Great Sand Dunes National Park Guide

Home to the tallest dunes in North America, stunning landscapes, alpine lakes, and aspen forests, Great Sand Dunes National Park is an ultimate adventure destination in America. 

In this article, we’ll share the best things to do in Great Sand Dunes National Park, the best time to visit, the weather, where to stay, and other essential things you need to know to have an extraordinary trip. Let’s begin!



ParkGreat Sand Dunes National Park
Things to doHiking, Scenic Drive and many more
Hotels near Great Sand Dunes National ParkOasis Duplex Motel, Great Sand Dunes Lodge and many more
Entry Fee$15-$25
Camping LocationMultiple Location

Where Is Great Sand Dunes National Park?

The Great Sand Dunes National Park is located in San Luis Valley, in southern Colorado in the United States. While the Preserve is located in the east of the Rocky Mountains.

From the south, you can access the park’s main gate from highway 150, and from the west, you can reach the park from county road 6.

And if you wish to take a flight, then you can take a flight to San Luis Valley Regional Airport which is the closest airport from reach Great Sand Dunes, National Park.


This Park and Preserve is famous for having one of the most fragile and tallest dune systems globally, with some dunes rising to 750ft from the floor of San Luis Valley in southern Colorado.

It also hosted some of the darkest skies in the country and got recognized as Dark Sky Park in 2019. 

The Park offers more than sand, with diverse systems ranging from stunning grasslands and majestic mountain peaks to cotton groves and tundra. 

This Park is a beloved destination for hardcore hikers and adventurous souls.

More than half a million visitors came from all across the globe to explore the Park and enjoy hiking, sandboarding, and sledding. 

Guide to Great Sand Dunes National Park

History of Great Sand Dunes National Park

The Great Sand Dunes in Colorado had formed around 444,000 years ago when the large inland lake once covered the San Luis Valley got dry due to climate change.

The Medano and Sand Creeks bought the sand from the mountains to the fabulous dunes and carried it around the valley floor to recycle it. 

The oldest evidence of human habitation in the area dates 11,000 years.

From Native Americans to European and American settlers, the great dunes were home to many centuries. 

By 1920, the dunes became a potential source of making money for local businesses. The idea of dunes getting destroyed by gold mining or other concrete manufacturing got the locals worried. 

A bill was sponsored by the members of the P.E.O Sisterhood in favor of conserving the area.

In 1932, the bill was signed by President Herbert Hoover to give Great Sand Dunes the status of National monument, which was later expanded into a national park and preserve in 2000-2004. 

Best Things to Do in the Park

The Park offers many things to do that can be hard to choose from. Here are some best things to do in the Park:

Drive to Medano Pass

If you want to explore what lies behind the Sand Dunes without having to put on your hiking shoes, consider driving to primitive Medano Pass.

The pass is located at an elevation of 10,000 feet elevation. A scenic drive to Medano Pass is just 22-mile long, with a great way to explore the overlooked mountain environment of the Park.

You can watch a combination of deep sands, rocky sections, and creek crossing along the route.

If you don’t have a car, you can rent a jeep from a 4WD tur provider, Pathfinders 4X4. 

Take a Dip into Zapata Falls 

Zapata Falls is one of the top tourist destinations in this Park. The 25-foot secluded waterfall is surrounded by a dune field and vast tundra and serves as the perfect respite for visitors to take a break from the sun and cool off.

Located only half a mile from the parking lot, it’s a great place to enjoy the beautiful views of the Park fed by melting snow in the mountain.

Zapata Falls is most stunning during sunrise or sunset when subtle gold, pink, and purple tones radiate from the landscape. 

Hike the Sand Dunes

The Park has some of the most beautiful hikes with stunning landscapes.

The high Dune hike is hands down one of the most popular trails in the Park that starts from the visitor center and provides an excellent view of the whole Park.

Being the tallest dune in the Park, it rises to 46 ft, and currently, there’s no trial available to reach the top.

While much of the Park is dedicated to backcountry experiences, many trails are suitable for novice hikers and families.  

