Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado is home to the tallest sand dunes in all of North America. Why massive sand dunes in Colorado and not, say, a desert? Well, it’s all about the unique geology and wind patterns found here. Together, they’ve created a 30-square-mile dune field with five dunes towering more than 700 feet. And the tallest, Star Dune, is 750 feet tall. While a few sand dunes elsewhere in the world rise more than 1,000 feet, Star Dune is one of the tallest on Earth.
In 2018, nearly 450,000 people visited Great Sand Dunes. While there are many recreational opportunities in the park, many people to sled down the sand dunes.
Sledding at Great Sand Dunes
While you can sled down sand dunes, it’s more difficult than sledding in snow. You can’t use any old contraption – say, a saucer, toboggan, cookie sheet or piece of cardboard. No, you need to use a special sand sled or sandboard. While the park doesn’t sell or rent these, four local outfitters do. So pick one up before you head to the park. It also helps to view this video, which gives you some sledding techniques. (Yes, there are sand-sledding techniques!)
Basically, sit upright, lean back slightly and let ‘er rip. Oh, and don’t slide down head first. If you’re sandboarding, you’ll need good balance. And don’t go boarding in your shoes. Instead, just wear socks.
Other tips include going in the early morning or evening during the summer, as the sand can get as hot as 150 degrees Fahrenheit! Plus, there are often thunderstorms in the afternoon. During spring and fall, the temperature is moderate all day, but spring afternoons can get very windy.
During our trip, some locals added that it helps to pick a dune without a lot of footprints, which slow you down. You’ll also go faster on wetter, packed sand. Oh, and wax your sled in between each run, as the sand abrades it off on a single trip down a dune.
Other Park Activities
Other favored activities at Great Sand Dunes are hiking, camping, stargazing and splashing in the seasonal Medano Creek. Hiking trails can be found around the park and just outside. We tried many, and they were all beautiful.
You can camp in the park or even in the dune fields with a backcountry permit. I’ve camped in the dune fields at White Sands National Monument, and it was an incredible experience. So I highly recommend trying to nab a site here if you enjoy camping.
Medano Creek springs back to life every year for a few weeks. It’s formed when snowmelt flood down from the nearby San Juan and Sangre de Cristo mountains. But it quickly disappears when the weather warms. If you plan a visit in late May to early June, you should be able to splash around in the water.
O.K., now it’s time to check your calendar and plan a trip!
My top gear recommendation for Great Sands is Vivo Barefoot camp/water shoes. I have a pair and they’re lightweight, secure on your feet and you can easily get the sand out of them.
During our trip, we stayed at the Hampton Inn Alamosa. The place was really clean and comfortable, and convenient to the park. Well, it was about 45 minutes away, but that’s the closest you’ll get without staying at the park itself or in a vacation rental.
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