Mountains in Colorado? YES. Desert? YES. Welcome to the Great Sand Dunes National Park!

Travel just four hours south of Denver, and you’ll be surprised to come across towering sand dunes backdropped by vast mountains. This park is home to the tallest sand dunes in North America! With over 5 billion cubic meters of sand, the dunes cover approximately 30-square miles.

And in a state mostly known for its mountain ranges, it must be shocking to find that skiing is not the only thing that we Coloradans do to entertain ourselves. Go hiking and backpacking! Camping! Sand sledding! Even dip your toes in Medano Creek, or go horseback riding!

*Please note that the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is in the middle of a phased reopening. It's advised that you check-in with the park's website for up-to-date information.*

Planning on a trip? The best time of the day is to visit the Great Sand Dunes is in the early morning or evening since the sand surface temperatures can reach over 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Be cautious when hiking, though, as storms can approach at lightning speeds (pun intended). If this does happen, come down off the dunes as quickly as possible. Lightning often strikes directly in the dune field. In fact, I once found myself stuck in the middle of the dunes during a lightning storm and a sand storm—and let me tell you, it was terrifying—so please keep your eyes on the skies whenever you visit.

And know that if you take the proper precautions and are aware of the current weather conditions during your time at the dunes, you’ll have nothing to be concerned about.

day trip to great sand dunes national park
Courtesy of Shotzr, Photo by Korey Shumway (@ksphotography)

In the summer months, runoff from the neighboring mountains sends a refreshing river down the front of the sand dunes. With sand, sun, and cool water to play in, it’s like a beach trip here in Colorado. On top of that, many people bring sleds to the sand dunes to climb up to the top and race down.

Another way to view the sand dunes is at night. After all, half of the park’s fun is after dark! Explore the sand dunes under a full moon, map stars, and constellations, or simply enjoy the peace and serenity the dunes offer in the darker hours. View the sun as it rises above the sand-covered hills in an experience of a lifetime!

After spending a couple of hours exploring the dunes, go ahead and hop in your car to visit another Colorado wonder… Zapata Falls! Like most hikes, you’ve got to put in the work to reach the prize. Climb over rocks, wade through waters, and take a fun adventure to the breathtaking waterfalls. We highly suggest you visit during the warmer months, but visitors still make the trek during winter. During the peak of summer, temperatures vary from 80 degrees to 100 degrees, making Zapata Falls the perfect area to cool off while you enjoy the magnificent beauty Colorado has to offer.

For additional information about the Great Sand Dunes National Park and how you can start to plan your trip, visit the National Parks Service website.

Check out this list of the national parks in Colorado that are now open amid the pandemic.