Great Sand Dunes National Park
We are exceedingly lucky to have one of the most interesting and beautiful natural wonders in our “back-yard.” Usually in early May we have cabin fever and are ready to start hiking and camping. Given that the high mountains haven’t thawed, this makes the perfect time of year to visit the Sand Dunes. At ~8,000 feet, the weather here can still be temperamental – as we’ve experienced snow, rain, and high winds in our early May trips. This year, I went solo, with Jethro in tow as Katie was back at home working. Due to my recent surgery – backpacking was off the table this year.
Arriving to the park in the early afternoon, I selected a walk-to campsite with excellent views of the dunefield and Sangre de Cristos. With bluebird skies and gorgeous weather, I wasn’t anticipating a dramatic sunset, but took off to explore the top of the dunefield regardless. Jetrho was excited by this endeavor, showing off his low center of gravity running up and down the dunes (and then back again). Usually the ridgelines are uniform, but since the wind was blowing the opposite direction it made for interesting patterns in the sand.
The next morning, Jethro and I hiked the trail to Mosca Pass, which offers an interesting view of the valley below and the dunefields. That afternoon, we spent relaxing at picnic sites down the primitive 4×4 road. If you have the proper car, this is an excellent area to avoid the crowds and also access the dunes in the different area – which means fewer footprints to ruin photos! As the skies looked bluebird yet again, I opted to not go back up the dunefield. Unfortunately, as unpredictable the weather is – beautiful clouds moved in right at sunset.
The next morning, I broke camp early and made the quick driving back home – stopping at our usual lunch spot near Colorado City (Odie’s BBQ).
Great Sand Dunes is a stunningly beautiful and dog friendly National Park that is easily accessed for short trips from the Denver area. After spending a few weeks cooped up after surgery, this was a well-needed escape back to nature.
- Pinon flats campground has some excellent sites – but can fill up later in May, especially on weekends. There is dispersed camping near Zapata Falls and also car camping up Medano Pass (provided you have a 4×4 car).
- Access the dunes away from the main parking area – down the primitive 4×4 road. Less crowds and less footprints!
- Bring your dog, this place is dog heaven!
- Obie’s BBQ is a great place to stop for lunch on the way home to the front range