June 1, 2016
Our boondocking spot near Salida, CO made the drive down to Great Sand Dunes National Park about 75 miles. This small park is located in the south-central part of the state. The drive through the plains was a different sight from the Colorado that we had seen so far. Finally a flat drive instead of the mountain climbing that we have been doing almost daily.
Great Sand Dunes is the tallest dunes in North America, and the appeal to the park lies in the diversity of scenery. From a distance, you can see a massive sand dune rising from the horizontally level land with snow-capped peaks in the background. Up close, the land changes giving way to wetlands, the wide Medano Creek, and aspen forests. It is an oasis surrounded by mountains on one side, and farm land on the other. It would be easy to miss if you were driving by, but we are glad we made the trip.
You enter the park from the south, after paying the $15 entrance fee unless you have an interagency pass. Once you pass the visitor center, the parking lot for the dunes is immediately on your left. We came on a weekday in June, and were able to easily find parking. A Saturday in July would have been much different. Moreso than any other park I have been to, this one is ideal for families. At the base of the dunes is Medano Creek, which in places is 50 yards wide, but never more than two feet deep. It also goes on for as far as the eye can see, so there is plenty of space to spread out. There are children splashing in the creek while parents sit under shade tents that they brought with them. The walk from the parking lot to the water in only 30ft, so bringing chairs/tents/coolers to the creek is not too much of a hassle. This space is also dog friendly, and our boys had a good time wading in the creek.
Crossing the creek gets you to the base of the dunes. Many people rent or buy sand sleds, or sand boards, which are made specifically to glide over the loose sand. You can walk up the dune, and sand sled right down! It looked like fun, although we didn’t partake.
After spending some time in the water, Kym ventured up the dunes. They are massive.
Finally, we had an afternoon picnic in the picnic area. Each picnic spot had parking, grill and a picnic table.
What a neat place. You could easily spend a day hiking and splashing in the water. It felt like a natural amusement park, and without the long lines. Unlike other National Parks that we have been to, there are no shuttles, and very little planning needed before you visit. We had some fun in the sun, while enjoying the natural beauty of this place.
A few tips for visiting:
- Water shoes/sandals are helpful. You will walk through water before reaching the dunes.
- The sand is very hot. Do not walk barefoot. NPS says it can reach 150 degrees.
- Protect your dogs’ feet with boots if you plan on taking them up the dunes.
- Go on a weekday or risk having to park farther away in overflow parking.