When you round a bend on your way south, the sand dunes come into view and you almost can’t believe your eyes. At first glance, you see the Sangre de Cristo mountains in the background and the grassy lands in the foreground. It is easy to do a double take when the sand dunes begin to take shape the closer you get to them. It looks like the Sahara desert was plopped right in the valley and it is difficult to reconcile what you are seeing.
The Great Sand Dunes is part of the national park system and it should be on everyone’s park list to visit. The main problem with visiting the sand dunes is that it is not in a high traffic area. The nearest major city is Colorado Springs, and that is two and a half hours north of the dunes. There are some smaller towns in between but my family and I didn’t see much on the drive.
Tips for Visiting the Great Sand Dunes National Park
Bring plenty of water and snacks.
Pack a cooler with plenty of water. You will still feel like you are in the desert despite the fact that you are in southern Colorado. During our drive, we saw a Subway and not much else. Depending on when you leave the sand dunes you might not find any restaurants open if you do find something.
Rent a sandboard or bring a sled.
Sandboards can be rented just outside of the park. You can also bring a sled with you but the park recommends sandboards for a quick zip down the dunes. We ended up doing neither but a gentleman and his son were walking back to their car and offered to let our kids take a quick run down the sand dune. The kids were not interested in climbing back up more than once so I don’t know that it would have been worth the money for us to rent a sandboard.
You will get sandy.
You are going to be playing in one of the largest sandboxes your children will have likely ever been in! It is going to get messy. The sand will be in your shoes, your clothes, your hair, and your ears. Just go with it and know that you can clean it all up when you are finished. Bring towels to brush off the sand before you get back in the car. If you have a long drive ahead of you, you might want to bring a change of clothes so that the kids are comfy in the car.
Visit near sunset if possible.
If you can time your visit near sunset, the views and the colors are absolutely amazing. This will also help you avoid the high noon times in which the sand is very hot to the touch.
Allot plenty of time to play and walk around.
Trudging through the sand can be quite a workout but your kids might not notice. They will be too busy watching the wind blow patterns in the sand. They will be running up and down the dunes. They will want to sit down and feel the difference in temperature when they dig down a few inches. Be sure to read the safety tips on the national park website (one of which is to not do much digging because the sand can collapse). We spent about three hours walking all around and sliding down the sand.
When the wind starts whipping, the sand get tossed at you like a thousand teeny tiny rocks. It can be quite painful and without sunglasses or goggles, it is difficult to see. We ended up leaving because the wind was picking up and was quite strong.