Great Sand Dunes National Park – The Dunes
Location: Great Sand Dunes National Park, Southern Colorado
Type: Open sand dunes
Difficulty: Options ranging from mild to strenuous
Season: Park is open year round, reduced operations in winter
Date Hiked: January 8, 2019
Permits and Fees: $25 park entrance fee, (free during government shutdowns)
Description: Climbing around on some giant sand dunes, with a trusty camera in hand, made for a fun afternoon in Great Sand Dunes National Park.
I stopped into Great Sand Dunes National Park last month to go play in the dune field. I spent an afternoon climbing around in the sand with my camera, and sticking around late for some night photography. This park was super photogenic and I had a lot of fun. The San Luis Valley is awesome.
The Dune Area
The dune area is the most popular part of Great Sand Dunes. There aren’t any permanent trails in the the dune area, just an open dune field that you can explore freely. You can hike up to top of the biggest one, or poke around the lower parts. The dune field is big, and I had fun exploring around it.
A lot of people climb the biggest one, as did I, and it was a worthwhile hike. The top had great views of the Sangre De Christo Mountains, as well as the San Luis Valley. There were steep parts with loose sand though, where you’d sink back a half a pace with each step. Still, the top was great, and it was fun to look down over the other parts of the park.
Great Sand Dunes was a great place for photography. Excellent light and shadows can be had throughout the day, but late afternoon was pretty nice.
The dunes also have lots of pretty colors and textures. Some parts also had bits of grass, others had animal tracks and foot prints from hikers. There was a lot of good stuff in the dunes, and it was pretty easy to find nice scenes to photograph.
This park is also excellent for night photography. Great Sand Dunes is very remote, and its high elevation produces very crisp night skies. I was there on a moonless night and got some excellent star trail shots. I also had a clear view of the milky way, and saw some very sweet shooting stars. Whether you’re stargazing or trying to get a perfect star shot, Great Sand Dunes has excellent night skies.
Visiting in Winter
I came through here in the winter, visiting the park in early January. Many parts of the park are open in the winter, including the Visitor Center, the main park road, the dunes, and some trails around the dune field. Some parts of the park close down in the winter however, including the the campground and parts of the backcountry. I was interested in climbing Mount Herrard, but 10 mile Medano Pass 4×4 road was snowed in and closed. I’ll have to come back again in the summer!
Interestingly, I was here during the 2019 government shutdown, and while the park was open, there were no active services. The roads were open, and I paid no fees, but there were no staff on duty, and the Visitor Center was closed.
General information for Great Sand Dunes National Park is available on the National Park Service Website.