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Good For Kids
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The park in the late afternoon, it's a good time of day to take some photos of the dunes.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
Closest available address
11500 State Highway 150 Mosca, CO 81146
Park is open 24 hours all year. Visitor center hours vary but usually 9-5.
Best time to visit
Summer, Fall, Spring
Great Sand Dunes National Park is a 150,000 acre park and preserve in southeast Colorado. The park is best known for a huge field of sand dunes, some of which are over 700 feet tall. About 90% of this park is wilderness, so roads are limited. Recreational activities include hiking, camping, and creek wading. Sandboarding and sledding in the dunes are more adventurous options if you have the right equipment. Elevations here range from 7,500 to 13,600 feet, and there are a variety of habitats. Facilities include a visitor center/museum and several camping and picnic areas. A private seasonal lodge is located near the park entrance.
The park was established as a monument in 1932 at the urging of local citizens who were concerned about threats to the dunes from gold mining and sand dredging. The monument protected the primary dunes but not nearby mountains and especially key water flows which help form and stabilize the dunes. A new threat emerged in the 1980s and 1990s when private developers sought to divert much of the water to Denver. This led to prolonged litigation and renewed preservation efforts led mainly by local citizens. With the help of the Nature Conservancy, the US government eventually acquired much of the area and established the national park and preserve as well as a wildlife refuge in 2004.
Visiting here in September worked well as the day was pleasant and sunny. Also, the dunes were not too hot. The sand can get up to 150 degrees in summer, hot enough to burn exposed skin. The park was moderately crowded as well but nothing like May and June when hordes flock here to play in Medano Creek, which flows at that time of year from mountain snowmelt. The museum and film are worth a visit to learn more about the hydrology and wind patterns that form the dunes. A couple of very young volunteers in the visitor center were asked about park activities, but knew very little. It was not a big issue though because Great Sand Dunes is an easy place to figure out. Unless you have a four wheel drive car, you'll be limited to the main road which provides access to the visitor center, the dunes, a camground, and several trails.
Walking from the visitor center to High Dune was a high point of the visit. This dune is about 700 feet tall. Park elevations are around 8,200 feet in this area, and the combination of less oxygen and unstable sand made this hike challenging but also quite rewarding. The payoff is a great view of the rest of the dunes not visible from the visitor center and the satisfaction of reaching the summit after a difficult hike. A number of kids were sand boarding in this area and it looked like a fun. The park does not rent the specialized sand boards and sleds, but they are usually available at the lodge near the park entrance or in Alamosa. The Montville Nature Trail had varied habitats and good views of the dunes, so is worth hiking. Approximately half of Mosca Pass Trail was hiked and entailed an elevation gain of 800 feet. This trail was in decent shape but was moderately rocky in a few places. It is a good choice if you are looking for a more traditional hike in a pretty mountain setting. Great Sand Dunes Park gets high ratings overall for remarkable sand dunes which are the highest in North America. Seeing them up close is a treat and hiking them was even better. This is a great park to bring kids as well especially in late spring and early summer when the creeks are flowing.
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