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.
Enjoying Medano Creek as it runs though the Great Sand Dunes
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.
(NOTE: Visitor Center open 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. in Summer months; varying hours in the Winter.)