Hike Past the Point of No Return Most visitors explore the sand dunes after a short half mile hike near the visitors center. We drove up to the Point of No Return parking area and hiked to the Sand Pit picnic area. For three hours we had the place to ourselves with plenty of room to climb, slide, dig and build in the sand dunes and creek. Watch out for hot sand both on the dunes and hiking out – our toes did not appreciate the burning on the walk out.
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On this National Park to Park Highway adventure, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve was a welcome respite after the crowds at Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone National Parks. This park is more remote and less developed than most National Parks we’ve visited which meant that we found some of the solitude we’ve come to associate with being in the outdoors.
Great Sand Dunes has fewer developed trails and roads because the main attraction is the field of giant sand dunes the park was established to protect, including the tallest sand dune in North America. You wouldn’t think a mountain of sand would appear between the plains and mountains of Colorado, without a drop of ocean in sight, but they’re there and lots of fun to play in.
If you’re planning a trip to Great Sand Dunes be sure to bring bug spray. The mosquitoes were nasty in the campground and on the hike to the dunes. Once on the dunes the breeze and lack of vegetation kept the blood sucking beasts away.
In addition to climbing dunes, sand sledding and castle building, enjoy these activities at Great Sand Dunes Park and Preserve.
Sled Down a Sand Mountain Missing the winter? Try sliding down a mountain of sand on a sled or sand board. Rent one at the private campground just outside of the park entrance or bring your own. Be sure to get out in the early morning or evening – the afternoon sand can reach temperatures of 150 degrees.
Splash in Medano Creek – Flowing from the mountains down past the sand dunes is a shallow crreek that is a blast to play in. When the water is high you can float on intertubes, but that’s only during spring runoff in May and June. Even if the water is only a few inches deep it’s worth splashing in.
Camp at Pinon Flats Campground The only developed campground at this park has 88 sites, flush toilets, dishwashing sinks, paths down to the sand dunes and the dune overlook and wildlife aplenty. Deer wandered through the campground along with rabbits, birds and unfortunately a million and a half mosquitos.
Enjoy the Interactive Exhibits at the Visitor Center – I’ve been to several National Park visitor centers and this one was definitely my favorite. The interactive exhibits were great for both kids and adults and they offer a junior ranger backpack you can use to explore the park.
Zapata Falls About 10 miles south of the park is a rough gravel road leading to a hidden water fall. Zapata Falls was a rocky half mile hike round trip to a beautiful but freezing cold water fall. It felt great on a hot summer day, except that the water was so cold my toes took 20 minutes to thaw completely.
Have a 4WD adventure on the Primitive Road The road between the Sand Dunes and the Sangre de Cristo mountains is a primitive sand and gravel road that requires a high clearance 4WD vehicle and lowered tire pressure. I would’ve loved to have our UTV to explore this bit of wilderness but unfortunately off road vehicles aren’t allowed in National Parks. If you have a jeep or other 4WD truck this would be a fun drive.