Photograph the Great Sand Dunes National Park

Rate this Adventure 3 miles 700 ft gain  - Out-and-Back Trail

Added by Lucas Boland

Venture only four hours away from the very heart of Denver and you will find yourself in the Sahara...of southwest Colorado. All it takes is hiking over a couple of dunes and civilization disappears, Arabian nights begin.

This place really is incredible - from the time you first see the dunes with the mountain backdrop in the distance you get the feeling that they're something unique. As you stare them down during the last 30-mile approach to the park, they get bigger and steadily more overwhelming. Once you're at the base, you'll be quickly transported to what seems like another corner of the globe.

The Dunes reside in one of the more remote corners of Colorado, Alamosa County. This is perfect, because not that many people make the trek all the way out there. From Denver, you head south on I-25 all the way past Pueblo, hang a right onto US-160 W, and another right onto CO-150 N. This will take you straight in to the Visitor Center parking lot (these are the complete directions). The best way to shoot the Dunes is to camp, so you'll want to get an overnight backpacking permit and parking pass, which are both free. Oh and it's only $3 to get in to the Great Sand Dunes National Park, by the way. There are a limited amount of camping permits that they give out, but I would be very surprised if they ever filled all of the spots. There were only two other groups overnight-ing it when I was there, I probably had multiple square miles to myself that night.

After you pick up those things, you'll follow the Medano Creek Road, which will take you to the overnight parking area. Gear up and hop on the trail that should be on the other side of the road (it might take a little searching for). This will take you down to the base of the dunes. First, though, you'll have to wade through the Medano Creek, which has to be one of the best creeks out there. It winds its way down from the mountains and alongside the dunes, in a large part responsible for their unreal sculpture.

As you approach the creek, try to scout out a tentative area of where you want to set up camp. If you have this decided before, you can choose a more efficient route and trust me, you will be very thankful for having done so. You can actually camp wherever your heart desires, so long as it is out of the day use area. The general rule is that you should not be able to see the visitor center wherever you're camping and you should find a spot that is shielded from the wind. Also, if a storm does come up, there's nowhere to hide; therefore, it's wise to prepare for all bad weather.

As hiking into the dunes is something like walking up a steeply inclined beach for miles, you will get very thirsty. There is no shade out there, and no water. So you must try to pack just the right amount, and err on the side of over packing - you will never find yourself wanting less water.

For optimized shooting conditions, make it to your camping spot before golden hour as the setting sun hits the sand just right. There is also a great night sky for star shots and in the morning you can watch the shadow from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains crawl up dunes. Enjoy the burning calves and sandy boots; it's all part of the fun! Remember to take a quick dip into Medano Creek on the hike out - it might be the most refreshing one of your life.

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