One Big Pile O' Sand

Great Sand Dunes NP is fun and easy to get to

Don Cohen Don Cohen  |  06.24.2016

As a Colorado native I’m often asked by fellow RVers, “what’s one of the great scenic drives in the state?”  That’s an easy answer for me as, for the 25 years that we had a home in the Vail Valley it was south from I-70 along US Highway 24/285 on the way to Santa Fe.  This route, whether you drive it from north to south, or in reverse, is pretty much chock full of spectacular western scenery for over 300 miles.

Great Sand Dunes NP (4)In Southern Colorado, near the town of Alamosa, is Great San Dunes National Park.  It’s here that you can explore the tallest (nearly 800’ high) sand dunes in North America.  From a distance, their height is deceptive as there are 14,000 foot peaks that rise above them, but once you get closer you begin to realize how big they really are.

Great Sand Dunes NP (3)Look closely.  Can you see the tiny little specs of people? These dunes are huge!

Scientists estimate that the dunes are relatively young at 440,000 years old.  They were created when a huge inland lake (now the fertile San Luis Valley) dried up and the prevailing winds pushed sand against the rugged Sangre de Christo mountains.  The visitor center is open year round and from the parking lot you walk out across Medano creek (usually flowing in spring and early summer) to the base of the dunes.  After that, it’s choose your own adventure.

Climbing/hiking the dunes if pretty easy, but the effort stepping though steep sand definitely will get your heart rate up.  Also, be careful in summer as the temperatures can get up to 140 degrees!  Our favorite times to visit are spring and fall.

Great Sand Dunes NP (2)Crossing Medano Creek.  Cool mountain-fed water that even has waves.

If ever there was a national park invented for kids — this one is it.  It’s like the world’s biggest sandbox.  The sand grains are incredibly fine and soft to the touch, but that also can prompt some deep cleaning of footwear and clothes before jumping back into the RV.  Keep your broom and vacuum handy after the trip — you’ll need it.

Great Sand Dunes NP (5)There is one campground in the park (Pinon Flats) which can accommodate a few rigs up to 35’.  We stayed at a nearby commercial campground called Great Sand Dunes Oasis.  They have full hookups (30 amp) and can handle big rigs. No wifi, but we did manage to muster an occasionally decent AT&T data signal. It’s right off the highway just south of the entrance to the park.

Great Sand Dunes NP (0)A thunderhead unloads it’s burden above the San Luis Valley.

Planning-wise a trip to Great Sand Dunes can be a fun half-day stop off for a quick couple of hours playing on the dunes.  But, if you’ve got a little extra time, and can camp in or near the park, you’ll be rewarded with the changing light of the day and inspiring vistas.

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  1. Clem Santine Posted on 07.19.2016

    We have visited the dunes twice. Its a great side trip and place to spend a couple hours or day. Well worth the drive off the highway to get there.

  2. Cary Posted on 07.16.2016

    Thank Goodness. 4WD can go thru the park up and on over Medano Pass.

  3. Louis Wood Posted on 07.16.2016

    Probably a good thing: It would not look pristine for long if such “amenities” were allowed. Kudos for the article. One more thing for the bucket list, on the way to our winter destination.

  4. Robert Johnston Posted on 07.16.2016

    Don’t see any sand buggy’s or UTV’s, suppose government has banned vehicle traffic limiting or excluding many from exploring this natural wonder.