The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
Nestled in Southern Colorado, the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve features North America’s tallest dunes, which rise over 750 feet high against the rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
This fragile and complex ecosystem, which receives roughly 300,000 visitors annually, is an outdoor playground unlike any other. Hiking is the most popular activity at the park, and some visitors take the six-mile hike and summit the park’s tallest dune, Star Dune, for spectacular views of the park. Aside from hiking the dunes, visitors also surf them on a sand sled or a sandboard, both available for rent at Great Sand Dunes Oasis just outside the park entrance.
Cool fact: Growing and receding lakes in the San Luis Valley left behind an area of wetlands and a large area of loose sand called a sand sheet. Prevailing southwesterly winds picked up that loose sand and blew it into a depressed bend in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, creating the Great Sand Dunes.
In late May, Medano Creek runs at its peak flow, making it a terrific time to splash, wade, and float in the cool, snow-melt waters. Along the creek, a sandy beach is ideal for parking chairs, an umbrella, and a cooler and spending the day. Please note that the life of Medano Creek is short as the creek dries up by July or August.
Although it’s not within the park, Zapata Falls is roughly 5 miles from the park entrance. The road to the trailhead is a rough, washboard 3-mile drive, and the hike is a one-mile round trip with a wade through a slot canyon. But the journey is definitely worth it, for the destination is breathtaking.
Take your 4WD vehicle on Medano Primitive Road, which gives you access to the remote portions of the park and preserve, or stay late into the evening to view some of the most spectacular stars you’ve ever seen.
Whatever you choose to do within the park, know you’re in for a treat and an experience unlike ever before.