Great Sand Dunes National Park
While there are several places to hike around the park the most popular feature is the dunes. The fact that a sprawling expanse of sand is dropped in the of a mountain range have caused curiosity and conspiracy theories. When I first saw the dunes from the drive into the park I did think that something didn’t exactly look right about them.
On the one hand was the typical snow covered rocky peak that I have come to expect in the Centennial State. On the other hand it looked like a desert from half the world away. Or at the very least a construction project for a sky scraper that never got built.
It wasn’t until I got closer until I saw the true majesty of all this sand.
The closer you get to the sand the bigger and more encompassing it becomes.
What to do at Great Sand Dunes National Park
The Sand Dunes offer a large list of things to do. What looked like a lot of fun were the people who brought sleds to sled down some of the smaller dunes. There is also an abundance of history at the dunes if that is something that you are interested. You can also camp at the dunes if that is more your style.
One reason to camp is that the dunes are designated as as an international Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky association. That means that the sky above the park has a low level of light pollution which allows for great views of the moon and sky.
Of course you can also hike at the park. I only had a chance for one hike, High Dune.
I tried to hike to High Dune on my visit. I failed miserably. The hike was so much more challenging than I thought it would be. Walking on the sand was very similar to walking on snow. At times the sand was solid under my feet and traction was easy. At other times my foot would sink like in a blanket of fresh powder.
On the early Spring day that I went the wind was also blowing really hard. The constant sand blasting may have left my skin feeling like I left a spa but it made the simple task of walking difficult. Finding a good line was especially challenging. I couldn’t tell if the next ridge would take me higher up or to the top of a giant hole in the sand. The wind would then erase my footprints. That made the walk back another gamble on which sand was sturdy and which was a sinkhole.
It was all worth it for views such as this.
The hike is SUPPOSED to be a three mile hike with 629 feet of elevation on the out and back. As I said, the wind was a bit too much for me to finish. Here is a recap of how I did in my first attempt at High Dune.
The High Dune Hike Video
Elevation and Distance
I made it about half way up the dunes ending with a total walk of 2.02 miles and an elevation gain of 318 feet. This all according to my Alltrails.com app. To show you how much I struggled walking on the sand, the two miles took me 1 hour and 7 minutes. That is about 15-20 minutes behind my usual 2 mile pace.
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The sand dunes bring their own challenges that add to the effort. While the grades only get into the upper teen and low twenty percent the shifting sand made for some challenging traction conditions. If you have ever tried to walk on a soft beach you know what I am talking about. Unfortunately, the high winds blowing sand also broke my Fitbit so I don’t have a step count for this hike.
Sand. Sand. Oh and some more sand. A couple things that I wish I had with me were a pair of goggles for all the blowing sand. Also, I think a pair of gaiters to keep the sand out of your shoes could be helpful. Neither will be needed on each trip but something to think about.
The Great Sand Dunes National Park is located on Colorado 150. 150 can be accessed from 160 about halfway between Alamosa, Colorado on 285 and Walsenburg, Colorado on I-25. The park is part of the National Parks System and there is a $25/vehicle fee. A National Parks annual pass is accepted.
Wrapping up Great Sand Dunes National Park
I was split on my feelings of the Great Sand Dunes National Park. It was my last stop on the Great Southwestern Road Trip and therefore a sort of the cherry on top. The park itself is beautiful. The snow packed mountains towering over the sandy dunes is a very cool experience.
The sand is hard to hike on but it is manageable. What was less manageable was the wind. Hiking in a high winds is always tough but to add the blowing sand into the equation makes for a unique kind of challenge. It would have been great to make it to the top but I still had a very nice time.
I would absolutely come back to this park, hopefully on a better weather day. The hike is completely exposed so in the summer I am sure this would be a very tough place to be as well. Make sure you are prepared for all the elements if you make the trip!
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