Sand Dune Trail, Dunes Trailhead, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Sand Dune Trail - 2.5 miles

Dunes Trailhead

The tallest dunes form on the east side of the dunefield over Medano Creek

The tallest dunes form on the east side of the dunefield over Medano Creek

Round-Trip Length: 2.5 miles (distance will vary by route)
Start-End Elevation: 8,085' - 8,605' (to heart of dune field)
Elevation Change: +520' net elevation gain (total elevation gain will vary by route)
Skill Level: Moderate
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Sand Dune Trail - 2.5 Miles Round-Trip

The Great Sand Dunes are North America's tallest dunes, spanning 30 square miles where the San Luis Valley meets the Sangre de Cristo mountains. No trails lead into the dunes - visitors are free to explore the main dunefield, Medano Creek and outlying Sand Sheet from various access points.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

The shortest route begins at the main parking lot just past the Visitor Center on the east side of the dunefield, and leads over Medano Creek to the base of the dunes (.2 miles : 8,140').

From there it's an arduous climb up the Park's steepest dunes to the first ridge (.75 miles : 8,600'), which offers panoramic views across the dune field, Medano Creek, and Sangre de Cristos

Mt Herard (13,297'), Cleveland Peak (13,414'), Tijeras Peak (13,604'), Kit Carson Peak (14,165') and Music Mountain (13,355') are just a few of the 35+ peaks in this range exceeding 13,000'. Those with time can aim for High Dune, located about 1.5 miles from the parking lot at 8,790' (approx).

Dune Formation

The Great Sand Dunes' origin is a complex interaction of geology, topography, and water.
The San Luis Valley lies between the San Juan Mountains (west), and Sangre de Cristo Mountains (northeast). Over millennia, sediments from these mountains were drawn down into the valley and covered by ancient lakes.

As ancient lakes in the valley evaporated, loose sediment was lifted by prevailing southwest winds toward the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. When sand particles can go no further, wind churns the blocked sand into very fine particles and deposits them at or near the base of the obstacle.

Seasonal storm patterns bring opposing winds from the northeast, blowing new and old sand back onto itself that accumulates vertically, which account for the dunes' extraordinary height.

Medano Creek recycles sand each spring along the southeast edge of the dunefield, while Sand Creek resupplies the west side. Medano Creek's heavy deposits are responsible for creating the tallest dunes, which are located directly above the creek.

Vegetation on the dune perimeter (known as the Sand Sheet) has stabilized loose sediment, neutralizing growth. Photos dating back to 1874 suggest the dune footprint has changed little, despite many shifts within the established complex.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N37 44.370 W105 31.048 — 0.0 miles : Dunes Trailhead
  • N37 44.863 W105 30.909 — .25 miles : Dune base, begin climb
  • N37 45.229 W105 31.292 — .75 miles : Dune ridge (8,600')
  • N37 45.047 W105 31.938 — 1.75 miles : Travel over high dunes
  • N37 45.298 W105 32.591 — 2.6 miles : Central quadrant of dunes

Worth Noting

  • Can dunes really sing? The Great Sand Dunes are known to produce an eerie humming sound when dry sand grains - rounded and coated with silica - avalanche down steep faces of the highest dunes.

  • Dark bands of sand along dune ridges form as wind sorts and separates heavy magnetite sand grains.

  • Summer temperatures can exceed 100 degrees and sand surface temperatures may reach 140 degrees. There is no shade in the dunes. Always carry a hat, sun protection, ample water and sturdy footwear. The dunes are exposed to storms, and lightning strikes are not uncommon. Leave dune ridges and aim for low ground before storms develop.

Camping and Backpacking Information

Pinyon Flats Campground

  • The Pinyon Flats Campground is located one mile north of the Visitor Center. There are 3 three loops:

  • Loop 1 (44 sites) is first-come, first-served year round. $20 per night. Maximum 6 people, 2 tents, and 2 vehicles per site. Check-out time is 1pm.

  • Loop 2 and Loop 3 are group tent sites (44 combined sites), and may be reserved up to six months in advance (May 4 -September 9). Reservations are strongly recommended. Prices vary by site selection.

  • For reservations, contact the National Recreation Reservation System: 877.444-6777 :

  • Sites fill quickly, especially on weekends. Plan your trip well in advance. Contact the Park for additional information: 719.378.6395

Campground Information

  • Each site is equipped with a fire ring, cooking grate, picnic table and bear box. Campground restrooms have sinks, flush toilets, and a sink for dish washing.

  • Some sites in Loop 1 and Loop 2 can accommodate RVs or camping trailers up to 35'. However, there are no electrical, sewer, or water hookups. A dump station and water hoses are available in warmer months.

  • Firewood: Protect public lands by buying locally harvested wood. Firewood brought in from other locations can spread diseases that harm native trees. Local firewood is available at the Visitor Center; at Pinyon Flats during the summer; and at the Oasis Store (privately owned, just outside the park entrance). Collecting firewood is illegal.

  • Pets are welcome and must be leashed at all times.

Medano Pass Primitive Sites

  • There are 21 primitive campsites located on Medano Pass Primitive Road, which extends from the Juniper Flats Campground to Medano Pass. There's no fee. Water and electricity are not available.

  • Campfires are permitted in designated campsites with fire rings. Pets are permitted and must be leashed.

  • Medano Pass Road traverses soft sand and crosses Medano Creek nine times. Tire pressure must often be adjusted. 4WD vehicles only. Passenger cars and low clearance SUVs are not suitable.

  • Contact the Visitor Center in advance for the road conditions: 719.378.6399

Rules and Regulations

  • There's a $3 entrance fee per person (age 16 and older). Children are free at all times. Entrance fees are valid for 7 days from date of purchase. Inter-agency passes are accepted.

  • Dogs are permitted in the dunes and must be leashed at all times.

Directions to Trailhead

Great Sand Dunes National Park is located 245 miles from Denver, 165 miles from Colorado Springs, and 245 miles from Albuquerque.

From Denver, Colorado Springs, or Pueblo: Take I-25 south to Walsenburg, then west on US 160 to State Highway 150 (north). Highway 150 leads to the entrance station, visitor center, and campgrounds.

From Albuquerque: Take I-25 north to Santa Fe, then north on US 285 to Alamosa. From Alamosa, take U.S. Highway 160 east and State Highway 150 north to the park entrance.

Contact Information

Great Sand Dunes National Park
11500 Highway 150
Mosca, CO 81146-9798

Visitor Center

Visitor Center, Interpretation and Visitor Services

Main Phone


"Awesome! Bet you're having a blast. Keep up the good work, love the website!"
FunkShway  -  Boulder  -  Date Posted: July 20, 2014
"Hey there FunkShway - we do! Collegiates are happening this summer. We've been mired in Summit County, San Fran and Seattle for a while...thanks!"
ProTrails  -  Dave  -  Date Posted: June 19, 2014
"Any plans to add routes in the Sangre de Cristos or the Collegiate Peaks areas?"
FunkShway  -  Boulder  -  Date Posted: June 17, 2014


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