National Parks
Fun and Exciting Things to Do Great Sand Dunes National Park

Fun and Exciting Things to Do Great Sand Dunes National Park

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If you are looking for something different to do this summer, check out the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve located in the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado. These massive sand dunes are the tallest in North America and sit perfectly in front of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, with the Medano Creek flowing across the front of the dunes and eventually disappearing into the sand. It is an unusual breathtaking sight like someone painted a giant life-size portrait that’s everchanging.

Great Sand Dunes National Park

When you get to the Great Sand Dunes Colorado, you will have to park in the parking area near the Visitor’s Center and walk to the Medano creek and sand dunes.

If you are into hiking, you need to allow several hours just for hiking. The sand dunes are great fun for families. Everyone tries to slide down the great sand dunes, some sit on their bottoms and slide, and some use sleds, sandboards, or other homemade devices. Be sure to pack a lunch. If you have children, bring your bathing suits because they will be entertained for hours playing in the Medano creek. When the creek is high, you can even raft the shallow waters. There are bathrooms and changing rooms available near the creek. There is also horseback riding, backpacking, and bird watching in the national park.

Zapata Falls

When you get through the sand dunes, if you feel up to it, you must go to another spectacular nearby attraction, Zapata Falls. Be ready for more hiking because the falls are reached by hiking .5 fairly steep miles. When you reach the creek, you have to wade in the stream, climb a ladder and walk through a narrow gorge to view the 30 ft. high waterfalls.

The creek is at its lowest in the late summer and this would probably be a better time of the year to try this. This area also has mountain bike trails. There are several other attractions in the San Luis Valley. One of the attractions you have to visit is the Colorado Gator Farm. They have a variety of turtles, snakes, and lizards. But what you will really enjoy is watching the alligator wrestling classes.

People actually pay money to wrestle with small to very large alligators, taking guidance from the owner who is a Crocodile Dundee looking-fella. These alligators are kept in geothermal ponds that keep the water at a comfortable temperature all year round.

Sand Dunes National Park Colorado Gator Farm
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Be sure to take part of the day and go visit the Colorado Gator Farm while you are there. If you have time before you leave, you must take a day and ride the train with the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad or Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. You won’t regret it!

For those of you who like to rough it, there are the Great Sand Dunes Pinon Flat Campground located in the Great Sand Dunes National Monument with 88 campsites.

The Great Sand Dunes Lodge is located in the heart of the San Luis Valley; they have standard and deluxe rooms ranging from $100-$135 during the summer.

Great Sand Dunes National Park, located about three hours south of Colorado Springs, has some of the largest sand dunes in the United States. Enjoy camping under the stars in a tent or RV with a few of your closest friends, or a hundred of them. The park offers opportunities to see wildlife and enjoy the wide-open spaces. Because much of the park is sand, there are few trails and you are able to wander through much of the park freely.

Camping Overview

Great Sand Dunes National Park has several different options for camping. Three loops separate the different campgrounds. Loop one has campsites available on a first-come, first-served basis. If the ranger kiosk is open, check in there; if not, do a self-check-in. From May 15 to September 15, Loop two campgrounds are open for reservation.

The sites can be reserved as much as six months in advance, but also must be reserved at least four days ahead of time. In the case that not all sites are reserved, the remainder is given out on a first-come, first-served basis. Loop three is for group camping. Sites can accommodate between 15 and 110 people. Reservations must be made and are available between April and October. Group sites cost between $85 and $100 per night. Pets are welcome at any site.


Hiking in Great Sand Dunes National Park is different from many other parks because there are no defined trails in the dunes. Visitors can enjoy walking on the dunes wherever they like. Popular places to visit include Medano Creek where you can play in the water. The tallest dunes are more than 650 feet high. The tallest one, which is also the tallest dune in the United States, is called Star Dune and reaches 750 feet high. Forested trails are also available in the park. These trails are more traditional and defined.

Horseback Riding

Sand Dunes National Park horseback riding

Take a guided horseback riding trip, or bring your own horse and explore the park. People with their own horses have virtually full access to the park. Several areas are closed off to horses, so check with the park ranger before you go exploring. Nearby Zapata Ranch sponsors horsemanship experiences where they take you around the ranch on a horse so you can experience life working there. They also offer tours around the park.

Sandboarding and Skiing

Take advantage of some of the biggest dunes in the country by sandboarding and skiing down them. Bring any type of equipment you normally use in the snow. Sleds, skis, and snowboards all work well. Depending on recent weather, the sand may or may not be good for sliding down. Snow on the dunes makes for a particularly fun time. Boarding and skiing are allowed on any of the dunes in the park. The park does not rent any boards or skis, so bring your own or go to a rental place near the park.

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Tours at Sand Dunes National Park

Get special tours to seldom visited parts of the park with a Bison Tour. For $50 for adults and $25 for children, the two-hour tour takes you to the north end of Zapata Ranch where on 50,000 acres, 2,000 bison roam. You will also get an opportunity to see other wildlife including elk, deer, porcupines, and owls. On the tour, you stop at historic Medano Ranch Headquarters, which dates to the 1800s. Four people are required for a tour, but if you have less than four, you will be grouped with others.

There are many beautiful areas in Colorado to visit, but the Great Sand Dunes of Colorado was different and very unique. Go visit the Dunes this summer!