Last Updated on March 17, 2022

Colorado is home to some of the tallest dunes in North America, which are also some of the highest sand dunes in the world. They are located in the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve on the eastern border of the San Luis Valley, as well as a neighboring national preserve in the Sangre de Cristo Range.

Sand Dunes in Southern Colorado

Great Sand Dunes – Alamosa

Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes are the tallest in the US and North America. The highest one, Star Dune, is 750 feet tall and over 8,000 feet tall. The dune field itself, besides having high dunes, is wide. The Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado’s San Luis Valley occupies 39 square miles. The closest town is Alamosa, but the cities of Duncan, Denver and Colorado Springs are also nearby.

Not only because of their incredible scale, but also because of their scenic position on a grassy high plain set against a spectacular mountain backdrop, these dunes are truly magnificent. The rifting and uplifting of a geological plate created the nearby Sangre de Cristo Mountains, while the San Juan Mountains were formed by volcanic activity on the opposite side of the valley.

Star Sand Dune

The tallest sand dunes in North America rise from the floor of the San Luis Valley on the western base of the Sangre de Cristo Range. The tallest peak, the Star Sand Dune, reaches a maximum height of 750 feet. The dunes cover an area of about 30 sq mi (78 km²) and are estimated to contain over 1.2 cubic miles (5 billion cubic metres) of sand. Sediments and water once poured down into the San Luis Valley from both mountain ranges, into what geologists have named Lake Alamosa. Most of the ancient lake has now vanished as a result of climate change, leaving behind a huge layer of sand. This sand is continuously moved by the prevailing winds back and forth. 

File:A606, Star Dune, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado, United States, 2008.jpg
Great Sand Dunes Colorado

Recreation

Recreational activities practiced at the Great Sand Dunes National Park include hiking, dune riding with off-road vehicles and fat bikes, and horseback riding. Sand surfing and skiing on sand dunes are also practiced, see: Sandboarding at the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve.

Packing list

Dress in layers and don’t forget sunscreen. The best time to visit is late spring or autumn. Weather in early spring can be unpredictable, whereas summers are very hot. Regardless of when you visit, bring a warm jacket because temperatures drop at night. A sun hat and sunglasses are also recommended.

Please note, cellphone coverage at the park is limited and there is no wi-fi at the dunes nor anywhere in the park.

Getting there

The Great Sand Dunes are reachable by car from Alamosa, but there is no public transport available that takes you to the park. There is a small local airport in Alamosa, alternatively you will have fly to either Colorado Springs or Denver.

Alternatively, you can join a guided tour which includes transportation to the dunes.


Medano Creek / Castle Creek Dunes – Mosca

River bed with sand dunes not far from the Great Sand Dunes, so you can combine your visit to the park and river. Médano is Spanish for “sand dune”.

Packing List

If you are visiting in the summer bring your swimsuit so you can splash around and go tubing in the river. It gets snowy up until March-April so dress accordingly if you are visiting in winter or early spring.

Recreation

Visitors at Castle Creek Dunes can enjoy the dunes and river in many ways, popular activities are surfing, wading, skimboarding, floating on inflatable tubes, sand castle building and sand sculpting.


Sand Dunes in Northern Colorado

North Sand Hills – Walden

The North Sand Hills Recreation Area is a vast land once used by Native Americans as a bison killing site. It extends for 1400 acres and it’s somewhat unique for it’s a patch of sand located in the middle of a mountain, surrounded by trees.

Recreation

The area is a paradies for sand duning, popular with both off-road vehicles and dirt bikers.


References

http://www.nps.gov/grsa/ – official National Park Service website for Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

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