Located in south-central Colorado’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve protects a stretch of huge sand dunes up to 750 feet (230 meters) in height on the eastern side of the San Luis Valley and a neighboring national preserve. On March 17, 1932, President Herbert Hoover established the Great Sand Dunes National Monument as the official name for the park. An area of 35,528 acres was protected by the original limits. As of November 22, 2000, the area was designated a national park and preserve, and on September 24, 2004, the park was officially opened. The park covers 107,342 acres and the preserve safeguards an additional 41,686 acres; the park and preserves protect a total of 149,028 acres. In 2019, there were 527,546 recreational visitors.
The sand dunes in the park are the highest in North America. More than 1.2 cubic miles of sand may be found in the dunes, which encompass an area of around 30 square miles. The valley was filled with sediments from the surrounding mountains over long periods of time. Thousands of years after the valley’s lakes dried up, the main southwest winds blew exposed sand into the Sangre de Cristos, finally producing the dune field. In the Great Sand Dunes system, the mountain watershed, the dunes, the sand sheet, and the sabkha are the four most important parts of the system. Alpine tundra, subalpine forests, montane woods, and riparian zones make up the mountain watershed’s ecosystems. The park is open 365 days a year. The park and preserve do not require reservations or limit the number of visitors, but the visitor center currently has limited capacity.
Entrances and how to reach the Great Sand Dunes National Park
Dunes tower over meadows, marshes, woods, alpine lakes, and tundra in an awe-inspiring environment. Driving south on Highway 150 or west on County Road 6 will put you in close proximity to several of the park’s highlights, such as the Dunes Parking Lot, the Visitor Center, and the Pinyon Flats Campground. Both roads are wide, well-maintained thoroughfares. Check out the map for clear information.
If you’re driving across the Rocky Mountains, don’t rely on computer mapping programs. Maps on the web and in dashboards often encourage tourists to drive on hiking paths or rudimentary 4WD roads to get to the park. To get to the main park area, many people have been trapped in the snow or at a distant trailhead. Use the map of the region displayed or any road map of Colorado.
Both Mosca (23 miles west of the park’s visitor center) and Fort Garland (25 miles east) have year-round, 24-hour petrol stations (31 miles southeast). During the months of April through October, a petrol station can be found within the Oasis Store near the park’s entrance.
One of the most typical ways to get to Walsenburg from Denver, Colorado Springs, or Pueblo is by I-25 south, then west on US 160, then north on State Highway 150. As an alternative to using I-25 from Denver, you may alternatively take US 285 south to State Highway 17 south to County Lane 6 east from Mosca for a more scenic journey (the same distance).
To get to Alamosa from Albuquerque, use I-25 north to Santa Fe, then US 285 north. It’s possible to reach Mosca from Alamosa by U.S. 160 east and north and state highway 150, or through state highway 17 north and east county lane 6.
Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center travel distances are measured in miles.
Alamosa, Colorado (pop. ), 37
Albuquerque, New Mexico: 246
200-square-mile park in the Black Canyon of Colorado:
Blanca (city): 25
Boulder’s population is 270.
City of Canon City:
The Gators of Colorado: 25
Rocky Mountain National Park and Salida: 204
167 miles from Colorado Springs to Walsenburg on the I-25
A total of 234 people were killed by Cortez.
Creede has a 93 rating.
Crestone has 57
Del Norte has 66
234 miles from Denver via US 285
Walsenburg: 242 miles from Denver via I-25
29 Fort Garland
252 Grand Junction
63 La Veta
Medano Pass is 13 miles long.
Mesa Verde National Park has a population of 227 people.
Monte Vista has a population of 54.
Montrose’s population is 200.
Mosca (the closest settlement to the national park) has a population of 23 people.
Pagosa Springs has a population of 125 people.
183 miles from Pueblo to Salida
Walsenburg: 127 miles from Pueblo via I-25
65 Saguache through the center
Salida has a population of 91 people.
San Luis: 45 minutes
184 miles from Santa Fe
72 in the South Fork
Taos has a population of 113 people.
Walsenburg has a population of 78 people.
Westcliffe (high-clearance 4WD) through Pass Creek Pass: 45 minutes
The summit of Wolf Creek Pass is at an elevation of 92 meters.
By automobile (shortcut through Pass Creek Pass, unpaved road open year-round for passenger cars) from Westcliffe/Wet Mountain Valley to Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center:
- Travel southeast on Highway 69 into Gardner for about 30 miles from Westcliffe.
- Turn south (left) on 570 RD (which becomes 572, then 29 RD); seek for a little sign that says “PassCreekPass” and continue for about 12 miles.
- Take US Highway 160 west (right).
- Take State Highway 150 north (right).
By car, use the following route from the Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center to Westcliffe/Wet Mountain Valley (shortcut across Pass Creek Pass, dirt road open all year for passenger cars):
- Take State Highway 150 south.
- Take US Highway 160 east.
- Turn left (north) onto Pass Creek Pass Road (two miles west of La Veta Pass) (starts as 29 RD, turns into 572 RD). The Pass Creek road climbs for one mile before descending for 11 miles.
- Turn east (right) onto 550 RD toward Gardner when you reach a T intersection with a paved road; drive approximately 6 miles.
- After 30 kilometres, turn west (left) on Highway 69 toward Westcliffe.
A small airport in Alamosa, Colorado, 38 miles from Great Sand Dunes, has commercial air service. Many commercial airlines fly to Colorado Springs, Denver, and Albuquerque. At any of these airports, you can rent a car.