Though not exactly where you would expect to find the largest dunes in North America, Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park is an incredibly diverse experience, hundreds of millennia in the making. The park is one big sand box surrounded by green mountains – the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo Mountains. In addition to the hiking trails below, visitors have their choice of sand-boarding or sand-sledding down the large dunes. When Medano Creek is running in May and June, it even feels like you’re on a trip at the beach. The best hikes in Great Sand Dunes National Park are below, though there are only about 50 miles of trails in the entire park. Official Website.
1. High Dune
This is probably the most popular destination in the dune field because it is the tallest dune in sight from the main parking lot though it is not the tallest in the park. Visitors make their way to the 699′ dune as best they can, up and over sandy ridges. Star Dune (750′), the tallest dune in the park, lies another 1.5 miles west of High Dune. There is no designated trails in the sand but you can start from the parking area off Sand Dunes Loop.
- 2.3 miles – Out and back
- 550′ gain
Difficult hike that may not be worth it to many but from the summit of the 13,297′ tall Mount Herard, the views of the park and surrounding mountains are never-ending. On the way you will pass through lush meadows, forests, and Medano Lake. The trailhead can be accessed from the Medano Pass 4WD Road.
- 10.4 miles – Out and back
- 3700′ gain
Zapata Falls is not technically in Great Sand Dunes National Park but this short hike in the Sangre de Cristo Range is worth stopping at before or after your visit. The hidden falls are only 0.5 miles from the trailhead. The trail can be followed another 4 miles past the falls to South Zapata Lake but the climb is pretty strenuous for the payoff. The trailhead is 5 miles down a small road off CO-150, 12 miles north of CO-160.
- 1.0 miles – Out and back
- 200′ gain
4. Mosca Pass
Following Mosca Creek, this quiet trail climbs up through woods and meadows offering great views of the dune field. The trail is about 3.5 miles to the end of the pass and the views on your way back down make it all worthwhile. The trailhead can be accessed from the Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center.
- 6.9 miles – Out and back
- 1500′ gain