Overview - The Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado is probably as unknown as Lassen Volcanic National Park in northern California. However, similar to Lassen it is very underrated in terms of its natural beauty and sheer spectacle.
Details - We decided to stop at the Great Sand Dunes National Park for one night on our way to Arches NP and Bryce NP in Utah. While this park can easily be done in an hour or two, the night that we spend there allowed us a little bit more time to just hang out on the dunes and enjoy our time there.
If you aren't familiar with the Great Sand Dunes NP, basically it is the location of the tallest sand dunes in North America. It is a sight to behold because it is located smack dab in the middle of nowhere against with the Rockies looming in the background. As far as hiking goes in the park, the feature attraction is hiking in the dunes, which you can do for hours. That is basically what we did for most of our time in the park. However, if you are feeling more ambitious and/or have an extra day, there is a trail called the Sand Ramp Trail (22 miles RT) that supposedly gives spectacular overhead views of the Sand Dunes. We probably would have tried this out if we had another day.
One important thing to note about hiking the Sand Dunes is that you need to watch the weather very, very, carefully. Thunderstorms can blow in very quickly and you absolutely can't be up there when either a wind or thunderstorm blows in, as you can easily be struck by lightning. Storms occur quite regularly in the summer months, so just use your common sense. If it looks like it is blowing in, stay off the dunes. I have been stuck up there in a windstorm on another separate visit, and it is not fun getting sand blasted in your face with 30mph gusts. Trust me.
Overall Verdict - It is an interesting sight to see, and even if you stop for only an hour or two, it is worth a stop.
Days/Nights to Camp/Spend Here – 1 night, 2 nights at the most because there just isn't that much to do other than hike the dunes.
Camping Evaluation - We camped at the only campground in the park, Pinon Flats Campground. It was the standard NP campground with the standard amenities. One important thing is to get a site that is shelter from the Sand Dunes. This is due to the windstorms that can blow in from the dunes. We found this out the hard way, as we set up our tent with a great view of the Dunes, but it also wasn't sheltered and wouldn't you know it, a windstorm blew in, and while our tent held up, it was warped from the wind from that point on. So just be sure to get a sheltered sight with some trees or something.
Best Time To See the Great Sand Dunes National Park - Anytime is a good time for the Dunes. Again, very few people visit the park, so you will not be competing with crowds here. The Dunes are big enough for everyone.
Tips/Tricks - There is a little motel on the way in to the park that has really good pie. I know how random that is, but be sure to stop and get a slice.
Best Hikes - Playing around on the Dunes is really the only game in town here.