One of the less-known national parks in America, Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado is surely worthy of a visit. Set against a backdrop of the 13,000-foot-high Sangre de Cristo Mountains, it encompasses the tallest sand dunes in North America as well as creeks, wetlands and grasslands. Its variety in landscapes is remarkable, really.
What Makes Great Sand Dunes National Park Unique
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, its official name, protects 330 square miles of sand deposits. Of these huge area, the actual sand dunes make up only about 11 percent. From the snowcapped peaks to the desert floor, the park is home to seven different life zones, all providing a habitat for various plants and animals.
From Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and black bears to bobcats, elk, kangaroo rats, American white pelicans and even American beavers, you find them all in this fantastic park.
With such a diversity of landscapes, outdoor recreation opportunities are plentiful, too. Great Sand Dunes National Park is a superb destination for hikers and backpackers, fishermen and bird watchers. Because it’s also a designated preserve, hunting is allowed as well—which is rather exceptional for a national park. Note, though, that hunting is only allowed in the preserve area of the park. You can find more information on Great Sand Dunes National Park’s outdoor activities on the official website.
The one unique outdoor activity in Great Sand Dunes, however, is sand boarding and sledding. This is what attracts most visitors to this park in the first place. After sweating your way up to the top of a dune, it’s incredible fun to fly back down on a sand board or sled. You can rent them at the gas station/campground just outside of the park’s boundary.
Medano Creek, flowing just underneath the dunes and past the park’s campground and visitor center, offers refreshment on a hot day. Young children tend to adore this park as well because of its limitless opportunities for sand and water games.
I recommend spending at least one full day and a night in the park. There’s a great campground with amazing views of the dunes. Spend the day exploring the dunes. Kick back in the evening around a campfire and enjoy a star-filled sky at night.