Backpack the Great Sand Dunes

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Added by Michael O'Keeffe

Camp in one of the most unique and exotic wildernesses in the West and climb the tallest sand dunes in North America. Distance and elevation gain vary depending on how far you choose to hike in.

Few places can match the epic scale of this bizarre wilderness in southern Colorado. Great Sand Dunes National Park contains 750 foot tall sand dunes (the tallest in North America) resting at the foot of 13,000 foot peaks (the Sangre de Cristo range). However, to really experience the park in its wildest, purest form you'll have to backpack and camp in the dunefield itself.

One of the coolest aspects of the Great Sand Dunes is that you have the freedom to hike and camp wherever you want on the sand dunes with just a few exceptions. Backpackers must hike at least past the day use area of the dunes (generally about a mile or so deep into the dunefield) as well as obtain a free permit from the visitor center. Once that is settled the Great Sand Dunes are at your disposal.

Make it a short overnight or turn it into a multi-day traverse of the entire dunefield, it is up to you! Just remember there is no water on the dunes so be sure to carry plenty of it. Also, if making the trek in summer, be sure to monitor weather conditions as frequent afternoon thunderstorms are common.

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Backpacking
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Once in a lifetime experience!

Coming from Ohio, I have never seen anything like the Great Sand Dunes, let alone hike the dunes. I wouldn't consider myself an athletic person, but pushed myself all the way up to the first big range dune. Absolutely worth the struggle, plus face-plant into the sand on my first "down-hill" on the dunes... Definitely push your way up to the top... the view is absolutely worth it! We went early in the morning in July so the heat wasn't really bad at all. Photographers be aware of sand getting down into your buttons! My Camera was locked up for a few hours because one of the buttons was stuck. Overall, amazing experience!

A Different Kind Of Colorado

We've never done dessert camping before and it ended up being amazing. The Great Sand Dunes campground was full so we ended up staying at San Luis Lake Campground it was a great alternative. It's a 15 min drive to the Dunes and Zapata Falls.

Explorer

about 5 years ago

Wild Adventure

I had the opportunity to backpack the dunes with my girlfriend a couple months back and it was amazing. We were so excited to get to what it looked like the highest dune but turns out there is no summit haha. All in all it was a great hike and adventure.

404 total saves

4.8/5

Leave No Trace

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on.

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