Happy Trails: Colorado's Great Sand Dunes

By Seth Boster Published: April 16, 2018 0
photo - Visitors hike along the ridge of a sand dune as the sun begins to set Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015, at the Great Sand Dunes National Park, near Alamosa, Colo. The huge sand dunes are North America's tallest. See Gazette.com for a photo gallery. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
Visitors hike along the ridge of a sand dune as the sun begins to set Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015, at the Great Sand Dunes National Park, near Alamosa, Colo. The huge sand dunes are North America's tallest. See Gazette.com for a photo gallery. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

All descriptions of Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve fall short. It is a true North American wonder, an essential pilgrimage for Coloradans. For Front Range residents, it's a day trip like no other.

Enter the San Luis Valley, with an endless supply of curiosities ranging from rock formations and geothermal waters to alien watch towers. Many valley folks insist extraterrestrials are not science fiction. Similarly, the sand dunes must be seen to be believed.

They soar with the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in a 30-square-mile dunefield that can't be fully comprehended when driving through the entrance. From the main parking lot, visitors embark on what appears to be a beach without an ocean - though the sparkling Medano Creek is a splash zone for families when full. If you're looking for a trail, check out the neighboring forest with the marvelous destination of Zapata Falls. The dunefield has no designated trails. But don't fear getting lost, as up is the only way to go.

From the main parking lot, the nearly 700-foot High Dune is the most visited point. The ascent is a workout, especially if the sand is loose, making you feel as if you're making no gains with sinking feet. You'll skirt banks and pass swirling bowls that make you realize the vastness of the dunefield. You certainly will at the top, looking to the seemingly endless jaggedness.

Star Dune is most prominent to the west - the tallest dune in the continent at 750 feet. It's an ambitious trek, requiring about five hours round trip from the parking lot, according to rangers. A perfect day at the park is complete with a thrilling slide down the dunes on board or sled.

Difficulty: Easy or difficult, depending on chosen adventure

Getting there: Take Interstate 25 south to exit 50 for U.S. 160 west, passing through Walsenburg, where 160 west continues by turning right at Seventh Street. After about 57 miles, turn onto Colorado 150 north. See signs for park in about 19 miles.

FYI: $15 fee per vehicle. Dogs not permitted throughout dunefield. Check forecast and be aware summer weather changes drastically around the dunes.

SETH BOSTER, THE GAZETTE

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