Great Sand Dunes National Park is a unique location in the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado. It contains 30 square miles of Sahara-like sand dunes flanked by classic views of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, a combination unlike any other in the United States, a place that needs to be seen to believe. But before visiting this special place, there are some things you should know…
The Sand is Difficult to Walk Through –
The deep sand can be frustratingly slow to traverse, especially when climbing the dunes. You’ll find that moving a relatively short distance requires much exertion, which is why most people don’t head too deep into the dunes. Getting that epic picture from the top of the highest dune can easily take hours to summit, even though it appears to be fairly close from the parking lot. Most casual visitors give up in exhaustion before reaching it. I found going barefoot to be the easiest way.
There’s MORE to The Park Than Just The Dunes –
Great Sand Dunes NP encompasses quite a bit of backcountry in the mountains of the northeastern corner of the park. There are a few extensive hiking trails that lead to different lakes in the highlands of the mountains. Plenty of campground locations are also located along the way. Most people come to this park just for the dunes, so even more solitude can be found in the mountains. During my hike, I didn’t see another human being the entire time I spent in the woodlands.
The Sand Extends Quite Far Into The Backcountry –
To get to the backcountry you must hike along in the space between the dunes and the mountains for 2 or 3 strenuous miles through sandy terrain. I found myself already tired by the time I reached the backcountry entrance sign, so plan to take a much slower pace than you’re used to. Alternatively, if you have an appropriate vehicle, you can cheat and drive along the 4WD trail that leads to the same place.
The Weather is Intense –
My experience was heavily influenced by the time of year I visited (Spring), but Great Sand Dunes NP is known for its unpredictable weather year-round. Prepare to be sand-blasted with 20-30 mph gusts of wind and to get sand everywhere and in everything (including that fancy camera). The high winds are the other part of what makes climbing the dunes so difficult. Additionally, it may be rainy, cold, and hailing one hour only to give way to warm sunshine the next. Seriously, during my visit it seemed the weather changed practically every 30 minutes to an hour, so prepare accordingly.
The Natural Beauty is Unparalleled –
This is possibly the only place on Earth where you will experience both desert and highland forest environments in the same day, and all within walking distance. Only foot traffic is allowed on the dunes, so your experience of nature is sure to be unspoiled. The sand also acts as an acoustic absorber, making this one of the quietest places on earth, a perfect place for solitude and meditation. These features make Great Sand Dunes NP a place you surely won’t want to miss during your time in Colorado.