Sink into the highest mountains of sand in North America. Nestled in a spot where the Sangre de Cristo Mountains buckle inward, the dunes within the borders of Great Sand Dunes National Park have been building and sifting for eons — the result of the San Luis Valley's unique wind patterns.
A sandbox of epic proportions, the entire dune field encompasses 30 square miles and the tallest dune towers 750 feet high. The kid in every visitor loves to sled down the sand year-round and plunge into the soft-sand tracks of those who climbed ahead of them.
Aside from the dunes, you'll find picnicking, hiking and camping opportunities, the challenging four-wheel scenic drive on Medano Pass, horseback-riding trails, the mysteriously appearing and disappearing Medano Creek, ranger-led nature walks and a couple of 14,000- and 13,000-foot peaks to climb (Crestone Needle, Crestone Peak, Cleveland Peak and Mount Herard). The park's elevation (8,200 feet) and rural location make it a favorite with dark-sky-loving stargazers, and park even offers special astronomy programs many evenings May–September. The Junior Ranger program has different activities for kids ages three–12, and they earn a badge once they've completed the educational and fun tasks.
Choose your own calf-burning path up the dunes, particularly at dusk when the light gives them a rich gold color and shadows snake across their wind-sculpted ridges. Dig your toes into the sand or feel it run through your fingers, and you'll realize their true enormity.
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Photo: Courtesy of Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.