Colorado is known for its mountain sports, but these mountains offer a rather sandy twist. Great Sand Dunes National Park in the San Luis Valley is home to the tallest Sand Dunes in North America. Towering at over 750 feet, the dunes are perfect place for hiking, camping, horseback riding, and wading in the mysteriously surging Medano Creek. Perhaps the most exciting form of entertain for kids and families is sledding and boarding with no snow in sight.
If you guessed that sledding and boarding on a mountain of sand is almost-but-not-quite the same as doing it on snow, you would be right. Although the moves and the equipment are similar, everything else that is particular to this otherworldly ecosystem is different. To gear up and enjoy the sand successfully, you have to know what to expect.
Getting Geared Up for a Day at the Dunes
· Think of a day at the Sand Dunes as a day at the beach with really, really big dunes. From mid-April to mid-July Medano Creek runs through the dunes, so there is even a water element. Many of the regular visitors were completely stocked for a day at the beach, including sand toys, beach chairs, picnics, and swimwear. If we had planned for an entire day-and I wish we had-we could have spent some time sledding and then kicked back and enjoyed the beach.
· The distance from the parking lot to the sand dunes is vast. Parents with the “been there done that” knowledge came prepared with a wagon to haul all the gear to the dunes. We definitely could have used a wagon or a mule or something to get us to and from the car. Carrying everything was slow going.
· Sand sleds and sandboards are not available for rent or purchase at the park, though there are a limited number of options available nearby. These options rent wooden sandboards and sand-sleds which are the preferred option. Typical plastic disks are quickly destroyed by the sand and do not pick up speed.
· The nearest rental location is Great Sand Dunes Oasis Campground, six miles from the park entrance. Sleds and boards rent for $20 and are first come, first served. Kristi Mountain Sports in Alamosa is 30 miles/45 minutes from the entrance of the Great Sand Dunes National Park. These boards can be reserved in advance, and they often sell out during high season. If you are traveling during the summer, you might want to choose the certainty of reserving a board.
· Renting in Alamosa has benefits and drawbacks. You will have to plan to arrive in Alamosa before closing time to return your boards, but the area is full of restaurants and shops so it can be a great place to start and end your day. There are no restaurants or stores in the park, so stock up on any needs before you arrive.
~The scope of the sand dunes cannot even be described.~
What to Wear, What NOT to Wear
· Choosing what to wear, particularly on your feet is a challenge at the Dunes. Depending on the time year, the sand will be way too hot to go barefooted, although bare feet is the way to go once you get to the dunes. Getting to the dunes is a different story. There is the creek to consider, and it can sometimes run ankle deep. We chose to take off our shoes to ford the stream, but then needed our shoes once again for the coarser sand at the foot of the dunes. On the dunes, we were able to go barefooted in the cool spring sand. Sand was regularly filling our shoes, so if we had needed shoes, I would have wanted to have socks and hiking boots, so we didn’t have to stop and dump.
· Clothing was another thing to consider. Even when it is cool, the sun is strong, so lightweight long sleeves or plenty of sunscreen is a must. We were fortunate in that it was a calm day, but if it had been windy at all, we definitely would have wanted sunglasses or goggles to protect our eyes.
· If you plan to spend time in the creek, a pair of water shoes would be ideal. Although the sand is very smooth in many places, there are plenty of stretches of sand that have rocks and sticks.
Remembering the Essential Extras
· Plenty of water is a must at the sand dunes. You can fill your canteens near the parking lot, but be sure to account for the time you will spend on the dunes and the altitude when you pack you water.
· Towels are a must for a fun time at the dunes, even if you don’t plan to spend any time in the water. Keep the towels in car to use to brush off the sand before you head home. If you plan to spend any time in the water, double the number of towels.
· Bring along an extra special towel if you plan to bring your camera. Wrap the towel around your camera and place it safely in a soft bag anytime you are not using the camera to prevent sand from getting into the mechanism. Do the same thing for your phones and DO NOT make mistake of sticking your phone in your pocket when you slide down the dunes.
· Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen!
· Bring along some hand sanitizer, wipes and other clean things. The toilet at the dunes is a pit toilet and clean hands are always welcome.