1 day at Great Sand Dunes National Park 

The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is RANDOM. As you are driving through Colorado's farm, prairie, and marsh lands, snow capped peaks in the distance provide a stunning backdrop for absolutely massive sand dunes that seemingly come out of nowhere. From afar, this park is so bold and beautiful that it can feel as though you are entering a painting. It's surreal, to say the least. You feel in awe but also confused and begin to question everything - these mounds of sharply rising sand just don’t make sense (or do they? #science).

Bizarre as it may be, this park and preserve is real, and it is a wild, phenomenal place to visit. The great diversity of ecosystems in a relatively small area provide a rich world to explore, both on the dunes and in the surrounding region. As an added bonus, the dunes themselves are essentially a giant playground which will have your inner (or actual) child itching to play in the sand for hours on end. 

Where to stay

Camping: Piñon Flats Campground (open April through October). This is the only car camping option in the park. Online reservations are highly recommended! 

Lodges and Cabins: The National Parks Service website has a list of many non-camping lodging options just outside of the park. 

The hike to High Dune, Great Sand Dunes National Park

The hike to High Dune, Great Sand Dunes National Park

Hiking

To High Dune from Visitor Center: 2 hours round trip

To Star Dune from Visitor Center: 5 hours round trip

Hiking here is a little funny...there are no trails, you pretty much point to where you want to go and you go there. However, there are some obvious points of interest, like High Dune (cleverly named for being the tallest dune you can see from the visitors center) and Star Dune, the tallest sand dune in North America, standing at 750 feet (229m) high from the valley floor. 

Hiking is a somewhat treacherous experience as going uphill on loose sand is not ideal for traction. Every step is like a half step, so when you’re climbing 700 feet to the High Dune, it feels more like you’re climbing 1,400 feet. However, the reward at the top is so sweet that you forget how difficult the journey was to get there. Pair that with the fact that you’re basically in a giant playground with endless fun of jumping and sliding off dune edges and the pain will disappear.

Running back down the dunes makes the whole journey up totally worth it.

Running back down the dunes makes the whole journey up totally worth it.

Here’s some tips

Tip #1: RENT A SANDBOARD and shred the gnar back down. You will not be disappointed.

Tip #2: There is nearly no light pollution, so treat yourself to a stunning view of the night sky by taking a night hike or even sleeping out on the dunes.

Shredding the gnar on a sand dune. Photo courtesy of  The Roaming Rhythm .

Shredding the gnar on a sand dune. Photo courtesy of The Roaming Rhythm.

Perfect patterns in the sand created by the constructive/destructive winds of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

Perfect patterns in the sand created by the constructive/destructive winds of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

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