Every American has at one point or another thought about taking a road trip to cruise America – and there is no better place to do so than around Great Sand Dunes National Park. Great Sand Dunes National Park is one of Colorado’s best-kept secrets and hosts the tallest sand dunes in North America. It’s also a terrific place to go RVing, as there’s excellent parking availability, and merely a four-hour drive from Denver. Whether you want to watch the beautiful sunsets, take panoramic photos of the colossal dunes, gaze at the stars, go sandboarding, or just enjoy a casual hike, you won’t be short of things to do during an RV trip in this beautiful one-of-a-kind place. Let’s get started!
Experience The Dunes
Walking on the dunes is a must when visiting Great Sands Dunes National Park. While it might not sound that exciting, the feeling of walking across the smooth sand is truly something special, and that, combined with the scenery, makes you feel like you’re in an Aladdin movie. Finding the dunes won’t be a problem, as they’re located directly after the main parking lot across from the visitor center.
Hike To The Greatest Dune in North America
If you’re the type of person who likes a challenge, a hike to Star Dune – the tallest dune in North America – won’t disappoint you. At 750 feet tall, the Star Dune’s base sits at a lower elevation than High Dune, making it appear smaller. 750 feet might not seem like that big of a challenge, but it’s a slow and demanding climb, as every step forward is half a step back. Hiking to the top of High Dune takes about one hour. The following hike to Star Dune is a day’s worth of hiking, so plan on staying the night. The challenge may sound difficult, but the views and sense of accomplishment will make it worthwhile.
Create Life-Lasting Memories Sandboarding
For anyone adventurous who doesn’t fear falling, going sandboarding will be one of your best memories from Great Sand Dunes. Even an experienced snowboarder will find sandboarding challenging, as it’s much harder to turn in the sand. But once you get the hang of it, it’s incredibly fun and exciting. A tip is to start from a smaller dune and work your way up to the big ones since you’ll probably fall a lot initially. If you’re not sure sandboarding is for you, or if you have a smaller child with you, consider sand sledding instead. Sand sledding is more forgiving and easier to learn.
Spend A Night You’ll Never Forget Under The Stars
With a backcountry camping permit, you can camp anywhere among the dunes and experience a night under the stars. Stargazing is entertaining and free of charge but is also said to ease the mind and rejuvenate the spirits. Whether you’re looking for an activity to rest your mind, or if you want to give your kids an educational and exciting night, stargazing can be an enjoyable activity. The backcountry permit is earned through the Visitor Center, where a limit of 20 groups per night exists. Permits are first-come-first-served, so make sure to be there early for a chance of a spot.
Photograph The Magical Landscape
Great Sand Dunes is a paradise for photographers of any level. Landscapes like this are difficult to find and offer great opportunities for taking stunning photos. The layers of dunes and ripples in the sand form vivid pictures that create a fantastic backdrop combined with the impressive mountain ranges. A tip for capturing the breathtaking silhouette is to take photos with your back to the sun and point your camera perpendicular to the direction of the sunlight. And you don’t need an expensive camera to take incredible photos – most modern smartphones do a great job.
Go UFO Watching outside Hooper
Two miles north of Hooper, you’ll find a UFO watchtower. The watchtower was opened in 2000 by Judy Messoline. She opened it after hearing various locals talking about UFO sightings over the years, and she found the perfect spot for it. Because of the non-existent light pollution, there is no place better to try to catch a UFO. In fact, Judy Messoline herself claims that she’s seen more than 25 UFOs personally. All in all, a perfect stop for your road trip.
Visit America’s Most Unusual Castle
A few blocks from Antonito’s downtown, Cano’s Castle rises. The castle was built entirely from beer cans, hubcaps, and other metal scraps, by Dominic “Cano” Espinoza. Unfortunately, you cannot enter the castle as it’s Cano’s private residence and no tours are given. But that shouldn’t stop you from admiring the four towers from the road.
Enjoy Delicious Pastries in Monte Vista
In recent years, San Luis Valley has become the home to a significant Amish population and an incredible family-owned Amish bakery. The bakery is called Worth The Drive, and its menu includes caramel pecan rolls, fruit pies, apple cinnamon bread, carrot cake, and more. And as the name suggests – it’s certainly worth the drive.
When camping in Great Sand Dunes, there are some things to remember. Firstly, you’ll need the previously mentioned backcountry permit, obtained at the Visitor Center. Since there’s a maximum of 20 groups per day, you might have to be there early if you’re visiting during peak season. Secondly, prepare for the weather conditions, as the nights can get quite cold during some seasons. Lastly, prepare for your camping experience by making campfire-friendly meals and bringing fun games.
When to Visit
The Great Dunes National Park is open all year round, but should only be visited during certain times, depending on what you wish to do. There are fewer people during the spring and fall months, and the temperatures are mild. The days are perfect for hiking, while the nights can get quite cool. On the other hand, the summer can be extremely warm, making the sand very hot. During the winter, you might not be able to drive the entire journey due to the harsh conditions. The winter can be very cold, but that is made up for by the snowy dunes’ beautiful scenery and the extraordinary wildlife with animals such as Elks and Pronghorns.
Is There Food Available?
There is no food available within the National Park. But just outside the entrance to the park is the Oasis Store. It’s a small grocery store that covers the essentials, but it’s probably a good idea to come prepared with some food, as you’ll have to pay premium prices otherwise.
What Are The Entrance Fees?
Like all National Parks, the entrance to the Great Sand Dunes comes with a small entrance fee. The price for a non-commercial vehicle is $25, and the money goes to preserving the National Park and maintaining the parking system.
What Should You Pack?
Make sure to come to the park well prepared, as the facilities within the park are very limited. Always pack sunscreen no matter the season you’re visiting, as the reflection of the sand can be intense. And of course, bring a water bottle – a big one. The hikes will make you very thirsty. For more info read this Road Trip Packing checklist
The Best Places To Stay Around The Great Sand Dunes
The Great Sand Dunes Lodge
If the nearest place to the National park is where you wish to stay, consider the Great Sand Dunes Lodge. The lodge is located 7 miles from the main entrance and has a heated outdoor pool and cozy rooms with patios overlooking the dunes.
Fairfield Inn Alamosa
Only a 30-minute drive away from Great Sand Dunes is the Fairfield Inn Alamosa. Alamosa is a bigger town near the dunes, and the Fairfield Inn has an indoor pool, free wifi, and restaurants. It’s also just a 20-minute drive away from the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge.
P.S. Cruise America With RVnGO
Lastly, you can go RVing by renting an RV through RVnGO – a high-quality RV rental service – to get the full experience of Great Sand Dunes. Waking up in the morning with the dunes right outside is a true luxury, and there won’t be anything holding you back from experiencing them fully. An RV also allows you to cruise America and enjoy all the awesome activities outside the park with ease and comfort.
Check out America’s Top 20 National Parks for Your Summer Vacation. There are 19 other fabulous national parks to visit when you go RVing! Check them out.