COLORADO,  Road Trips

Great Sand Dunes National Park


Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park


Great Sand Dunes National Park

According to Outsideonline National Parks and National Monuments are distinguished by why they are being protected.

“National parks are protected due to their scenic, inspirational, education, and recreational value. National monuments have objects of historical, cultural, and/or scientific interest.” The Great Sand Dunes National Park was designated on September 24, 2004.

That being said, Great Sand Dunes is small by comparison but should be identified as a National Park simply because it’s one hell of a view. GSD is the largest Sand dune in North America, and reaches an outstanding 750 feet high.

It’s very bizarre to be driving along southern Colorado, and see the vast San Luis Valley, with it’s stretch of prairie lands, and flat open spaces with the dramatic background of the Rocky Mountains.

The drive is rather long, out into the middle of essentially, nowhere. The whole time I’m thinking how does this hide the largest sand dune in North America?

The Blue peaks of the mountains don’t fade into brown, the beige color at the base are the dunes themselves. Obviously, I kept getting more and more confused by how this got here, and where it came from.

Great Sand Dunes National ParkIt’s strange.

So where did it come from? Arguably, the answer is really quite extensive and if you’d like to read the full story the NPS has a breakdown available here.

Basically, when the two tectonics plates were shifting and pushing against each other, grinding the surface together, it formed the Sangre De Cristo Mountains. The rising of the two ranges formed a basin, and a huge lake eventually covered most of the area collecting rainwater and melting glacier runoff that left sediment and sand behind.

Huge flood waters generated enough pressure to break through volcanic rock at the southern end of the valley and the lake was drained creating the Rio Grande Gorge. Once the lake receded, btw, it disappeared 440,000 years ago, that 440 followed by a K, and the valley began to dry out.

Southwest winds driven down by the mountains pushed the sand across the deep basin to the edge of the Eastern Ridge, pilling it over time but not producing enough energy to carry it over the mountains.

By Plsullivan3 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters - Southern Rockies LCC, Public Domain,

The Dune field

The dunes cover 30 square miles (78 sq. km) and has such a contradiction of elements, the surface can reach 150 degrees F (65 degrees C) during the summer months and plummet to 20 degrees F (minus 29 degrees C) in the winter.

You might have to dig a few inches to find water but these dunes are moist year-round because it gets a constant source of participation, on average it has a 7% moisture content by weight.

This attracts a lot of species including; Ord’s kangaroo ratGreat Sand Dunes Tiger Beetlescurfpea, and blowout grass. Seasonally elk, pronghorn, bison, coyotes, bobcats, and raptors find their way to the dunes.

great Sand Dunes National ParkWater Features

The level of groundwater varies throughout the year, in the winter months it can be quite dry, though as snow melt trickles down in the spring and the groundwater level rises, pools surge, the base of the dunes floods, and this desert landscape turns into a flourishing grasslands. Visiting during the summer and winter is two very different parks.

There are also waterfalls that appear in high flow seasons as well.


Many guest hike to the top of the second highest dune and take in the park in it’s entirety. While others rent sand boards and take advantage of this natural wander to do a little shredding. Boards are available for rent all year round.

There is a lot of BLM land around, which is public land managed by the Bureau Of Land Management and is free to camp. There are some basic rules and if you’re interested check out 7 Tips for Free Camping to learn more. Great Sand Dunes National Park




In the summer, when the water levels are high get a little fishing done and camp out.

It’s a unique experience and something that’s going to be hard to forget. If you’re anything like me will be making a return trip.

As per usual, I took way more pictures than I could possibly post on here. If you’d like to see more I have several accounts that I’ve posted more images on.

P interest

As always, Happy Travels
I hope to see you out there.

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Dashboard Destinations Travel Writer

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  • Nuttanee

    Thank you for sharing about the great snd dunes national park with us. I always wanted to visit but never get a chance I ended up doing something else when I was in Colorado. I am surprised that there are so many wild lives there and I would love to see them up close. I am sure my husband would love to visit with me. He will have a great tome fishing there as well. 

    • NJKuhr

      I was pleasantly surprised. I thought I could just pop over on my drive through take some pictures and leave but there was a lot to do there. With the fishing, the waterfall and the sand boarding I’d wished I’d made more time to stay the weekend and really enjoy it. Guess I’ll have to go back. Let me know how your trip goes and if there’s something I missed.

  • Paolo

    The Great Sand Dunes formation is something that has always intrigued me. I would like to summarize the story by saying the dunes developed from sand left behind after prehistoric lakes receded and blew towards a low curve in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. 

    This topic first bought my attention in September 2004, when these dunes officially became the Great Sand Dunes.

    • NJKuhr

      I’ve always been interested as well, but thought it was something so far out of the way that just going that far for a picture wasn’t worth it. boy, way I mistaken. I’m planning a sand boarding trip for early summer as long as the weather holds out. 

  • Geoff

    Isn’t this yet another example of how wonderful and fascinating the world is.  Every way we turn there is something different and unique to look at.

    These Dunes certainly are a spectacle to behold.

    Thanks for giving us the history to them, as I always like to know all the details.

    It would certainly be worth visiting them some day.  Thankfully unlike the glaciers, they aren’t going to disappear any time soon.

