Great Sand Dunes National Park is one of southern Colorado’s most visited attractions and was recently chosen as one of Time’s “Coolest Places 2019”. Recognized as a national park in 2004, it boasts North America’s highest sand dunes and is the perfect spring or fall getaway, just across the Sangre de Cristo Range from Custer County.
The 500,000-year-old dunes formed when a huge lake covering the San Luis Valley dried up and southwesterly winds blew the remaining sand up against the bordering mountains. Mountain streams continue to deposit sand in the valley.
From May to early June, when snowmelt peaks, visitors relax and play along Medano Creek as it flows along the east side of the dune field. Medano Creek is especially popular with families. Kids wade and tube down the current while parents relax on the beach of the dunes.
Beyond the creek, you’ll find 30 square miles of steep and shifting sand dunes to explore. With no designated trails in most of the park, visitors are free to hike where they want or slide down the dunes on sand sleds and boards—which you can rent at the park store.
Those seeking a deeper sand dunes experience can strap on a backpack and hike 8.9-mile Cold Creek Trail or 10.5-mile Sand Creek Trail.
The adventurous, with four-wheel-drive, high-clearance vehicles, can travel to Great Sand Dunes National Park from Custer County via Medano Pass, a 10,000-foot mountain pass traversing rugged roads and soft sand around the eastern edge of the dune field.
The rest of us should take Hwy 69 S to County Road 520 and then U.S. 160 W (please note this route can get a little rough from previous flooding), or go through Salida, across Poncha Pass and down the San Luis Valley.