I’m a sucker for a hot sea of sand.

There is this image of myself I hold in the recesses of my mind. I’m wrapped head to ankle in a dirty, torn, sand-filled blue darra’a. My mouth is dry and sticky. The harmattan swirls at my bare feet. A camel grunts over the dune behind me and all I can see before me are days and days of sand and desert. That’s the image. That’s the dream.

My kids aren’t quite as turned on by that image as I am. “Could you get ice-cream?” my daughter asks.

“I’m afraid not.”

“What’s the point.”

So we load our little tent, sleeping bags and some coolers of food and drink and ice-cream into the car and hustle a quick two hours north on Highway 522 from our home in Taos, New Mexico, into Colorado and to the 85,000-acre Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

The kids? They are elated.  The Sand Dunes in Colorado are made for kids.

These are the biggest sand dunes in North America. Sitting in a high desert, crescent-shaped basin against the rugged Sangre de Cristo mountains, this 400,000 year old sand box was formed from sand carried by the ancient Rio Grande and its tributaries as they flowed out of the Rocky Mountains and into the San Luis Valley. Through millennia, winds pounding out of the west scooped up the flood plain deposits and deposited them on the eastern edge of the valley at the base of the mountains. Its still happening. These dunes are growing.

Several streams flow at the base of the dunes. It doesn’t take much digging to fine water gurgling up through the sand. All this ephermal water erodes the dunes, carries the sand down-stream where the water disappeares into the ground, the sand is picked up again by the winds and dropped again on the crest of the dunes.

We rarely keep it to a day trip. There is just too much to do. I haven’t yet taken my little ones back into the dunes for a night out so we settle into the Pinyon Flats Campground among the pinyon, juniper and ponderosa trees then head off to play in Medano Creek, a wide, very shallow intermittent water course where you can dig holes and watch them fill up, get covered in a sandy mud or just cool your sand burned feet.

The rest of the weekend is spent climbing the dunes and sledding down them into the creek.  Quiet, cool mornings are for animal watching and then some sand play. An afternoon nap and campfire dinner are followed by some fabulous photo opportunities at sunset when the sand has cooled again.  Evening Ranger-led programs are great fun for kids.

I’m a lucky guy.  Of all the fabulous places within a short drive of my home in Taos, New Mexico the Sand Dunes tops the list.  As a matter-o-fact, writing this makes me think we’ll just head on up there this next weekend.

If You Visit:

The Great Sand Dunes Colorado can be found 35 miles NE of Alamosa, Colorado off of U.S. Highway 160 and State Highway 150 from the south, or from State Highway 17 and County Lane 6 from the west.

From Denver:

Head south on I-25 to Walsenburg. Go west on US 160 over La Veta Pass and thru Ft. Garland to State Highway 150. Go north. Total miles: 243

Alternatively, drive through the mountains on US 285 south into the San Luis Valley. Take State Highway 17 south. Go east on County Lane 6 from Mosca.  Total miles: 243

From Albuquerque:

Take I-25 north to Santa Fe where you pick up US 285 north to Alamosa, Colorado. From Alamosa, you have a choice to take either US 160 east and State Highway 150 north, or State Highway 17 north and County Lane 6 east from Mosca.  Total miles: 246

Hours: 24/7/365. Visitor Center winter hours: 9:00-4:30 (closed on Federal holidays), summer hours:830-630. Call 719.378.6399 for specific information

Camping and RV Hookup Available. Camping at Pinyon Flats (44 sites) and limited backcountry camping. More Camping information here

Rest Rooms:yes

Fees: $3/adult, valid for one week. Camping fees are $20/night (and well worth it!)

More information: Call 719.378.6399 or visit the excellent National Park Service site

PDF visitors guide is available here

Maps available here and here.


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Eva of ThatsHamori.com Suggests a tad bit of Southern France…..

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Craig of IndieTravelMedia.com Suggests Auckland Harbor….

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Check them all out!



  1. Comment by Ele

    Ele Reply June 1, 2012 at 6:18 am

    Your post reminded me of my beach holidays as a child. I hated lying in the sun for hours and hours on the beach. That was like 20 years ago and we didn’t know any other way to have a holiday then. I haven’t been sunbathing since I turned 18 and could tell my Mom that NO, this year I’m NOT going to the seaside. But I agree there are great dunes in the world to be seen.

    • Comment by Jim

      Jim Reply June 2, 2012 at 10:10 am

      I’m not a beach-laying sun-bathing type either. There is so much more fun in the world to be had than that. The amazing dune features around the globe, like this one, just scream out ADVENTURE!

