Trails in and Around the Great Sand Dunes National Park
There are so many ways to enjoy the dunes, and if you’re the type who likes to explore, these trails might be perfect for your next Great Sand Dunes adventure.
Medano Creek Trail
In spring and summer, there’s water in Medano Creek at the base of the dunes. Everyone seems to enjoy playing in this beach-like environment. As mounds of sand form and fall in the creek bed, a phenomenon called “surge flow” happens, causing an action similar to waves on a sandy beach.
The Tallest Dunes
While High Dune look like the tallest dune in the park when standing in the Visitor Center parking lot, it isn’t. High Dune is actually about 650 feet high. To reach it, zigzag up the ridgelines until you reach the 360° inspirational view.
Once you’re there, the skyscraping dune to the west is Star Dune, the tallest dune in North America, rising 750 feet above the valley floor. To reach it from High Dune, hike another mile and a half up and down across the dunes to its summit.
Eastern Dune Ridge
With a high-clearance 4WD vehicle, you can drive to the Sand Pit or Castle Creek Picnic Areas. With a 2WD vehicle, you’ll only make it to Point of No Return and have to hike the next 1/2 mile to Sand Pit.
Both areas offer close access to Medano Creek while Castle Creek offers an impressively tall, steep dune face.
Montville Nature Trail
This is an excellent afternoon hike when you need to escape the heat of the dunes. This shady mountain trail is named for a late 1800’s settlement comprising about 20 houses in its heyday. Near the trail’s high point, you’ll find outstanding views of Mt. Herard, the dunes, and the San Luis Valley.
Mosca Pass Trail
This trail winds through aspen and evergreen forests along a small creek in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The trail is 3.5 miles one-way. Allow 2-3 hours to reach the pass. This was one of the main routes into the San Luis Valley from the east until a mudslide almost blocked it entirely about 100 years ago.
Dunes Overlook/Sand Ramp Trail
The Sand Ramp Trail starts in Loop 2 of Pinon Flats Campground. This trail travels along the foothills of the Sangre de Cristos and offers exceptional scenery. While it’s only a mile to the Dunes Overlook, this trail continues for 10 more miles around the eastern and northern perimeter of the dunes.
Medano Pass 4WD Road
This road requires a high-clearance 4WD vehicle (not recommended for small SUVs). While gorgeous any time of year, this is an especially spectacular drive in the fall. The road is closed when winter conditions create hazards and spring runoff makes the creek crossings hazardous.
Medano Lake/Mount Herard
This trailhead leaves the Medano Pass 4WD Road at about 10,000 ft. and climbs another 2,000 ft. through lush meadows and forests, ending at Medano Lake just above timberline. Advanced hikers can continue on to the summit of Mt. Herard (13,297 ft) for an incredible view of the dunes.
Music Pass/Sand Creek Lakes
The scenery here is stunning but requires a long drive and/or a long hike. The Music Pass trailhead is accessed from State Highway 69, 4.5 miles south of Westcliffe. Turn west at the sign for Music Pass and South Colony Lakes. At the “T” junction, turn left onto South Colony Road. At the end of the ranch fence on the right is another sign for Music Pass. 2WD vehicles should park where the Rainbow Trail crosses the Music Pass Road. It’s 3.5 miles from here to the pass. 4WD vehicles may drive another 2.5 rough miles to the end of the road and then hike the steep last mile to the pass. Music Pass is at treeline with a great view of the Upper Sand Creek Basin.
No matter which way you explore this national treasure, make sure you Leave no Trace and Care for Colorado so that everyone else has the same chance as you. We all have to do our part to stay on trials, pack out our waste, obey fire restrictions, and more!