Great Sand Dunes National Park
Updated: May 7, 2022
Why Great Sand Dunes National Park is great for kids:
Sand boarding and sledding
4x4 sandy off road trail
Climbing and rolling down the dunes
Play in the creek in the Spring if flowing
Great Sand Dunes National Park is located near Alamosa, Colorado. The Park is about four hours or 200 miles from Mesa Verde National Park and a little over 3.5 hours or 230 miles South of Denver. The dunes cover nearly 39 square miles (about the same size as Miami, Florida) and rise almost 750 vertical feet above the valley floor. If the dune heights were compared to hi-rises they would be 40 feet higher than any hi-rise in Denver and the 18th tallest building in Chicago. Fortunately, for die-hard hikers, there is no elevator for the sand dunes. The park was designated a National Monument in 1932 by President Herbert Hoover. An act of Congress established the area as a National Park in 2004.
We recommend Zapata Falls when going to Great Sand Dunes National Park. It is located off of 150, by taking a 3.5 mile unpaved road. Cars are not recommended however, we did see a few. It takes about thirty minutes to drive to the trailhead from 150. Bring swim shoes to keep your hiking shoes dry. The trail is 1.8 miles round trip and includes mostly rocky terrain. The rocks are the sizes of stones all the up to the many basketball size rocks. Be careful of the young one's footing. Make sure they pick up their feet. There are areas for shade to take breaks and spectacular view of the dunes. The Waterfall is the purpose for the hike. With a drop of 30 feet it is worth seeing and experiencing. Our brood enjoyed playing in the water and climbing the rocks in the creek to the Falls.
We found two places to rent sand boards and sleds. Kristi Mountain Sports is located in Alamosa. I am not sure if they are affiliated with Cristy Sports. We rented our gear from Great Sand Dunes Oasis on the way to the dunes. They are located about 10 minutes from the National Park Visitor's Center. Get to the Oasis early, and be first, or pick up the night before and pay extra. The risk of renting the gear is that if you arrive a little late, you are waiting an hour or more in line. If you arrive really late they may run out of boards for rent. Also, if you arrive at the dunes, during summer, later in the day, the heat was unbearable and we left earlier than we would have liked.
Go early if you are experiencing the dune on a hot day. Bring and drink water The sand is hot so wear close toed shoes. Don’t hike more than you can handle. The hike to the dunes is daunting in the heat. There is a distance of flat sand that you have to walk from the parking lot to the first dune hill. Our brood was only able to hike the first few dunes. Unless you are serious hikers set expectations low. Those are the warnings. We had a great time while we were there. The sleds and boards were a lot of fun. If you question whether you should be a kid and ride, I recommend ride. The ride down was well worth the climb back up.
Medano pass is a primitive road where 4x4 is required. The trail is too sandy for 2 wheel drive. It is as long as you want to make it. Many places to turn around. Miles to explore. We enjoyed taking this drive in the afternoon heat with the A/C running. There are great views, a few passes through Medano Creek creating time well spent.
In summary we planned one day and it wasn’t enough. We purchased our sand boards and sleds first, hiked Zapata Falls next, and finished with the dunes and drive up Medano Falls trail. Attempting to do all this in the day we had was worth it. Next time we will reserve a full day at the dunes and find a way to have equipment before 8am so we can enjoy a full day. If you enjoy hikes and waterfalls Zapata Falls is a must see. This is a great destination for die-hard hikers and for sports kids to get out and try their skills on sledding and sand boarding. Let us know if you have questions about Great Sand Dunes National Park. We are happy to answer questions on this amazing Park.