    Thanks for sharing it with us.

    • NJKuhr

      I totally agree, I should have given them more time instead of thinking it was just a view and a photo opt. I’m planning a late spring sand boarding to trip to make up for my mistake. 

  • Chris

    Great Sand Dunes National Park looks awesome.  I have never been to Colorado, I think the post said this was in southern Colorado, which would be bordered with northern New Mexico. In the picture it looks amazing the sand dunes next to the Rocky mountains.  We went to Yellowstone National Park, that was awesome to with the Grand Tetons.  Michigan has sand dunes too.  Michigan has Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore which is awesome too!  Nice post!

    • NJKuhr

      I’ve been to Indiana Sand dunes but I didn’t have time to make it up into Michigan. Definitely going to have to remedy that.

  • Kwidzin

    This looks like a wonderful place. Unfortunately I’m in Scotland so its a little bit far over the water for me at the moment but maybe i’ll make it there for a visit some day. Its definitely the sort of thing that gives you the inspiration to travel. Maybe after COVID i’ll get there eh.

     I love these colourful photos here. Amazing scenery! 


    • NJKuhr

      It’s amazing. If you’re in the area I’d suggest a road trip. There’s a lot to see between Colorado and Utah. Might be one of the best road trips of my life.  

  • moonmount

    The  Sand Dunes National Park looks to be a fantastic place. I had never been there, but was somewhat familiar with the place as I am from the neighboring state of Nebraska. It was also verying interesting to learn about the geology involved in the formation of this phenomenon. It was also intriguing to find that dune area was actually very moist throughout some parts of the year. When you think about sand dunes one would usually think about very dry desert conditions. The Great Sand Dunes definitely should be designated a National Park or a National Monument

    • NJKuhr

      It earned the status that’s for sure. I’m already planning another trip back because I just didn’t give it enough time and thought it was just sand. There’s a lot do there that I didn’t give enough attention to and now I regret it. 

  • Jessie

    Thank you so much for this informative post about the Great Sand Dunes National Park!  This is a very beautiful place, though I too, admit that it looks a little strange in south Colorado.  I never really thought about visiting Colorado much, other than for the mountains, but I see that this is a beautiful site as well!

    • NJKuhr

      Oh, Colorado is well worth the visit. I’m glad I could show you what you’re missing out on. There’s cliff dwellings, hiking, some of the best snow in the country, it’s magic. Especially for those who like to be outdoors and enjoy a great view while you’re at it.

  • Steve Rudnick

    I’m enchanted by this post and your site. You’re a great writer and even without the pictures, your words paint the tapestry and color in details not seen by the pictures here (but need to check out your other accounts to see the rest!). And I’d be remiss not to mention your photos are stunning. In fairness, the places you visited are stunning, but as a non-shutterbug, I’d potentially make the Grand Canyon look Ho-Hum. Thank you for sharing and keep up the great work! 

  • ghoshrobin

    Hi Norma,

    My family and I had to postpone our trip to America last year due to the pandemic. We have been collecting as much local information as we can to re-plan our future trip. We will include the Great Sand Dumes National Park on our list as we are interested in the camping and hiking activities you described in your post. I will check out your other posts as well.

    Thanks for sharing your local knowledge of the area.



    • NJKuhr

      Yay!!! That’s what Dashboard Destinations is all about. Helping to inform travelers of the best spots and how to make the most of their trip. I’m so glad this inspired you to include it. 

  • Sharon

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful place. I’ve visited the Lancelin Sand Dunes in Perth, Australia and experienced sandboarding. It was fun, yes, but tiring having to climb to the top too often. 

    From your writing and sharing, I believe the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado gives an exhilarating view and experience I love to have. Happy travelling in the future. 

  • Katt

    I have heard about how beautiful Colorado is. Definitely a place I want to visit since you have beautifully wrote it out. I like this website already. The video of grand canyon with guide on it makes it easy for anyone looking for the spot and the free tip for camping is definitely useful. 

    • NJKuhr

      I’m glad to hear it. That’s what Dashboard Destinations wanted to achieve, to inspire and guide others to amazing destinations. 

  • LineCowley

    Nature is awesome and to think that these sand dunes were formed when tectonic plates shifted and formed the mountains, and then the lake that dried out. I have never been to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and will make sure to visit it when I get to Colorado. 

    Does is get terribly hot in the summer? Is there a recommended time of the year to camp there?  

    • NJKuhr

      July and august can get quite warm but it’s not intolerable. I’d suggest early September or May. To avoid the worst of the heat and the tourist. 

  • Sheen

    Hi there

    I had not heard about the Great Sand Dunes National Park.  It is a long way from my home in South Africa.

    Pretty impressive – wow!

    I enjoyed seeing your pictures as they bring the place to life especially those of us who have never seen the dunes.

    I was interested in the formation and appreciate your summary of the geography and geology of the area.

    I am surprised that they allow people to rent sand boards and “shred”, which I presume means surf down them.   I would have thought this would lead to erosion and damage to the environment.

    All the best in your travels.


    • NJKuhr

      i wondered the same thing but boarding only displaces the sand a few feet and pushes some to the bottom but the wind rebuilds the dunes regularly and keeps the sand at the base of the mountain range. 

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