Great Sand Dunes National Park

GREAT SAND DUNES NATIONAL PARK

We woke up reeeally early and left out from Colorado Springs towards the Great Sand Dunes National Park. We decided to take the Medano primitive road as our route into the park as we heard it had some incredible scenery and trails. This primitive road turned out to be a beautiful 22 miles of wildflowers, dirt, gravel, creek crossings, and sand paths.

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Medano Pass Primitive Road

First of all, let us say, this road should not be attempted by any vehicle that is not 4-wheel drive, due to high clearance rocks/dips and water crossings. While we make the trek in July the water was only 6-12″ at each crossing but it is recommended to check the creek conditions before you make the drive. It is also recommended for some vehicles (those with regular road tires) to reduce air pressure to 20psi in each tire to navigate the sand, there is a place to refill your tires at the western entrance. You can enter the trail either from the west (from the Great Sand Dunes welcome center) or from the east. We decided to enter from the east due to us departing from Colorado Springs.

From Colorado Springs you head due south on 25 until you reach Walsenberg. There we fueled up and took highway 69 west to Gardner. Reset your odometer and drive approximately 8 miles west of Gardner on 69 and you will see a forest service sign with “Medano Pass Road” noted (County Road 559). The first 5 miles or so on the trail are mild dirt and gravel roads, rarely requiring 4-wheel drive, and passing near private property and national forest. We decided to enter “Medano Pass” into Google Maps to keep ourselves oriented as we continued on.

The next 5 miles were wooded trail with varying degree of incline, sharp turns, and narrow trail. The road was rocky but nothing too daunting. The next 5 mile stretch was more in a plain area with the road having a lot of vegetation on the side of the trail. This is where there were some cut backs across the creek and where you start to see some of the camp sites. This was the most tedious portion of the trail due to the slow going and the high amount of traffic. At the end of this segment there was a rest area with restrooms, and where the sand portion (and last ~5 mile stretch) begins. The key to maneuvering through the sand is to keep your vehicle moving and not stopping on soft sand. There are great views of the dunes on this last portion of the trail, and ends at the camping ground near the Great Sand Dune welcome center.

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Great Sand Dunes National Park

After we exited the Medano Pass road, we drove to the Great Sand Dunes Oasis, which is a little gas station about 5 minutes from the park down highway 150. There we rented a sand board for $20 and headed back to the park (there are also sand sleds available for the same price). The Great Sand Dunes National Park is 85,000 acres of sand, and is home to the tallest sand dune in North America (750′). Depending on how much rain there has been, there are streams that flow around the dunes and are popular for cooling off while visiting the dunes.

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Be aware that during the summer months the sand can reach temperatures of 150 degrees, so bring appropriate footwear, and don’t forget a pair of socks if you’re going to be trying sandboarding or sand sledding. Climbing up the dunes can be quite exhausting, especially if you continually do so while sand boarding or sledding. Every step you take up the dune, the sand causes you to slide down, so be sure to bring plenty of water to stay hydrated!

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Don’t worry! You slide down much faster than it looks. The challenge is climbing back up the dunes when you’re finished!

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150 degree sand has nothing on our Superfeet OUTSIDE sandals!

Overall, this is an extremely unique national park and well worth a day visit if you are able to! So, who’s ready to do some sandboarding!?

Logan & Kallsy
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18 Comments

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  1. I’ve heard of here but never realised it was quite so cool! There really shouldn’t be sand dunes in Colorado :-D. Hope my dune surfing is better than my cross country skiing in the Arctic…I sucked so bad! Good advice about needing a 4WD vehicle as we learnt trying to drive around Monument Valley in a Chrysler 300 on a road resembling the surface of the moon. We really shouldn’t be allowed to leave home some times 😀

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    • Nigel,

      Your comment cracks me up! From my experience, sandboarding was MUCH easier than skiing or any other “boarding” sports I have tried. Plus you can start on some of the smaller dunes and work your way up (that’s what I did so I didn’t bust it too bad)!

      Logan has video footage coming soon on Medano Pass so that others are able to see. We have the same problems a lot of times bahaha…. We’re always lost!

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  2. That dress perfectly fits into the dunes! 🙂
    always wanted to go sand boarding but never had the chance. I’ve been skiing since age 3 and snow boarding since 8…but never did it on san. Sure looks so fun!

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    • Thank you! It was a spur of the moment decision but we really loved how the photos turned out with the dress.

      You would be a pro at sandboarding if you have that much experience with skiing and snowboarding! We had a blast and once you get the hang of it on the smaller dunes it’s even better from the top because you go much faster!

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  3. First of all, your pictures are gorgeous! I don’t know how well I would fair in the that heat. It looked brutal!

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    • Thanks so much Pack Your Baguios! We really enjoyed taking these. The sand was 150 degrees F and definitely scalding. Sandboarding was fun but not for the faint of heart due to the nice burns we got on our toes! We should have taken video of us running full speed up the dunes in our socks so we could save our feet. HAHA! Fortunately there was a nice breeze and the weather itself was only around 88 degrees F.

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  4. Thanks for the lovely info.You should definitely visit India sometimes. There’s a cold desert as well as a hot desert in India.

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  5. Wow! Absolutely stunning photos! I’ve never spent much time exploring Colorado, but this has definitely made it to my USA ‘must see’ list! Thanks for the detail and directions 🙂

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    • Thanks Lindsay! The Medano Pass was somewhat challenging to navigate so Logan decided it would be best to incorporate some directions. We are working on a video so people can get a feel for the terrain as well. Definitely stop there for a day or so! It’s well worth it. 🙂

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  6. Loved your article. I went to the dunes on the NC Outer Banks this summer. Great tips about footwear, not only did I have flip flops on, but my feet were sunburned from a day on the beach so I just could not spend much time out there on the burning sand. I would love to go to the dunes you were at and also White Sands National Park in NM. I know my son would love to sled down them. Would be fun to blog about all the different dunes areas in the US.

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    • I definitely understand! We had some bad sunburn on our feet and toes after sandboarding for a few hours. Many kids were there enjoying it just fine, it was us adults that had such a hard time dealing with the heat! Go figure. 🙂

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  7. Brown Gal Trekker September 27, 2016 — 7:47 AM

    Very nice! I’m an avid hiker/trekker and only been to a few spots in CO such as Longs Peak among others. I heard about this part of CO but since I live in the east coast it isn’t easy to fly back to CO to visit. I found your blog useful and if I ever get a chance to go to CO again, I would love to check this place out. Thanks for sharing!

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    • I’m so glad you found this inspiring! We love hiking and are always looking for new trails or places to visit. If you are able to fly into Denver it isn’t too far from Colorado Springs. It would definitely be worth a day trip! 🙂

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  8. Surfing on the sands sounds like a really brilliant idea. Can you tell us an appropriate time of the year to try this out?

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    • Sure thing! We went late July/Early August and it was amazing weather but the sand was incredibly hot (105 degrees F). I would say that May-September would be idle but visit in the early morning if you are going in July/August. 🙂

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  9. Beautiful pictures! Sand boarding seems like so much fun, though I’d probably fall more than ride. And the view of the mountains on the back is just a cherry on the top of the cake! Would definitely like to visit.

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    • Agnes, so glad you found this inspiring! I hope you do visit some day. I was actually surprised by sand boarding. I’m not the best at any type of board sport but this came much more easily. However, you can also rent a sand sled! 🙂

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