The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is a unique and stunning natural area located in southern Colorado. The massive sand dunes, the tallest in North America, rise against the picturesque backdrop of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which soar up to 14,000 feet above sea level.

Great Sand Dunes National Park sign
Great Sand Dunes National Park sign

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

The park is located approximately 35 miles northeast of the city of Alamosa in southern Colorado.

It covers an area of about 150,000 acres and includes the dunes themselves, grasslands, wetlands, forests, and alpine tundra.

The park and preserve is a popular tourist destination, receiving over 700,000 visitors each year.

Great Sand Dune National Park Location

The park’s most prominent feature is the vast expanse of sand dunes, which cover an area of about 30 square miles.

The tallest dune, known as Star Dune, reaches a height of around 750 feet.

Great Sand Dunes National Park view from the entrance

The park is home to a diverse range of plant and animal species.

In the grasslands and wetlands, visitors may encounter pronghorn, mule deer, and other animals.

The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is also a popular destination for bird watching, as it is home to a variety of bird species, including sandhill cranes, bald eagles, and owls.

The higher elevations support alpine ecosystems with unique flora and fauna.

The park is also designated as an International Dark Sky Park, making it an excellent location for stargazing.

People climbing the sand dunes at the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Great Sand Dunes National Park has cultural and historical significance as well.

The region has a rich Native American history, with evidence of human habitation dating back thousands of years.

Visitors can explore the preserve’s archaeological sites and learn about the ancestral connections to the land.

Great Sand Dunes National Park Formation

The formation of the Great Sand Dunes is a fascinating geological process that involves the interplay of wind, water, and unique geographical factors.

These dunes were formed by the accumulation of sand from the surrounding mountains and the action of wind over thousands of years. Visit the Great Sand Dunes Park visitor center for an insightful presentation of how this works.

Getting Caught in a Sandstorm 

We were “lucky?” enough to be at the right spot at the right time to see this formation of the Great Sand Dunes in action.

While camping at the San Luis Lakes State Wildlife Area Campground, we witnessed a large wall of sand from a sandstorm coming at us from across the San Luis valley. 

The images below show what happened when the sandstorm came in.

The first is a photo before the sandstorm in the campground, and the second is an image of what it looked like during the sandstorm.

You can see the jeep and travel trailer behind it in both pictures. We had to seek shelter to avoid getting sand in our eyes.

San Luis Lakes State Wildlife Area Campground
Sandwall moving into San Luis Lakes State Wildlife Area Campground near the Great Sand Dunes National Park

All of a sudden it got super windy and we saw this huge wall of dark sand coming towards us.

It was caused by strong winds that blow up a lot of sand and create a big swirling cloud of sand in the air.

It’s like a big, dusty windstorm that can make it hard to see and breathe.

The series of photos below shows the sandstorm rolling into the Mosco campground, and how it looked in the distance versus once we were in the sandstorm.

It was like a giant rolling sand tsunami and was moving fast.

Sandwall showing how the Great Sand Dunes National Park formed
Sandwall moving over RVs camped at San Luis Lakes State Wildlife Area Campground
Sandwall engulfiing RVs at San Luis Lakes State Wildlife Area Campground
Sandwall moving towards Great Sand Dunes National Park
Sandwall that forms the Great Sand Dunes National Park

This wall of sand came in from the valley in the west, and was heading directly through the San Luis Lakes State Wildlife Area Campground toward the Great Sand Dunes National Park.

It’s something to keep an eye out for in windy conditions so that you don’t get caught in the sandstorm.

Medano Creek in Great Sand Dunes National Park

Medano Creek, which flows through the park seasonally, provides a unique opportunity for wading, splashing, and even tubing during certain times of the year.

Medano Creek in Great Sand Dunes National Park
View of Medano Creek in May

During late spring and early summer, the creek swells with snowmelt from the Sangre de Cristo mountains.

Medano Creek typically has the most significant flow from late May to early June when the snowmelt runoff is at its peak.

The water level gradually decreases as the season progresses and may completely dry up by late summer or early fall.

Medano Creek’s unique characteristic is its shallow depth and sandy bottom.

The water is generally ankle to knee-deep. The creek’s sandy bed creates small waves and ripples, and as the creek flows, it forms small beach-like areas with sandbars and pools. These are perfect for wading.

When the water flow is strong enough, Medano Creek offers a unique tubing and floating experience.