Sled and Board the Sand Dunes

Sledding and sandboarding are some of the most popular things to do in the Park.

Located at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the Park’s dunes encompass 19,000 acres of land.

There are no trails in the dune field, so you can explore as you wish. Sandboarding and sledding are allowed anywhere on the dune field away from the vegetated areas.

Look for the slopes with a gentle runout at the bottom with an easy-to-access dune ridge. You can rent the sandboard at local concessioners or stores outside the Park. 

Explore the Wildlife

This Park has designated its wilderness which means there’s an excellent chance to explore the wildlife.

Mule deer is the most commonly observed animal in the Park, while some animals like kangaroo cats live their entire lives in the dunes.

Black bears can be seen near riparian areas where plants and animals are abundant.

During October, most visitors come to the Park to witness the thousands of sandhill cranes stopover during migration. 

Best Time to Visit 

If hiking is your priority, the best time to visit the Park is in late spring or early fall.

The weather is mild, and you can comfortably enjoy a fantastic view of dunes and mountains.

The Park gets super busy during summer, so avoid hiking, but you can witness the beautiful scenery of Colorado wildflowers in June and July. 


To download the official map of the Park in various formats, please visit the NPS website.

All the maps have excellent resolution and clear descriptions of main attractions, hiking trails, visitor centers in the area so you can have a safe and enjoyable trip. 

Hotels Near Great Sand Dunes National Park

The Park doesn’t have lodging options except for Piñon Flats Campground. Here are some accommodation options outside the Park: 

  • Great Sand Dunes Lodge
  • Oasis Camping Cabins 
  • Oasis Duplex Motel
  • Zapata Ranch
  • Rustic Rook Resort

Camping Locations

There are a handful of campgrounds inside or near the park. Piñon Flats Campground is located inside the Park within walking distance from the dunes.

The campground is open April through October and charges $20 per night for a tent, RV, or picnic table.

Reservations can be made on The campground located outside of the Park is allocated on a first-come-first-served basis, while backcountry campers must get a permit for camping on the dunes. 


Temperatures in this Park can be extreme, with cold and snowy winters and scorching summers. The average daily temperature ranges from 75-80 °F with cold nights.

Winters are cold, averaging from -15°F to -5 °F, with January being the coldest month, but sunshine is abundant, so it doesn’t feel much cold.

Spring brings heavy winds, and temperatures can vary widely. Check out the weather forecast before visiting the Park. 

Read: Badlands National Park

Read: Everglades National Park

Entry Fee & Passes

The Park charges $15 per person, $25 for non-commercial. lf you are planning to visit other national parks as well, purchase the Annual or America the Beautiful Pass.

Entry passes can be purchased online at no additional cost or the park entrance upon arrival. 

Checklist of Things to Pack

If you’re wondering what to pack for your first trip to this park then here are some must-have items to pack: 

  1. Backpack
  2. Seasonal clothes
  3. Sunscreen and sunglasses
  4. Bandana
  5. Hiking Boots or trainers 
  6. Binoculars/Camera
  7. Plenty of water or hydration system
  8. Trekking poles
  9. Headlamp/flashlight
  10. Pocket Knife 
  11. Bug protection
  12. Bear Spray
  13.  First-aid kit 
  14.  Map & Compass


How Many Days Should I Spend in Great Sand Dunes National Park?

It entirely depends on you. You can spend an entire week sightseeing, camping, or hiking, but even a single day is also enough to enjoy the plenty the Park has to offer. 

Is Great Sand Dunes National Park Worth Visiting?

Great Sand Dunes National Park has a very versatile ecosystem and allows you to explore everything from the desert, forests, grasslands to lakes, wetlands, and even tundra at one place, making this destination worth a visit. 

Are pets allowed in Great Sand Dunes National Park?

Yes, pets are allowed in the main areas of the Park, including campgrounds, trails, and roads, but they must be put on a leash at all times. 

NPC Overall Rating

Leave a Comment