One Epic Day in Great Sand Dunes National Park

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Just a 4 hour drive from the mile high city of Denver, Colorado is an out of this world landscape: Great Sand Dunes National Park. Complete with a backdrop of mountains are the tallest sand dunes in North America. Yes you read that correctly! Does Colorado have it all, or does Colorado have it all? 😉 Keep reading on how I spent one epic day in Great Sand Dunes!

This is by far the most unique place I have been. Hiking up and up into the dunes felt like I was transplanted into a different world. This place is seriously epic. When you’re in the midst of them, the dunes look like they go on and on forever. You also realize quickly how hard it is to hike up sand! And how difficult it is to get sand out of everything you own after you’ve left 😀

In this post I will share what we did on our one day in Great Sand Dunes National Park, when to visit, what to wear, other fun things to do around the park, and a picture perfect free campsite we stayed at on our way down from Denver!

Check my other posts on a One Week Road Trip Through Colorado, My 6 Favorite Colorado Hikes, and the Best Day Hikes Near Denver.

Where to Stay Near Great Sand Dunes National Park

Since we went during the peak of COVID times, it was hard finding an open campground in or near the park. We decided instead to leave in the early afternoon one day from Denver to camp down near Poncha Springs, 2 1/2 hours away. This way the next morning our drive to Great Sand Dunes would only be a little over an hour.

Our free campsite was called Poncha Loop dispersed camping. It had beautiful mountain views and you could hear the sound of cows in the morning- I loved it!

To find a campsite in or near Great Sand Dunes National Park check out this website.

If I ever go back to the park I would definitely want to camp either in the dunes by backpacking or just right outside the park as it’s supposed to be the best for astrophotography and star gazing; it’s even registered as a Dark Sky Park!

I overheard someone talking about experiencing the park here at night and they said it’s almost like walking around in daylight- that’s how bright the moon and stars are! I can imagine it is surreal to witness that. See more information about the park at night here.

Check out Airbnbs near the park & here for a list of other lodging options & hotels in the area.

When to Visit the Park

The best time of year to visit the park is either spring or fall; with the best months seeming to be May, September, & October. Winter can bring temps as low as the single digits and summer can bring temps into the high 80s with the sand being as hot as 150 degrees F! If you do go to the park in the peak of summer, head into the dunes either early in the morning or before sunset when the sand will be the coolest.

The good thing is that even if you go when it is crowded, the sand dunes are huge so it is pretty easy to spread out from everyone and find a piece of the park to yourself!

Here is a link to more detail about the weather in the park: https://www.nps.gov/grsa/planyourvisit/conditions-to-expect.htm

What to Bring for One Day in Great Sand Dunes

  • Sunglasses
  • Hat
  • Sunscreen (there’s no shade of course)
  • Hiking shoes or strappy sandles like Chacos
  • Long socks to protect your ankles
  • Comfy clothes. For pants I wouldn’t suggest leggings- I feel like these would be uncomfortable in sand. I wore these Eddie Bauer joggers which were the perfect material that you could just brush the sand right off of
  • Lots of water & food (there’s no shops in the park or much nearby)
  • Babywipes to wipe the sand off
  • A camera to take epic pictures with 😉

What to do in Great Sand Dunes National Park

Rent a sandboard or sand sled

We rented one sandboard and one sand sled to use for the day. After a lot of my research, I saw that things from home such as cardboard or a regular sled just wasn’t going to work as well as these actual boards would. Which makes sense because they even give you a little piece of wax to use on the bottom of your board before each use to ensure you glide down the dunes!

We liked the sand sled the best as it was obviously the easiest to use and we didn’t have to balance on it like you did with the sandboard.

They are 20$ each for the day to rent. I thought we had so much fun on it, so much so it pretty much made our experience at Great Sand Dunes! If you don’t want to spend 20$ for each person, I would recommend just sharing one between two people- just take turns using it!

If you’re trying to decide to rent one of these or not, just do it- you will not regret it. It is such a unique experience to be able to slide down these dunes. You can even wipe out and eat sand a few times like I did 😉

We rented from the company of Oasis, right outside of the entrance of the park which was very convenient. We did get in line about about a half hour before the store opened at 9am to make sure we got a board, and so we didn’t have to wait in the long line when they first opened which would have been time consuming. Here’s a link to their website to check them out.

Hike the dunes

When we went to the dunes, we didn’t have a specific hike in mind. The tallest dune in the park- Star Dune- will take you about 8 miles roundtrip. If you have ever hiked in sand, you know 8 miles just sounds.. brutal. High dune is another popular hike in the park at only 3 miles roundtrip. Here are AllTrails links to the hikes: High Dune. High Dune & Star Dune Loop

We basically just walked around the dunes as much as we wanted until we got exhausted. Also, since we went in early June the sand got HOT. I mean feel like you’re cooking your feet hot!

Overall though, walking through the dunes as much as we could was good enough for us without summitting a dune! We slid down dunes in between walking up and got some great photo ops. Sometimes it’s nice not to have a destination in mind, just to meander and wander around! We had so much fun running, jumping, and dancing in the sand 🙂

Cool off in Medano Creek

Pack a bathing suit if you want to cool off in Medano Creek after hiking up the sand dunes. It’s a stream that crosses the sand on your way into the dunes from the parking lot. When we were here, people had sun chairs and towels out sun bathing and kids played in the creek and made sandcastles.

Click here for more information about the creek and it’s current water level.

I hope you enjoyed my post on one day spent in Great Sand Dunes National Park and found it helpful for your next trip. Please like this post, subscribe to my blog, and follow me on Instagram for more travel inspiration. Thanks for reading! 🙂

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