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Colorado: Great Sand Dunes National Park

Sand dunes are a recognizable feature of deserts – most of us have seen those sweeping panoramas in the film, Lawrence of Arabia. And there are notable deserts in the USA, for example, the Mojave. But we did not expect to find such impressive examples of sand dunes in Colorado (which to be fair has plenty of deserts … but most people think mountains and snow).

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is in southern Colorado. It’s known for huge dunes like the towering Star Dune, and for the seasonal Medano Creek and beach created at the base of the dunes. The park contains the tallest sand dunes in North America, rising about 750 feet (230 m) from the floor of the San Luis Valley.

Jack and Emily loved the sand dunes, running up them and tumbling back down. Even for these experienced sand dune fiends, these towering banks were a real challenge.  After a couple of hours, they were exhausted and we retreated to the visitor centre to cool down. This gave them the chance to add another Junior Ranger badge to their already impressive collection.

Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado
A distant view of the sand dunes

Planning your visit to Great Sand Dunes National Park

Address:Colorado
Website:https://www.nps.gov/grsa/index.htm
Telephone:T:(719) 378-6395
Hours:

The Visitor Center is open every day of the year except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

Admission Fees

Non-Commercial Vehicle and Occupants (normal car): $25
Oversized Vehicle, 15+ passengers, age 16+ (large van): $15/person
Motorcycle and Riders: $20

Best time to visit Great Sand Dunes

Great Sand Dunes Park is open year-round and temperatures can be extreme here: the weather can be very cold and snowy in winter and hot in summer, although summer nights are cool thanks to the high elevation. In May, a popular time to visit if you want to swim in Medano Creek (more below) the average daily high is 66 degrees and the low is 37 degrees. So it can still be chilly for camping. Average July temperatures are 80 degrees during the day and 50 degrees at night. January is the coldest month at Great Sand Dunes National Park with daily average highs around 35 degrees and average daily lows around 10 degrees.

Where to stay near the Great Sand Dunes

1. CAMPING

Camping is open April through October, but can be very cold at either end of the camping season, with summer the most pleasant camping weather, thanks to temps that tend to dip down in the evening. The busiest camping season is July and August, and late May and June bring lots of people who want to swim in Medano Creek (more on that below). So if you have flexibility, don’t mind cooler temps and want to avoid crowds, I think the best time to visit Great Sand Dunes is late spring or early fall.

To reserve a Great Sand Dunes campsite, visit the federal booking portal recreation.gov. Reservations can be made up to six months ahead. Dogs are permitted. For larger groups of between 18 and 40, you can reserve up to one-year ahead.

2. RUSTIC ROOK RESORT

Rustic Rook is located just 19 miles from the Great Sand Dunes National Park entrance and near many other attractions and activities. Enjoy views of the massive 14,000ft tall Sangre de Cristo mountain range towering over the sand dunes right from your glamping tent. You can enjoy all the best things about camping without the mess, allowing you to maintain a high level of comfort and relaxation. Choose from one of the fully furnished tent options, enjoy a complimentary hot breakfast each morning and S’mores by the campfire at night. 

3. ZAPATA RANCH

Zapata Ranch offers extensive programs based around horseback riding and nature programs, and also the opportunity to experience life on a working cattle and bison ranch while enjoying high-end amenities and gourmet food. Guests who desire a working ranch experience are welcome alongside wranglers and ranch staff on various ranch projects. For those seeking to just experience the ranch and its surroundings, horseback rides through the herd of 2,000 wild bison or the neighboring Great Sand Dunes National Park are favorites.

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