What is there to do in Great Sand Dunes National Park? Play in the sand! Great Sand Dunes is exactly like it sounds – every toddler’s sandbox dream! Except now we’re grownups and we can really appreciate it! We backpacked and sandboarded at Great Sand Dunes National Park and I can now tell you that both of them are bucket-list worthy!
Playing on the Dunes:
The main attraction in Great Sand Dunes National Park is, obviously, the dunes. There is one main parking lot with access to the dunes. There are not trails, everyone just disperses across the sand.
Near the main parking lot, there are restrooms with indoor plumping and changing rooms. There is a water filling station near the restrooms. There are also outdoor showers, to rinse off some of the sand. It’s a great set up!
Sandboarding in the Great Sand Dunes:
We saw a lot of people with dollar store sleds, snowboards, and tubes out on the dunes. Most of them ended up frustrated and far from the bottom. Thankfully, we had done our research ahead of time and knew what we needed for a fun time.
In order to get the best sandboarding experience, you need the best sandboard. Sandboards can be rented from many places. We got ours from Kristi Mountain Sports. We paid $18 per board for a 24 hour rental and they threw in extra board wax for free. June – August Kristi recommends making reservations. Otherwise, they usually have sandboards available for walk-ins. Kristi Mountain Sports is located in Alamosa, just 40 minutes outside of the park.
The crew at Kristi’s told us how to find the best sandboarding spot. Their advice: Walk the ridges until you look down on a hill and think to yourself, “No way.” This is your spot.
I was thinking “no way” to all the hills we passed, but Kenon and our other companions wanted something a little more extreme. We finally stopped at the top of a massive ridge, looking down on what looked to me like a sheer drop off. My brain has a way of exaggerating these things, though.
The boys went first, in turn having success and wipeouts, slowly learning the ways of the board. It’s not like any other board sport. There is no carving involved, it is just a straight shot down or across the dune. Also, remember to wax the board in between every run for a smoother ride.
Backpacking in the Great Sand Dunes:
You have to obtain a backcountry permit in order to backpack in the Great Sand Dunes. These are all given on a first-come, first-served basis and the backcountry office closes at 4 pm, so arrive early. 20 groups, of up to 6 people each, are allowed in the backcountry per day.
The dispersed camping is located on the backside of the main dune. It is over 2 miles of hiking up, down, and around sand dunes to get to the start of the camping. The hike is even longer in order to get away from other campers. The main rule is, “If you cannot see the visitor’s center or any cars, you can camp there.” How much you get away from other campers is kind of up to you.
We hiked during the windiest part of the day. The sand was whipping around so much it stung our skin. We were so tired from walking against the wind that as soon as we were out of sight of the visitor’s center, we set up camp. The wind caused setting up camp to be an equally exhausting process, blowing the tarps and tents around and covering everything, inside and out, in sand.
Once the wind calmed down, we were really able to enjoy the views. On a clear night, this is absolutely stunning camping. The stars look like the are going to drop right out of the sky and land all around the dunes. The air is crisp and quiet. The sunset and sunrise are brilliant. This is the best way to see the sand dunes.
- Bring plenty of sunscreen! This is not a shady place.
- Consider wearing long sleeves, long pants, a hat, and a bandana.
- The sand gets everywhere! It kicks up into your shoes, sticks to you if you fall, and blows into everything if the wind picks up.
- If backpacking, expect things to get sandy. We set up on a very windy night and everything inside and outside of our tent was covered in a fine layer of sand. Even when the wind was not blowing, we were tracking sand across everything.