Great Sand Dunes Activities
Sandboarding and Sledding
For years, visitors have been sledding down the Great Sand Dunes in plastic toboggans, rounded saucers, and even cardboard. As most visitors soon found out, the saucers and cardboard do not work very well whatsoever. Adventuresome and creative people soon developed boards specifically made for sand, featuring extra slick bases. These new boards are the ideal tool for surfing down the dunes. Sandboarding, sledding, and skiing are permitted anywhere on the dunefield away from vegetated areas. The park does not rent or sell sandboards, but they can be rented at Kristi Mountain Sports, (719) 589-9759.
Did you know? The oldest rocks in the park are metamorphic (biotite schist and gneiss) estimated at 1.7 billion years old, making them some of the oldest rocks within the National Park System!
Beach and Sandbox
Experience the beach like nowhere else on earth, surrounded by majestic mountain peaks and the stunning beauty of the dunes. Medano Creek, also known as "Colorado's Natural Beach", is a popular seasonal stream enjoyed by all ages. The creek runs intermittently—depending on the season—at the base of the dunes. Expect the most water in late spring and early summer. Bring beach toys, sunblock, and plenty of drinking water. Click here to view more on current creek conditions.
Hiking In The Great Sand Dunes
Explore any part of the 30 square mile dunefield you wish; there are no designated trails in the sand. A dunes-accessible wheelchair is available for free loan at the Visitor Center. In summer months, plan to hike the dunes in morning or evening to avoid 150F degree sand temperatures or thunderstorms. Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is open 24-hours-a-day, every day of the year. You can hike on the dunes at any time and explore any part of the 30 square mile dunefield you wish; there are no designated trails in the sand.
There are a variety of other hiking options as well; forested trails, alpine trails, grasslands, and wetlands. The region's geology and biology make it unique among our national parks and a fascinating place to explore. You can choose a day hike or stay overnight in the backcountry. Find everything you need to know to plan your excursion here.
Sleeping on the Great Sand Dunes and Camping Nearby
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is open 24-hours-a-day, every day of the year. A free permit from the Visitor Center is required if you plan to camp on the dunes at night. Free backcountry permits are also required for overnight backpacking trips originating in the national park. Inquire at the Visitor Center for site availability, current conditions, and your permit. Please note that permits must be obtained in person during Visitor Center hours: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. in the summer; 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. in the fall, spring, and winter. Permits are not available in advance, or after Visitor Center hours. Plan to use Leave No Trace guidelines.
Medano Pass Primitive Road (high-clearance 4WD vehicles required) roadside camping is only permitted at 21 marked, numbered campsites in Great Sand Dunes National Preserve (part of the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness, beginning 5.2 miles from where the pavement ends in the National Park). These sites are indicated with a brown post and camping symbol and are free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis. All 21 sites fill on summer holiday weekends, and often on other summer weekends.
Piñon Flats is a National Park Service campground located one mile north of the Visitor Center, open April through October. You can make a reservation here.
- 88 Individual sites
- 3 Group Sites
- Restrooms with sinks, flush toilets, and a sink for dishwashing
- Each site has a fire grate and picnic table
- Some sites have large cottonwood or conifer trees for shade, while others are more out in the open with smaller piñon trees
- A few sites can fit RVs up to 35 feet in length
- No hookups
- Individual campsites have a maximum capacity of 8 people, 2 tents, and 2 vehicles (including towed vehicles/trailers).
- A 50% discount applies to senior pass and access pass holders.
Oasis Campground - located just outside the national park entrance. 90 sites total: RV sites with full hookups, tent sites, and camping cabins. Showers, laundry, restaurant, and store on site. Open April through October. Follow the link or call 719-378-2222.
Zapata Falls Campground - primitive campground on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, located 11 miles south of the park Visitor Center, at 9000 feet in elevation. Spectacular views of the entire dunefield and valley. No water; pit toilets; fire rings at each site. $11 per night. Open year round; dirt road is not plowed in winter, but many vehicles drive on it, packing down the snow.
San Luis State Park Campground - located 15 miles west of Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center. 1-800-678-2267 for reservations, 719-378-2020 for ranger station in summer. Hookups are available. No trees in the campground. Lake is absent in dry years. Wetland area closed to the public for nesting season February 15-July 15.
Sand Dunes Swimming Pool and Campground - privately owned facility located 30 miles west of Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center, 2 miles north of Hooper, CO. RV sites with hookups, tent sites, cabins, geothermal swimming pool, organic produce, salads and hot food items. Open year round, 719-378-2807.
KOA Alamosa Campground - 34 miles from Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center, 4 miles east of Alamosa. RVs, hookups, tents, cabins. Open warmer months only. Reserve: 1-800-562-9157 Info: 719-589-9757.
Economy Campground - 35 miles southwest of Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center, 3 miles east of Alamosa. Full hook-ups, dump station, open year round, showers, go cart course, pets welcome. 719-589-5574
Cool Sunshine RV Park - located 36 miles southwest of Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center, in the city of Alamosa. RV sites with hookups and tent sites, outdoor games, artificial putting green and within walking distance of Alamosa's downtown. 719-992-9105
Blanca RV Park - located 27 miles from Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center. in town of Blanca. 719-379-3201.
UFO Watchtower and Campground - located 32 miles from Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center, located north of Hooper on Hwy. 17 Open year round. 719-378-2296.
If you find yourself passing through the San Luis Valley in winter, perhaps on your way to a ski resort or playing in the backcountry, the Great Sand Dunes are an excellent choice for a rewarding photo shoot.
The dunes are one of those rare places for outstanding photography on any given day under all conditions. Start with whatever camera you have available including digital and cell phone cameras. It's simply a matter of seeing the shot and fearlessly shooting at will. Sometimes out of a hundred pictures three or four absolute treasures will emerge. With today's digital technology it is easy to do that, so fire away!
Sunrises, sunsets, galaxies, and clouds that morph and dance across brilliant blue skies provide an ever-changing backdrop to the dunes. Dazzling and magical are accurate descriptive terms of the sky over the dunes.
No light pollution! The Great Sand Dunes provide excellent conditions for star and moon viewing. Star viewing is best on moonless nights. Star charts are available at the Visitor Center.