In Planning, Trips & Tips, Uncategorized on
March 29, 2016

Great Sand Dunes National Park: Playing In America’s Sandbox

Great sand dunes timetravelblonde

I get restless. Easy. And quickly. Not sure where it stems from, maybe it’s my Gemini nature or the fact that I get bored quickly, I don’t know. I wish I could chill all weekend. Like the Netflix and chill thing everyone raves about… But I #canteven with #netflixandchill.

OK, now that I got that out of the way, you’ll understand where I’m with this story. Soooo last weekend, my hubby and I were going a little stir crazy and wanted to go somewhere close, without dealing with airports, so naturally we thought road trip. We put on our thinking caps to find somewhere cool to go without being on the road for hours on end.

The answer…?

The Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great sand dunes national park

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The what, you say?

Yes. Believe or not, three hours south of Denver, there is a magical place known as the Great Sand Dunes National Park. A place that can transport you to the dunes of the Middle East or Africa within seconds. Funny thing is that it is completely surrounded by mountains and you don’t even need a passport to get there.

Huge bonus? We finally got to camp in a little wooden cabin, without heat, drink wine under the stars and cook over a fire. May sound miserable but it was absolutely magical.

So why am I sharing my experience at the Great Sand Dunes? Because it’s the bees nees, that’s why.

So obviously I’m more than happy to share the lowdown, what to do and where to stay at the Great Sand Dunes National Park!

The Lowdown:

The Great Sand Dune National Park is basically America’s largest sand box where adults can feel like kids again. Perfect for the whole family (pets included), it makes for a great day trip or overnight camping excursion!

great sand dunes national park

Great sand dunes timetravelblonde

great sand dunes

 

When To Go?

You can really go anytime of the year! I went at the tail end of winter and the weather was perfect: Colorado bluebird skies, sunshine and light winds. However, the weather in Colorado is somewhat (more like really) unpredictable, but don’t fear. There’s a famous saying in Colorado that goes, “if you don’t like the weather, just wait 10 minutes.” With that said, I recommend coming anytime of the year, with the exception of being weary in summer as the sand can become piping hot. TEST THE SAND TEMPS before letting little ones or pets run around the sand can burn feet and paws easily.

Cost of Entry:

$15 and luckily they do accept Visa and Master Card (phew). However, I always recommend bringing cash to a National Park because you just never know and Alamosa (the next town over) is about 30 minutes away from the park entrance.

If you want to go on a FREE DAY (yes please), here is a list of free days for all US National Parks (woohoo!) And since it’s the National Parks 100th Birthday, we get FOUR MORE additional free days. God bless America!

January 18: Martin Luther King Jr. Day

April 16 through 24: National Park Week

August 25 through 28: National Park Service 100th Birthday

September 24: National Public Lands Day

November 11: Veterans Day

What To Bring?

Sunscreen! You’re at high altitude, at risk for wind burn and in the sun with very little shelter from the sun. Cover up and protect your skin.

Water! If you don’t bring any, you’ll wither up and become dehydrated quickly. Quick tip: there are faucets and drinking fountains at the visitors center right when you enter the park. Also a great place to use the restroom and to gather information about the park.

Sunglasses! Same reasons as why you need sunscreen. Being at higher altitude, the sun’s a tad bit brighter so be prepared to wear your sunnies. Also there isn’t much shade during the day so protect your eyes as much as possible.

Sand Boards! Necessary if you want to sled down the dunes. You can bring them or rent from Oasis, which is on the road on your way in to the park (before entrance on CO HWY 150).

Snacks! There isn’t a restaurant inside the park so I highly recommend bringing snacks with you, such as protein bars, trail mix, or whatever you prefer.

What to Wear?

This is obviously weather dependent, but due to the higher winds that frequently happen, I recommend jeans, a loose top, hiking boots, and bringing a rubber band for your hair. We got lucky that it wasn’t too windy when we took pictures, but there are sudden bouts of high winds so come prepared to tie your hair back. Obviously if it’s colder, bring a coat or puffy vest like I did!

what to wear

Where to Stay?

Go Camping!

When we got to the sand dunes, we didn’t have any accomodation lined up (real amature hour), so luckily for us, we booked here:

Oasis Campground – Price for Wooden Cabin in late winter: $55 USD

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oasis great sand dunes camping

campfire

 

This gem is right off of CO Hwy 150 on the drive in to the park. We saw it because I’m a fat kid at heart and saw the word “restaurant” and it caught my attention. Luckily, it also had an RV park, camp sites for tent (which we did pack), and cabins. Considering it was late winter, temps in the evenings would be cold. Actually, more like freezing. So naturally we opted for the wooden cabin. It was basic/no thrills accomodation, which included a table, a standard size bed and 1 bunk bed, easily fitting us 2 and Phoebe (of course she came!). It didn’t have a heater but it does have a light and an outlet for charging phones. There are clean bathrooms and showers close by which come in handy, especially after playing in the sand all day! Also, each slot (RV, tent & cabin) come with a BBQ and fire pit, perfect for making some hot dogs or roasting smores at night!

 

breakfast

chloe eating breakfast

Additional Great Sand Dunes Camping?

Piñon Flats Campground within the Park:

Available April – October. 44 are reservable and 44 being first come first serve. Considering this is a popular campground, book far in advance or get there early!

Prefer a Hotel Close to the Great Sand Dunes?

Stay in Alamosa about 30 minutes away from the park. You can find such hotels as Holiday Inn or Fairfield Inn & Suites.

Alamosa is a small town, however has plenty of grocery store options, liquor stores, gas stations and the occasional dive bar.

In Conclusion:

A great experience overall. The Sand Dunes don’t look like much when you first drive in BUT don’t lose hope. Once you get closer, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that they suddenly appear much larger. It covers a lot of space. It is a work out just going from the parking lot to the base of the dunes. You can hike all up, down, all around… whatever you want to do. The park is open 24 hours and once you pay the fee to get in, you have access for 7 days, so don’t worry if you get in late. You can always go back in the morning. I also highly recommend camping nearby. It adds to the experience and it was such a fun stay. Since we didn’t really have a plan in mind, we only had a few essentials, such as a tent, blankets, snacks, wine (hey, that’s important!), and some clothes. Luckily, Alamosa has grocery stores to pick up everything needed for overnight camping.

I hope this motivates you to get out there and start exploring more of America’s beautiful National Parks, especially this hidden gem in particular. Thank you again for stopping by, keep an eye out for more posts on National Parks, and have a great Monday and start to your week!

Xo,
Chloe

 

great sand dunes national park

 

great sand dunes national park

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  • I absolutely love Great Sand Dunes NP and am always amazed that most people I speak with have never heard of it. Beautiful views and unlike any other place in the US

    • Haha!! I know I get that look like too! It’s so cool and such a unique spot. Would never have guessed it’d be here in Colorado either!! Thanks for stopping by and a great Wednesday xox

  • I’ve had my eyes on this national park for so long now… Sand dunes are so fascinating, how they just…accumulate in random places. I also love the fact that it’s one of the newest national parks, created back in the 90s, I think? Such an interesting place. I’m moving out to Denver next month and this is definitely one of the first stops on my list this summer! Thanks for the great write-up!

    • Hi Kristin!

      It’s really cool, when you first get there it doesn’t look like much but once you get up to it, it’s really amazing. You’ll love Denver and you’re coming at a good time, I like winter but warmer seasons here are my fave! Lmk if you need any recs for the city!

      Xo!

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