  2. Comment by Amanda @ Not A Ballerina

    Amanda @ Not A Ballerina Reply June 1, 2012 at 7:13 am

    Wow, those dunes are incredible, I had no idea there was a place like that in the US. Am adding it to my “one day” list for certain …

    • Comment by Jim

      Jim Reply June 2, 2012 at 10:15 am

      Incredible and alot of fun. Let me know when you are on your way! 😉

  3. Comment by Lissie

    Lissie Reply June 1, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    I had no idea these existed – I love playing on dunes! Do they hire out boards?

    • Comment by Jim

      Jim Reply June 2, 2012 at 10:12 am

      Lissie, most of this is a legal Wilderness so no, they dont rent out boards. That said, you can bring your own – just no driving beyond the parking lot. It takes alot of effort to climb up those high dunes with a board but oh man, the ride down….!!!

  4. Comment by Traveling Ted

    Traveling Ted Reply June 2, 2012 at 2:24 am

    I just spent a couple of days in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan. At 6 hours away it is kind of a nearcation. Sand Dunes are surprisingly beautiful although not very easy to hike. My calves were burning for two days afterward from the extra strain. I definitely would love to check this park if in the Denver vicinity.

    • Comment by Jim

      Jim Reply June 2, 2012 at 10:13 am

      Ted, I’ve never heard of those dunes. The upper midwest is yet a blank spot on the map for me and I need to get up there!

  5. Comment by Angela Lees

    Angela Lees Reply June 2, 2012 at 8:56 am

    Sounds cool. I'd love to go camping at the dunes!

  6. Comment by USA Reisen

    USA Reisen Reply June 2, 2012 at 4:20 am

    This really sounds like a lot of fun! I like the part where you dig holes in the sand and watch it fill up again, take a mud bath or just cool your feet in the water from the hot sand. This would be perfect for me :). Great tip!

    • Comment by Jim

      Jim Reply June 2, 2012 at 10:12 am

      Its a magical place all around.

  7. Comment by Lexa Harpell

    Lexa Harpell Reply June 2, 2012 at 11:48 am

    The scenes call my soul, shall feel them one day…

    • Comment by Jim O'Donnell

      Jim O'Donnell Reply June 2, 2012 at 4:13 pm

      Its a surreal spot of stunning beauty on the one hand and sublime beauty on the other.

  8. Comment by Lexa Harpell

    Lexa Harpell Reply June 2, 2012 at 10:19 pm

    Three years ago my soul told me to write and travel. I had never written, it was scarier than my years skydiving. My body screamed, it made me physically ill until I conceded and wrote my first half hearted blog. 'Bitten by a Hog' re: a Harley Softail. it stalled, then I found an online publication to write articles/reviews. The past two months 46 articles published and just had my first 2 page printed feature article published. Still it wasn't Travel Writing. Yesterday I asked where can I find someone who is DOING it. Viola! your site came up. It inspired me, gave me direction. Now I can propel forward. I THANK YOU. It is a great read. 🙂

  9. Comment by dana valles

    dana valles Reply June 3, 2012 at 12:23 am

    i liked the part that you wrote about how dunes are formed. it made me appreciate the beauty of the dunes even more. i used to think that it is just a big pile of sand. this place is a must visit! 😀 thanks for sharing it.

  10. Comment by eva hamori

    eva hamori Reply June 4, 2012 at 12:12 am

    Beautiful photo. The magnificence of how they are created, who knew?


  11. Comment by j choban

    j choban Reply June 5, 2012 at 9:55 am

    Wow- I’d almost forgot about this place. I visited the sand dunes years ago when I was driving around the country in a motorhome. When I arrived I had to wait before I could enter, because some “testing” was going on from a nearby military site. So to kill time, I got out my dust-buster and cleaned the motorhome. A really silly thing to do before visiting sand dunes!

  12. Comment by Scott - Quirky Travel Guy

    Scott - Quirky Travel Guy Reply June 10, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    I’d like to go here someday. White Sands in New Mexico was really fun and seems pretty similar.

  13. Comment by Isabelle

    Isabelle Reply August 9, 2012 at 1:00 am

    Dude.. I am not much into reading, but somehow I got to read lots of articles on your blog. Its amazing how interesting it is for me to visit you very often.

  14. Comment by Corporate Limo

    Corporate Limo Reply January 16, 2013 at 10:32 am

    Thanks for sharing and such the great guidance to the Sand Dunes!

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