When one thinks of sand dunes, one's mind might wander off to the great desert of the Sahara in Africa. But sand dunes can be found in some of the most unlikely places. In America, the largest sand dunes are not to be found in the deserts like the Mojave Desert - but in the mountainous state of Colorado.

The Great Sand Dunes National Park conserves America's largest sand dune and is a must-see for anyone visiting the state. If one is passing through Colorado Springs, check out the stunning Garden of the Gods, and if planning to come to the mountain state for skiing, consider staying at the luxurious Deer Valley Resort.

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About Great Sand Dunes And How They Formed

These natural wonders have been formed by sediments from the surrounding mountains filling the valley over geologic time. In the past, there were lakes in the valley, but after they receded and disappeared, the sand was left exposed. The sand was then blown by the prevailing southwest winds toward the Sangre de Cristos. Over tens of thousands of years, the sand built up here to form the massive dune fields that bewilder visitors today.

  • Height: Up To 750 Feet or 230 Meters
  • Annual Visitors: 527,000
  • ATVs And UTVs: They are Not Permitted Anywhere In The Great Sand Dunes (All Vehicles Must Be Highway-Legal In Colorado)

The parts that make up the Great Sand Dunes system are the dune field, the sand sheet, the sabkha (a mud or sand flat where minerals and salts accumulate from evaporation), and the mountain watershed.

Today the main activities in the Great Sand Dunes are hiking, sandboarding, and sand sledding. Other activities available in the park include camping, horseback-riding trails, four-wheel driving, and climbing the surrounding mountains.

To get the dunes in spring and summer, visiting need to walk across the wide but shallow Medano Creek. After July the creek is low if there is any water at all. One bonus of the park is that at 8,200 in altitude, it is perfect for stargazing at night.

Medano Pass Primitive Road

This is a must-do for those who are fans of 4WDing. To drive on this road, one must have a 4WD vehicle. The conditions on this road vary and it closes, check with the National Park Service for up-to-date information.

  • Tip: To Pass Through The Soft Sand One May Need To Reduce Tire Pressure, Bring An Air compressor
  • 4-Wheel Drive Vehicles: Required For This Road - Mini-SUVs, AWD Vehicles, Wagons, Etc With Low Clearance Can Get Stuck In The Deep Sand
  • Annual Closure: In November To Mid May The Road Is Closed For The Winter

Related: Valley of Fire State Park: A Day Spent At The Largest And Oldest State Park In Nevada

Sandsledding And Sandboarding

Imagine the thrill on one's kid's faces as they race down the 750 foot high dunes on a sled. These are arguable the most fun family activities in the park.

Important to note that the National Park does not rent sandsleds or sandboards. One can't rent them inside the park, but there are lots of retailers nearby in the San Luis Valley. Rent the gear before arriving at the park.

The sandsleds are coated with special slick material on the bottom of the boards. In order to protect their equipment. Some of the rental companies will not rent out the boards when the dunes are wet, frozen, or covered in snow.

Oasis Store

  • Where: 4 Miles Away Near The Park Entrance
  • Open: March 1 Through October 31
  • Note: Oasis Will Not Rent Sleds When The Sand Is Wet
  • Camping: They Also Offer Camping

Spin Drift Sand Board Rentals

  • Where: 25 Miles Away In Downtown Blanca
  • Open: Rents Out Sandsleds and Sandboards March To October

Sand Dunes Swimming Pool And Recreation

  • Where: 32 Miles Away Near Hooper
  • Open: Rents Out Sandsleds and Sandboards Year Round
  • Note: They Also Offer Accommodation And A Restaurant

Krisiti Mountain Sports

  • Where: 40 Miles Away In Alamosa
  • Open: Rents Out Sandsleds and Sandboards Year Round (Will Not Rent them When The Sand Is Frozen or Covered In Snow)

Related: These Are The Most Beautiful Deserts In The World, And They're Far From Being Barren Wastelands

Camping In Side The Park

If one would like to camp in the national park, there are a few options. Inside the park, there is only one campground, the Piñon Flats Campground. Additionally, there are also High-Clearance 4WD Camping along the Medano Pass Primitive Road as well as backpacking camping elsewhere in the park.

Piñon Flats Campground

  • Reservation: All Of The Sites Are Reservable
  • Where: One Mile North Of the Visitor Center
  • Open: April Through October (Closed November Through March)
  • Facilities: Nearby Restroom With Flush Toilets and Sinks, A Fire Ring And Grate, A Picnic Table, Dumping Station, Potable Water
  • Cost: $20.00 Per Individual Site (Both Tents And RVs Permitted)

Next: This New Mexico Park Is Home To More Than Just Hiking, Here's Where You Can Go Dune Sledding