On each of our trips my favorite parts almost always are not the reason why we are on the trip. That was once again the case on our most recent road trip. Our destination for this trip was South Dakota and the trip centered around Mount Rushmore. In looking for a place to stay about halfway in between our house and South Dakota I came across Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado and boy am I glad I did! It was the perfect start to our vacation.
Great Sand Dunes National Park has the tallest dunes in North America at 750 feet. It did not look that tall as we were driving towards it but I was mesmerized once we were there. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains serve as the backdrop to Great Sand Dunes and they tower over the dunes at 13,000 feet.
There is lots to do in Great Sand Dunes. You can hike the dunes, play in the sand, go sledding or sand boarding, four-wheeling and during the end of May and beginning of June, you can play in the Medano Creek.
On our way into the park we rented a sand sled. Great Sand Dunes is near the town of Alamosa and you can rent (and reserve) a sled from a store in town or you can rent one (on a first come first serve basis) from the Oasis Store which is just outside of the park entrance. The park has a page with information on sand boarding and sledding and where to rent sleds and boards. We rented ours from the Oasis Store and it was $20 for the day. We had a great time sledding. The only thing to keep in mind is that the dunes are windy and when the wind picks up you will likely be pelted with sand. At least that is what happened to us. When the wind would pick up Little Mister would hide behind his sled.
The other downside to sledding is that you have to walk back up the hill once you are done. Other than that it is so much fun! Oh, I forgot about one other thing. You will have sand everywhere you can possibly imagine. I still had sand in my pockets after they were washed. Totally worth it though.
For lunch we decided to wander down the Medano Pass Primitive Road. We enjoy roadside picnics and have had some of the most enjoyable lunches stopped wherever we have found a nice spot. The Medano Pass Primitive Road is a 4×4 trail. The Husband was really excited when we started down this road but we quickly got to The Point of No Return where we came across this lovely sign and decided that since we were not prepared for what may lie ahead we would error on the side of caution. There is a picnic table at this spot where we ate our lunch and a hill nearby with a great view of the dunes. Next time we will go past the point of no return.
This time of year the Medano Creek runs in front of the dunes. It is a result of snow melt and it peaks typically towards the end of May. We timed our entire vacation around the creek. If the creek is running you will have to cross it to get to the dunes so be prepared to get your feet wet. The water is not deep but it is a little cold.
We spent the entire afternoon playing in the creek. Let me rephrase that. The kids spent the entire afternoon playing in the creek.
The Husband and I spent the entire afternoon on the beach watching the kids play and watching the dunes change as the afternoon went on. An absolutely perfect afternoon in my book.
The Pinon Flats campground within the park was full so we stayed the Alamosa KOA about 30 minutes away. We stayed in a camping cabin and I was very happy with this KOA. The campground was a nice size, there were bunnies hopping all over the place, the cabins were spaced nicely apart, the bathrooms were clean and the staff was friendly. I would definitely stay here again.
If you are interested in camping in the park at Pinon Flats the best sites appeared to be the northern outside edges of both loop one (17-22) and two (I didn’t write the numbers down for this loop but for sure 67-71 but the others on the edge might also work) and the southern outside edge of loop one (34-40). The sites mentioned all had great views of the dunes. We drove through the campground so that we would know what to book next year. Loop one is first come first serve but loop two is reservable. Just a reminder – reservable campsites fill up quickly in the parks. If you are interested in camping get your plans together at least six months in advance so you can be sure to get your site.
On our way to Colorado we stopped in Albuquerque, New Mexico to let the kids take a long stretch/play break. We stopped at Roosevelt Park and it was beautiful! Being from the desert, we are not used to seeing anything covered in grass so it was a total treat. We purchased this frisbee from REI just before our trip and we definitely got our money out of it. We played frisbee at every park we stopped at.
We had so much fun in Great Sand Dunes I was a little sad to leave but we continued to have fun and I have lots more to share. I will get part two of our trip up soon. If you have been to Great Sand Dunes I would love to hear about your visit!