Did you know that the tallest sand dunes in North America can’t be found anywhere near the coast? In fact, they lie in Colorado at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains whose peaks tower thousands of feet above the dunes. If a visit to the Great Sands Dunes National Park is on your list, check out these 10 Things To Know Before You Go.
1. In Planning Your Trip, Do Not Underestimate The Altitude-Great Sands Dunes National Park rests at an altitude of 7,500 plus feet. If you live at a lower altitude, it will take time to adjust to the thinner, drier air. Physical exertion of any kind will be much more demanding for a period of days (varies by person).
Walking out to the dunes on the soft, sandy surface (about .7 of a mile) and climbing even part way up them, may leave you huffing and puffing. Don’t convince yourself you will easily scale the 650 to 700 feet plus dunes. Even for altitude adjusted individuals in great shape, the steep incline and soft sand nature of the dunes makes scaling these natural wonders a challenge.
2. During Late Spring/Early Summer In Years Of Heavy Precipitation, Medano Creek Often Flows Near The Parking Area.-When it does, you may be able to wade and kids float in the water. Check current Medano Creek conditions here.
3. Visit The Dunes In The Morning Or Evening During The Warmer Months.-The sand heats up, as high as 150 degrees Fahrenheit, by mid-day on a sunny summer day. We visited in late May and though the temperature was only about 60 degrees, the sun made the sand hot by mid-morning. And the heat definitely radiates.
Visiting early in the day helps beat the crowds during the busy late spring-summer months. Also, you avoid afternoon build up of thunderstorms that are common in later summertime.
4. Wear Closed Toed Shoes While Walking To the Dunes And On Them.-From experience, I can tell you that the sand is soft and easily shifting . The sturdiness of closed toes shoes helps keep footing in the sand and propels you forward. Also, when the sun begins to warm the sand, your won’t be footsies directly exposed to it.
5. Sunglasses And Sunscreen Are A Must Year Round.-The 7000 feet plus altitude amps up the sun’s intensity. And sunglasses will protect your eyes from blowing sand. Also, on windy days, keep a bandanna handy to cover your face from the flying sand particles.
Additionally, if you are going to be near areas of vegetation or in the back country, be sure to wear bug spray to ward off mosquitoes, ticks, etc…
6. Drink Plenty of Water.-Whether you feel thirsty or not, down the “agua” to prevent dehydration. Your body’s fluid loss will be greater at higher altitudes.
7. Consider The Amount Of Time You Plan To Spend In Park Before Renting Sand Sled.-We rented a sand sled right after we entered Great Sand Dunes National Park at the Oasis Store. The store is open from April through October. At the time that we rented, a sand sled or sand board (for standing and riding) were available for $20 a day. We found the sand sledding not nearly as easy as it appeared to be. It required getting used to and the right sand conditions.
If you are planning to be in the park for a while, or have kids with lots of energy, renting sand equipment may be right for you. And no, before you lug it on your trip, your snow sleds and boards will not work on the sand.
8. Opportunities To Car Camp Or Drive And Camp Are Available In The Park During The Spring And Summer-Book a site through the National Recreation Reservation System as far in advance as possible. Some private campgrounds can be found near the park, as well.
9. The Best Selection of Hotels And Restaurants In Easy Driving Distance Of The Park Can Be Found In Alamosa. This city of approximately 10,000 is located 35 easy driving miles from the park. It offers a range of lodging and food options. You will find both national chain and local choices.
10. Great Sand Dunes National Park Boasts A Family Friendly Atmosphere-We saw all sorts of families and groups during our visit. enjoying the park in their own ways. Some people were simply sitting in lawn chairs under the shade of a tree near the parking lot and people watching. Others were actively climbing, playing around, and relaxing on the dunes.
Even individuals with mobility issues can get a great view of the dunes at the visitors center or by an accessible mat from parking area to edge of creek/walk out. The National Park Service indicates that it does have several thick tire sand wheelchairs that are available for use. I highly advise checking on one and reserving in advance.
The size of the Great Sand Dunes and the backdrop of majestic mountains makes them a must see. With a little preparation, your trip to the dunes will leave you in awe of the natural beauty and with fond memories.