Colorado is a gorgeous place that has high visitation in the summer months once the snow melts giving way to beautiful mountains, clean air, hiking, fishing, and many more outdoor sports. The winter months offer excellent skiing opportunities and ski lifts and lodges are strewn throughout the state. The Great Sand Dunes National Park also lies in Colorado, with its expected mountain scenery and the amazing sand dunes. These dunes are shocking to most and provided a stark contrast to the landscape for a remarkable and unforgettable scene of thirty square miles of dunes that are hundreds of feet tall, claiming the spot for the biggest dunes in North America.
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How did The Dunes Get There?
The river is the key element in the creation of these massive dunes. From certain points in the park, one can see the river flowing in front of the massive sand dunes with the mountains layered beyond them creating a scene most people will never see any place on Earth. Lakes that once survived in the area have long since receded, leaving behind sandy bases, combined with the rivers and creeks and the opposing winds, the sand has been blown back and forth and eventually settles to create the dunes, while the rivers that still survive here keep supplying the sand from the valley floor. The sand keeps accumulating, and the dunes are as tall as 750 feet in the air, nestled in front of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The streams still flow across the sand, and visitors can be seen playing in the water with the huge dunes in the background for a surreal picture.
Sandboarding and Sand Sledding
Enjoy the massive dunes in the park by boarding or sledding down them! 30 square miles of dunes ready to be explored and enjoyed by you, as well as many more miles of smaller dunes in the sand sheet that surrounds the largest field. Bring your own sand board or sled and experience the sand amongst the mountains in Colorado. Sledding and boarding are allowed on any of the sand areas away from the vegetation. A hike might be required to reach the smaller slopes, and the larger ones will have a hike of over a mile to get to the top.
The park does not have rentals available, but there are vendors in the valley who do rent out boards and sleds of you don’t have your own. You can board or sled down the sand because these particular types of equipment are made for sand. Watch your mouth and eyes as sand can fly up and enter either or. Avoid mid-day sledding as the sand can reach extremely high temperatures and can get very hot. Morning or evening sledding and boarding are the optimal times for your sand experience in Great Sand Dunes National Park.
Experience the Night Sky
This national park has the perfect combination of a high elevation, dry air, and very little light pollution to make the night sky and Milky Way sightings unbelievable. Moonless nights are the best for stars, planets, and the Milky Way viewings and sightings. The parks website can help you determine which night during your visit will be the best for you. Evenings with the moon out and about provides opportunities to walk among the sand dunes without a flashlight and the moon as your light source. The park has night programs too to participate in where rangers and telescopes can help you see some amazing things in the sky. Free star charts are available at the visitor center for your night visit and experience.
Hike and Backpack the Dunes and Park
The park has many opportunities to hike and backpack. The trails available are broken into different sections such as the dunes area, the creeks, forested trails, alpine trails, wetlands, and grasslands and shrubland trails. Backpacking and camping are permitted anywhere in the 30 miles of dunes which are a visitor favorite. The grassland trails are home to elk herds as they feast on the yellowish stems of a more dry and arid grassland scene. The wetlands of the valley are lush and green and have natural ponds and watering holes that wildlife thrives on. The alpine trails may still have melting snow in July, but the mountains and trees are beautiful and peaceful. Escape the heat of summer and walk some of the lovely forested trails. Don’t forget to splash around in Medano Creek and hike some of the dunes that are so famous.
Four-Wheel-Drive the Medano Pass
Test out your four wheel drive vehicle on the Medano Pass Road. Travel through sandy washes, running creeks, rocky roadbeds, and forested sections of road along this scenic backcountry route. You need to have a four-wheel drive vehicle is to drive this road and there are only a few places to turn around in the beginning. Drivers should be prepared for soft sand, 9 creek crossings, and another steep terrain. It takes about 3 hours to drive the 22-mile road, and it is slow but beautiful traveling. Some of the sections of road have the remains of burned trees from a fire that burned over 6000 acres in 2010. If you don’t have your own four-wheel-drive vehicle, you can rent one through an outside vendor called Pathfinder 4×4 and experience the gorgeous drive and some of the best of the park.
Horseback Ride the Colorado Mountains
If you have horses or want to take a guided horseback ride with a vendor, this park does allow both! Experience Colorado and the park like never before and on horseback. Zapata Partners is the only licensed provider of guided horseback riding tours in the park and guests must stay overnight at the Zapata Ranch to participate. Most of the areas in the park are open to horses and their riders except for the visitor center areas, campgrounds, and another area where visitors walk or may have run-ins with riders. Camp with your horses at Little Medano, Aspen, Cold Creek or Sand Creek for an extended stay or overnight accommodations. Most of the dunes are for pedestrians only, but mountain views await you as you ride into the wild Colorado Mountains and river ways for an unforgettable experience in Great Sand Dunes National Park.