 ºC) on summer afternoons. Spring weather is typically windy and unpredictable.
Photographing the Great Sand Dunes
This dramatic landscape seems made for postcard images, and if you want to capture stunning shots, there are some things to keep in mind. First and foremost, plan to do your shooting in the early morning (especially for Medano Creek) or late afternoon. To capture images of the rolling sand dunes free of visitor footprints, head west from the parking area to the first ridge of dunes.