This past May, Mike and I celebrated one year of marriage. We didn’t want to spend a lot of money since we’re still laser-focused on paying down our debt, so we decided to venture to an area that was close to home. If you haven’t heard of Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, you have been missing out. I can only describe it as a mini-Sahara hidden within the beauty of majestic mountains.
There is something for everyone in this area. There are hiking trails, swimming holes, and plenty of sand to build castles.
Great Sand Dunes National Park is about 4 hours away from Denver, and just 3 from the Colorado Springs area. It’s a fairly easy drive heading south on Interstate 25. Then you turn onto Hwy 160. Once you are near the park, you’ll see signs guiding you in its direction. The area is barren, as there isn’t much around. However, there is a vibrant small town called Alamosa about 30 minutes away that offers all your favorite lodging and food joints. I recommend staying there if you’re not a fan of camping.
If you do love camping, you can backpack into the sand dunes and spend the night, or you can stay at the campground near the base of the dunes. Ultimately, it is up to you. If you do camp near the dunes, take plenty of food and water, as the nearest town (Alamosa) is 30 miles down the road.
If you’re not sold on the national park yet, let me give you five reasons to add this location to your bucket list.
1. The Great Sand Dunes are pet-friendly.
We have loved taking Motley with us on our adventures. That’s one of the great perks of Colorado. It’s a dog-friendly state. The sand dunes are no different. The creek that flows through is a great place for your pups to romp around. Note: If you’re planning on hiking in the dunes, make sure your dog has booties or you go in the early morning/late evening. The sun can heat the sand to more than 100 degrees before noon.
2. There is an easy hike nearby to Zapata Falls.
Everyone loves waterfalls, and this one is easy to get to. You’ll see Zapata Falls as a point of interest when driving to the sand dunes park. Be prepared, as you must drive three miles up a rocky, dusty gravel road. This is not a place for your BMW or low-ride car, though you can make it in a standard coupe or sedan. I recommend going early in the morning because this area can get busy quickly. Once you’ve reached the parking area, it’s only .5 miles to the falls.
3. It’s a low-cost vacation.
If you’re a veteran or part of the military, you get in free to every national park. Still, even if you have to pay, I think a day pass is $15. That’s pretty good considering everything you have access to. If you camp and bring your own food, this can be a cheap getaway. If you do choose to stay in a hotel, there are several low-priced options in Alamosa. Mike and I paid $90 to stay in a little mom-and-pop joint. It was clean and easy to find.
4. It’s easy to travel to.
The Great Sand Dunes National Park is so easy to get to, and the drive is spectacular. It’s not an overwhelming mountain drive (if you’re fearful of that kind of thing) and it’s easily accessible. If you don’t like road-tripping, you might not like this trip much, as you do have to drive at least 3-4 hours from the nearest city. Still, it’s easy to do and so worth it.
5. It is one of the most unique parks in America.
Maybe that’s just my opinion, but you won’t find sand dunes of this size anywhere else in the United States. Yes, there are other dunes. Yes, they are also cost-effective to visit. However, Great Sand Dunes National Park is a national park for a reason. The largest dunes stand at 700 feet tall. Other dunes don’t have creeks flowing through them from snowmelt. Other dunes aren’t surrounded by mountains. Trust me, it is a sight to see, and well worth the trip.
Just take a look at the photos and do some other research. You will find this park is one you don’t want to skip out on.