Visitors can bring their own inflatable tubes or rent them from nearby vendors. Tubing down the creek provides a refreshing and exhilarating way to enjoy the water and the beautiful scenery.

Things to do at the Great Sand Dunes National Park

There are plenty of activities and things to do at Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Here are some of the key highlights: 

Sandboarding and Sledding

Sandboarding is the most popular activity in the park.

You can rent sand sleds at the visitor center or bring your own.

People were having a blast climbing the sand dunes and sledding down. It’s a workout for sure to get to the top of the sand dunes!

sand sledding the sand dunes in Great Sand Dunes National Park
Hiking up sand dunes
Sliding down sand dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Park


Explore the diverse hiking trails in the park, ranging from easy walks to more challenging treks.

The High Dune Trail, Medano Creek Trail, and Mosca Pass Trail are some popular options that offer stunning views of the dunes and surrounding landscapes.


The park is an International Dark Sky Park, which means that the skies are dark and free from light pollution.

This makes it a great place to stargaze.

On clear nights, the park offers breathtaking views of the night sky and an opportunity to witness the Milky Way and countless stars.

Backpacking and Camping

Venture into the backcountry for overnight backpacking trips and camping adventures.

Obtain a free permit and explore the designated areas while immersing yourself in the beauty of the park.

Wildlife Viewing

Keep an eye out for the park’s diverse wildlife, including mule deer, pronghorn, elk, coyotes, and a variety of bird species.

Binoculars or a camera with a telephoto lens can enhance your wildlife viewing experience.


There are a number of lakes and streams in the park where you can fish for trout.


Capture the breathtaking landscapes and unique features of the park.

The contrast between the towering sand dunes and the majestic mountains offers incredible photo opportunities, especially during sunrise and sunset.

Visit the Visitor Center

The visitor center has exhibits on the geology, history, and wildlife of the park.

Take a Guided Tour

There are a number of guided tours available, including hikes, bike rides, and jeep tours.

Ranger Programs

Attend ranger-led programs and activities to learn more about the park’s geology, ecology, and cultural history. These educational programs provide insights and a deeper appreciation of the area.

(Did you know that all fourth graders get a free National Park Pass each year, no strings attached?)

RV Camping Options in the Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park offers RV camping facilities for visitors in the Pinon Flats campground in the park and dispersed camping options along the Medano Pass Primitive Road.

Camping is allowed in designated areas only.

Great Sand Dunes National Park sign

Pinon Flats Campground

The Pinon Flats Campground provides both tent and RV camping, with amenities such as restrooms and picnic areas, but there are no RV hookups.

There is a dump station, however. It is open April through October.

All of the sites require a reservation through, which shows a calendar of availability for each campsite.

It fills up fast, so plan to reserve a camping site as soon as you know your travel plans. RV sites can be reserved up to six months in advance.

Pinon Flats campground sign

Medano Pass Primitive Road Dispersed Camping

Medano Pass Road is a primitive road in the park that allows for dispersed camping along the route.

This road is accessible to high-clearance vehicles and some RVs or trailers, but the road conditions can vary, and sections may be rough or sandy.

Overlanders will enjoy this road for camping.

Camping is allowed in 21 designated campsites along the road. These campsites are marked with a brown post and camping symbol.

All campsites here are first come, first served.

RV Camping Options Outside the Park

There are a number of privately owned RV campgrounds in the area.

The National Park Service maintains a list of some options within 40 miles of the Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center.

There may be other options as well, including dispersed camping on public land in the area. (See our tutorial on how to find great dispersed camping locations on US Forest Service land.)

Travel Considerations for Great Sand Dunes National Park

  • It can get hot here in the summer, including reaching up to 100 degrees.
  • Bring plenty of water when hiking or playing in the dune. If you camp in the San Luis Lakes State Wildlife Area campground, plan to bring your own water too, as water is not available.
  • You’ll appreciate having a sun hat and sunglasses when visiting the dunes.
  • Wear sunscreen. The sun can be very strong in the desert.
  • Bring insect repellent. The mosquitoes can be really bad.

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve offers a remarkable blend of natural beauty, outdoor recreation, and cultural heritage.

Whether you’re looking to hike the dunes, observe wildlife, camp under the stars, or simply enjoy the stunning landscapes, the park provides a memorable experience for visitors of all ages.

Camping in an RV in the area makes it all convenient.