Great Sand Dunes National Park


In Great Sand Dunes National Park at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range in southern Colorado, an unexpected sight surprises the eye. Far from the seashore, 39 square miles of ever-shifting sand dunes undulate across the landscape. Strong winds created and continue to change the shape of this horizon. Prevailing southwesterlies pick up particles from the Rio Grande Valley, then drop them on the San Luis Valley floor as the winds lose their force against the mountains. Medano Creek runs along the southeastern edge, providing the water that keeps the dune base in place. To protect the largest dunes in North America, Great Sand Dunes National Park was established in 1932. Visitors enjoy hiking to the 700-foot peak, picnicking in cottonwood stands, and splashing in the creek.What to see and do: Begin your visit to Great Sand Dunes National Park by stopping at the visitor center, open daily except winter holidays, with extended hours during the summer. A short video presentation and some exhibits acquaint you with the area's unique geology. Stake out a spot in the Pinyon Flats campground, then set about enjoying the sand. You may choose to stick to the 18 miles of established trails, which include both short nature trails and a longer trip to Mosca Pass. Or you may strike out on your own over the dunes, which offer unlimited hiking. For a fresh twist on winter sports, you can slide, ski or sled down unvegetated sand.Consider trekking to the peak of the tallest dune. The walk can take one and a half hours, depending on your pace. Because the sand temperature can reach 140 degrees in the midday sun, it's advisable to go early in the day or in the late afternoon, before the sand gets foot-blistering hot. When out on the rippling sand, keep your eyes open for tell-tale tracks of the few creatures who make the Great Sand Dunes their home. Ord's kangaroo rats can survive a lifetime without a sip of water, and you'll find several species of beetles nowhere else in the world but here.If you bring a four-wheel-drive vehicle, you may explore the outskirts of the area along the Medano Pass Primitive Road, which continues into the Rio Grande National Forest. Guided jeep tours are also available in the summer from the concessionaire at the monument boundary. Rangers offer a wealth of information and fun. Check at the visitor center for a summertime schedule of interpretive nature walks, lectures, and campfire programs. Nighttime walks with a flashlight turn up shy nocturnal creatures (observe, but please do not disturb). You also can take bison tours at Zapata Ranch on nearby Nature Conservancy land, 719-378-2356, ext. 1.


11500 Hwy 150
35 miles northeast of Alamosa
Mosca, CO 81146


37.73229000, -105.51164200
Visit Website
(719) 378-6300

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