Against the backdrop of rugged 14,000' peaks in the Sangre de Cristo mountains—the 30 square mile sand dune field, with no designated trails—invites you on an adventure. The natural system of the Park ranges from great sand dunes to forests, from cottonwood groves to majestic mountain peaks and tundra. The highest elevation in the park is 13,604' above sea level. The Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center and campground areas are at about 8,200'.
Sand Dunes History
Recent scientific research suggests that the Great Sand Dunes began forming around 440,000 years ago, after a large inland lake that once covered the San Luis Valley - named "Lake Alamosa" when evidence of the lakebed was discovered in 2002 - dried up due to climate change. The predominant southwest winds blowing toward a low curve in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains helped form the sand dunes, and they still do today.
The Medano and Sand Creeks, two close mountain streams, drag sand from the mountain side of the great sand dunes and carry it around to recycle it on the valley floor. This constant movement of sand by wind and water help to preserve the Great Sand Dunes, as well as their standing as the talles sand dunes in North America.
Many peoples have passed through, over and around the Great Sand Dunes for thousands of years (the oldest evidence of human inhabitants on the dunes datees back nearly 11,000 years), and there has always been a deep connection felt by those who've visited. From Native American traditions from the Navajo, Apache and Ute Tribes, to European and American settlers and homesteaders, these sand dunes have provided home and wonder to many groups over the centuries.
Partly because of these deep connections, and partly because of the long history of the Great Sand Dunes in the Southwestern expansion of the United States, they were given National monument status by President Herbert Hoover in 1932. Between 2000 and 2004, the Great Sand Dunes National Monument was given National Park and Preserve status, and it remains one of Southwest Colorado's most beloved natural attractions even today. Learn more about how the sand dunes were formed here.
How Do I Get To The Sand Dunes?
Just 35 miles northeast of Alamosa, the dunes are an easy drive via U.S. 160 and Colorado 150 from the south, or from Colorado 17 and Country Lane 6 from the west.
What Can I Do At The Dunes?
The Great Sand Dunes National Park is open 24 hours a day, all year. Consult the official Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve web site for information on fees and camping reservations. There are many events from May through September including the Summer Concert Series and Junior Ranger Day.
The park web site includes information on geology, hydrology, ecology, and cultural history and includes materials for teachers and kids.
You can help support the dunes at Friends of the Dunes.
Camping at Great Sand Dunes National Park
Shoulder Seasons at Great Sand Dunes National Park
The Insider's Guide to Sandboarding at Great Sand Dunes