The Great Sand Dunes National Park is home to the tallest dunes in North America, and some of the most amazing scenery I’ve seen this side of the Continental Divide. The phrase, “It looks fake,” was said more than a dozen times by our family because the landscape was that breathtaking. Huge snow-capped mountains flanked the dunes all around and a snow melt creek ran in the front. But that’s not all. Great Sand Dunes National Park has adventures for everyone from hiking and backpacking to tubing Medano Creek, Sandboarding and Sand Sledding to Ranger Programs, and more.
My husband Dan and I decided we would devote the next two months to exploring our home state of Colorado, while our kids compete in the USACK Kayak whitewater series. First stop was Golden, CO . Second stop was a 2.5 day stay at the Great Sand Dunes National Park.
I cannot believe we’ve lived in Colorado for almost 16 years and we had yet to visit this amazing spot. People come from all over the world to visit this truly wondrous spot where adventure, education and beauty merge.
I highly recommend a visit to Great Sand Dunes National Park. It’s an extremely family friendly park, where kids are free to run and play and laugh … you know, be a kid without all the distractions of today’s world! So, here’s what you need to know.
First things first … food. If you are venturing into Great Sand Dunes National Park come prepared with enough food and supplies for your entire stay as the nearest town, Alamosa, is a good 40 minutes!
Camping at the Great Sand Dunes National Park
What better way to get kids off the grid than to go camping? And camping in the Great Sand Dunes National Park is next level camping when you talk about entertaining kids!
Pinon Flats is the campground within the Great Sand Dunes National Park and is within walking distance to the Dunes. In fact there are trails from every site to the Dunes.
It consists of Three Loops. Loop 1 has 44 first-come, first served sites. Loop 2 has 44 reservable sites during the summer months. And Loop 3 has three group sites that are reservable during the summer months.
The sites are somewhat primitive; however, they do have restrooms with sinks, flush toilets and a deep sink for dish washing. There are also fire grates and picnic tables, and bear proof metal containers for food storage and to store all other items that can and will bring bears into campsites.
Don’t overlook the fact that backpacking up and over the dunes is an exceptional way to experience the Great Sand Dunes outside of the popular day area, and camping is permitted anywhere within the 30-mile dunefield. Check the Great Sand Dunes National Park site for more information!
The first evening we arrived a little late, but we still ran out to the Dunes for a night session which was exceptional, perhaps more amazing than daylight play, if that’s possible?
The wind was minimal, the moon was high, the stars were bright, we even saw a few deer before the sun set. However, visibility was low and we didn’t fully appreciate the terrain we were riding until the next morning. And when we saw the landscape in full light, we were awestruck.
SandBoarding and Sand Sledding
In all honesty, sand boarding was one of the main reasons for our visit to the Great Sand Dunes, and we were not disappointed. It was epic.
Prior to hitting the park, we drove into Alamosa and stopped at Kristi Mountain Sports, where we had reserved two sleds and two boards. Kristi’s is a pretty sweet gear shop, so if you find you need anything, from camping gear to bikes, Kristi’s is the place to go!
The name of the game at the Great Sand Dunes is to get out early, retreat midday and then head out again in the early evening, as the sand gets very hot. Hence, that first morning we set out to hike the dunes around 8 am and we literally had the place to ourselves. And the wind that morning was, again, minimal so boarding and sledding was a blast.
Now, hiking the Great Sand Dunes, which are really sand mountains, is hard work, exhausting even for highly energetic people like us. In fact, at the end of the first day after two several hour treks, we were about dead. But the reward from the top, the views, the rides, the laughter, the joy … oh yeah, it’s so worth it. In fact, we have a saying in our family … at the end of the day if you are exhausted and dirty, it was a great day! Since we were both … it was, indeed a really great day!
Playing in Medano Creek
Medano Creek is stunning. Its placement right in front of the Great Sand Dunes is nothing short of amazing. So beautiful!
We had hoped to hit peak flows of Medano Creek; however, it’s been an unusually cool May and snow melt has been slow, so the creek, while flowing, was low. During high peak, we read, kids tube the creek and our younger kids were excited about the prospect of kayaking it. But, we still had fun putting our tiny foam boats in the water and watching them run the mini rapids … always exciting for the kids!