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Hiking & Walking: Colorado > Great Sand Dunes National Park

Quick Facts

Main Dune Mass Trail

Beginning Elevation: 8,000 Feet (2493.8 Meters) Average elevation of the base
Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult Sandy conditions
Elevation Gain: 900 Feet (280.5 Meters)
Ending Elevation: 8,900 Feet (2774.3 Meters) Summit of high dune
Length, One-way: 1.2 Miles (2.0 Kilometers) From parking lot
Size: 39 Square miles
USGS Maps: Zapata Ranch, Liberty

Satellite and Topo Map

General Description

Enjoying Medano Creek as it runs though the Great Sand Dunes
Copyright: Unknown
Enjoying Medano Creek as it runs though the Great Sand Dunes
Wander where you please on the dunes - there are no established trails in the sand. Wear shoes or have them with you; surface temperatures can reach 140 degrees! Take water and sunscreen, a jacket is advisable. When storm clouds roll in, GET OFF THE DUNES; lightening is a danger on the vast dune expanses.

A climb to the top of the tallest dune (not quite 750 feet from the base) takes about one hour. From the top you may gaze upon miles of picturesque topography. To the south, you can view the full extent of the San Luis Valley, the largest valley in Colorado. Piercing the skyline to the north are the 14,000 thousand foot peaks of the Crestones.

Accessing the main dune mass is possible from a three locations: the Main Dunes Parking Area, a trail from the Visitor Center and another trail from the campground near the entrance to Medano Pass Primitive Road. From the wheelchair accessible Sawmill Canyon Campground, you may access the dunes near campsite 34.

The closest access to the dunes for wheelchairs is the Dunes Parking Area. When Medano Creek is flowing, or the sand is dry, travel across the flats is impossible for wheelchairs. When the sand is wet and firm, some visitors have pushed wheelchairs across for a short distance. In 1994 a prototype all-terrain wheelchair was developed by the National Park Foundation and Friends of the Dunes. Because of its weight, the design was eliminated and new plans are being created to devise a lighter, self-propelled wheelchair. When completed, the chair will be available for check-out.

The Monument has eight backpacking backcountry sites, with hiking distances ranging from .6 miles to 10.5 miles. Backpackers may also spend the night on the main dune mass. A free backcountry permit must be obtained from the Visitor Center if you are camping in the Monument or if leaving a vehicle in the Monument overnight. Backpackers can also camp in the Rio Grande National Forest (Medano Pass, Mosca Pass or Blanca Peak Trail).

Directions from Visitor Center: From the Visitor Center, follow Highway 150 north for less than 1/2 mile and turn left. Follow this road for about 1/2 mile to the Dunes Parking Area.


Seasonal Information:
Normally Accessible: Year-round (NOTE: Visitor Center open 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. in Summer months; varying hours in the Winter.) .

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Recreation Opportunities
Activity Remarks On Site
ICON Backpacking Eight backcountry sites in the Monument; free permit from Visitor Center required.
ICON Family Camping Pinyon Flats Campground
ICON Fishing Medano Creek; Rio Grande National Forest
ICON Four-Wheel Driving Medano Pass Primitive Road
ICON Group Picnicking South Ramada (reservations required) and North Ramada
ICON Hiking & Walking Numerous other trails in the area as well
ICON Horseback Riding Park at Amphitheater, Montville or Point of No Return; stay out of main public use areas
ICON Animal Identification Look for tracks in the sand, especially in early morning.
ICON Firewood Gathering Not permitted in the Monument; purchase from concessionaire in summer and from Visitor Center in winter.
ICON Lodging Alamosa, Monte Vista and Ft. Garland
ICON Mountain Biking Only on Medano Pass Primitive Road; some difficult sandy stretches
ICON Mountain Climbing Blanca Peak, Little Bear and the Crestones
ICON ATV Riding Only on Medano Pass Primitive Road, if vehicle and driver are licensed.
ICON Motorcycle Riding Only on Medano Pass Primitive Road, if vehicle and driver are licensed.
ICON General Information Visitor Center
ICON Picnicking Next to Dunes Parking Area, Sand Pit and Castle Creek sites
ICON Downhill Skiing Trying skiing the dunes, even in summer.
ICON Attending Talks & Programs Summer programs at amphitheater; programs in Visitor Center year-round
ICON Viewing Scenery San Luis Valley and the Crestones
ICON Viewing Interpretive Signs Picture Point Trail, Montville Nature Trail
ICON Guided Touring Concessionaire conducts tours on Medano Pass Primitive Road in the summer.

Related Activities
Dunes Picnic Ground - The picnic area is located right next to the Dunes Parking Area which is at the edge of the dunes. Tables, grills (charcoal fires only please), water and restrooms are provided.

Great Sand Dunes National Monument Visitor Center - Before venturing out to the dunes, stop by the Visitor Center. Here you can pick up information on the dunes and other park features. The center is opened daily, except on federal holidays in the winter.

Main Dunes Parking Area - This is the main parking area for the Great Sand Dunes and it is located only a few yards from the dunes. A picnic area for families and groups is located here and restrooms and water are available.

North Ramada Group Picnic Ground - Reservations are not required at this picnic area and the site can between 50-70 people. Busses should park in the main Dunes parking area. Groups can then walk to the site.

Pinyon Flats Campground - Piñon Flats Campground is open all year on a first-come, first serve basis. Each site has a picnic table and fire grate. Facilities include water fountains and spigots as well as restrooms with sinks and toilets.

Pinyon Flats Group Site - Some group sites are available in Piñon Flats Campground. It is extremely popular and reservations are required. Since these sites are in such high demand, call the Visitor Center any time after January 2nd.

Pinyon Flats Trail - This trail connects the main Dunes Parking Area with Piñon Flats Campground.

South Ramada Group Picnic Ground - Reservations are required at this picnic area; they can be made by calling the Visitor Center. The site can between 50-70 people. Busses should park in the main Dunes parking area.

More Information

Visitor Information:

Great Sand Dunes National Monument, 11999 Highway 150 , Mosca, CO, 81146, Phone: 719-378-6300


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