Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve located in southern Colorado, covers an area of 149,028 acres and features some of the most unique and diverse landscapes in the country. Whether you are looking for adventure, relaxation, education, or inspiration, you will find something to suit your taste in this park. This article will give you some helpful advice and information on the How to Visit, the Best Time to Visit, and Things to Do in Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.
How to Visit to Great Sand Dunes National Park
The park is accessible by car, plane, or public transportation.
If you are driving, you can take US Highway 160 or State Highway 150 to reach the park entrance. The park is about four hours from Denver, three hours from Colorado Springs, and six hours from Albuquerque.
If you are flying, you can fly to Denver International Airport or Colorado Springs Airport and rent a car or take a shuttle service to the park.
If you are using public transportation, you can take a bus or train to Alamosa or Fort Garland and then take a taxi or ride-share service to the park.
Entrance Fee and Hours:
The park entrance fee is $25 per vehicle or $15 per person for pedestrians, bicyclists, or motorcyclists. The fee is valid for seven days and allows you to access both the park and the preserve.
The park is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, year-round. However, some facilities and services may have limited hours or seasons. The visitor center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., except on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. The visitor center offers exhibits, films, maps, brochures, books, souvenirs, restrooms, water fountains, and ranger assistance.
The park also has two campgrounds (Pinyon Flats Campground and Oasis Campground), several picnic areas (Mosca Creek Picnic Area, Castle Creek Picnic Area, Medano Creek Picnic Area), a store (Oasis Store), a restaurant (Oasis Restaurant), and a gift shop (Sand Dunes Gift Shop).
Best Time to Visit Great Sand Dunes National Park
The park has four distinct seasons that affect its weather, scenery, activities, and crowds. The average temperatures range from 32°F to 88°F throughout the year. Average precipitation ranges from 0.4 inches to 1.5 inches per month. The average wind speeds range from 9 mph to 14 mph per day.
The best time to visit depends on your preferences and interests. Here are some factors to consider when choosing your travel dates:
Summer (June-August): This is the peak season for visitors who want to enjoy warm weather and sunny days. It is also the hottest season with temperatures reaching up to 88°F in July. The sand can get very hot during the day (up to 150°F) so it is advisable to wear shoes and avoid walking on bare sand between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Fall (September-November): This is a good season for visitors who want to avoid crowds and enjoy cooler weather and colorful foliage. This is also a variable season with temperatures ranging from 32°F to 79°F depending on elevation and time of day. The dunes may be dry and loose or wet and hard depending on rainfall. This is also a good season for wildlife watching as many animals are more active and visible during this time.
Winter (December-February): This is a great season for visitors who want to experience a winter wonderland and enjoy snow activities. This is also a great season for stargazing as the skies are clear and dark and the air is dry and crisp. You may see the Milky Way galaxy, shooting stars, satellites, or other celestial phenomena in the night sky.
Spring (March-May): This is a beautiful season for visitors who want to see wildflowers and greenery and enjoy mild weather and sunny days. This is also a windy season with strong gusts that can blow sand and dust into your eyes, mouth, nose, ears, and equipment. The roads and trails may be muddy or flooded so it is advisable to check the conditions before you go. This is also a good season for birdwatching as many migratory birds pass through or nest in the park or the preserve.
Things to Do in Great Sand Dunes National Park
The park offers a wide range of activities and attractions for different types of visitors, such as families, couples, solo travelers, adventurers, nature lovers, history buffs, or stargazers. You can choose from hiking, sandboarding, wildlife watching, stargazing, or joining ranger programs. Here are some of the most popular and recommended things to do in the park:
The park has over 30 miles of trails that vary in length, difficulty, and scenery. You can hike on the dunes, in the mountains, along the creeks, or through the forests.
Some of the best trails are High Dune Trail (2.5 miles round trip), which takes you to the top of the second highest dune in the park; Mosca Pass Trail (7 miles round trip), which follows a historic wagon route through a lush canyon; Star Dune Trail (8 miles round trip), which leads you to the highest dune in North America; and Medano Lake Trail (7 miles round trip), which climbs to a beautiful alpine lake surrounded by peaks.
The park is one of the few places in the world where you can slide down dunes on a board or a sled. You can rent or buy sandboards or sand sleds from nearby vendors or online sources. You can also bring your snowboard or sled but they may not work as well on sand.
Some of the best dunes for sandboarding are near the main parking lot or along Medano Creek. Look for smooth and steep slopes that are free of wet or vegetation-covered areas. Follow the designated routes and avoid crossing other people’s tracks.
Be aware of the challenges and risks of sandboarding, such as falling, getting sand in your eyes or mouth, and damaging your equipment. Have fun, feel adrenaline, and enjoy the views.
The park is home to more than 200 species of animals that live in different habitats and ecosystems.
You can see pronghorns, elk, bighorn sheep, coyotes, foxes, bears, mountain lions, rabbits, squirrels, birds, reptiles, and insects in the park or the preserve.
To spot and observe wildlife safely and respectfully, use binoculars or cameras, keep a safe distance, stay quiet and still, avoid feeding or touching animals, and follow park regulations.
Some of the best times and places to see wildlife are early morning or evening hours, near water sources or vegetation zones, and along trails or roads.
The park is an ideal place for stargazing because of its high elevation, low light pollution, clear skies, and designated dark sky status. You can see thousands of stars, planets, constellations, and galaxies in the night sky.
You can also witness special celestial phenomena such as meteor showers (such as Perseids in August or Geminids in December), eclipses (such as lunar eclipse on May 15, 2023), comets (such as Comet Leonard on December 12, 2023), or satellites (such as International Space Station).
To plan and enjoy a stargazing session in the park, check the weather forecast and moon phases, bring a flashlight or headlamp with a red filter, use a star map or app to identify celestial objects, join a ranger-led program or event (if available), and find a comfortable spot away from artificial lights.
The park offers various ranger programs that are fun and educational for visitors of all ages.
Join guided hikes, talks, demonstrations, workshops, or Junior Ranger activities. Learn about the park’s natural and cultural history, geology, ecology, wildlife, astronomy, and more.
Participate in fun challenges or games such as Medano Creek Challenge, Sand Dunes Scavenger Hunt, or Night Sky Bingo. To join ranger programs, check the schedule at the visitor center or online and sign up if required.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado, is a unique and amazing destination for anyone who loves nature and adventure. You can visit the park any time of the year and enjoy a variety of activities and attractions that suit your taste. You can hike on the highest dunes in North America, slide down them on a board or a sled, watch diverse wildlife, gaze at starry nights, or join ranger programs.