The Great Sand Dunes National Park is such an odd and intriguing place where sand covers some 30 square miles in the middle of southern Colorado. I visited the park about two months ago to check it out and attempted to sandboard, and it felt like I was on a different planet. The wind creates such perfectly crisp ridge lines that extend endless up towards the sand dunes, eventually merging with the sky and the snowcapped mountains in the background.
The park is in southern Colorado about 250 miles south of Denver and it takes roughly 4 hours to drive there. You pass by a few small towns along Route 160 with motel options, but we stayed in Alamosa which is the largest nearby city. Honestly, some of the towns we passed by reminded me of the Museum of Wax and creeped me out a bit.
On the day we visited the sand dunes, we left Alamosa early in the morning and drove 40 minutes to the park. We made a stop at the Great Sand Dunes Oasis just outside of the park entrance to rent sandboards and sleds. We arrived 15 minutes before they opened at 8AM and were the second group in line, but when we left there was a line for rentals. The boards and sleds were $20 each per day, which I thought was pretty cheap. They did said they rent out every day so I’d suggest going early, otherwise there are rental options from Alamosa as well.
From the store, there’s only one road to enter the park. We parked at the Great Sand Dunes parking lot and started our hike onto the sand. We first crossed Mendano Creek which was around ankle deep in May, but we wore sandals and it felt refreshing getting our feet wet. I think the creek actually dries up in the summer as there’s less snowmelt from the mountains.
There are no trails on the sand dunes, so we just hiked towards the dunes. Originally, I considered hiking High Dune or Star Dune, the two tallest dunes, but I quickly scrapped that plan after struggling to even make it up a tiny hill. Hiking in the sand is extremely tiring because you sink backwards into the sand with every step. It was a very inefficient and exhausting way of hiking.
The sand dunes are so impressive and the views look unreal. There are layers upon layers of sand dunes, each shaped by the wind to create the defined ridgelines that drop sharply down the steep slopes. The sun also creates dramatic shadows that add contour to the color gradient of the dunes. And in the distance, the tall snowcapped mountains peek out above the sand dunes to add texture to the silky-looking sand.
We found a medium-sized hill and began sandboarding. I thought it’d be similar to snowboarding, but the sandboard has a lot more grip and isn’t as easy to turn. After a couple of attempts and numerous wipe outs, I got the hang of it and was able to sandboard semi-decently. But the most challenging part about sandboarding was actually climbing back up the hill, especially directly up the hill at the steepest parts.
By the time we left around 11 AM, the sand had already gotten pretty hot that we couldn’t walk barefoot. I’d recommend starting the day as early as possible because it heats up fast and the sun can get unbearably hot.
Oh and we took some cool photos. We were the only group in nicer clothes instead of hiking clothes.
The Great Sand Dunes is definitely one of the more unique parks I've visited. The views of the sand dunes and mountains behind it were gorgeous and sandboarding was also a ton of fun. Definitely check it out if you're in the area.