I haven’t been to a ton of national parks yet, but if you were to ask me what my favorite one is, I’d say Great Sand Dunes National Park, hands down. We’ve been there a handful of times and I think I love it more each time!
A visit from family took us there last week, on the day after Memorial Day. It’s about a 2.5 hour drive from Colorado Springs and is really a pretty drive in and of itself.
In the spring, melting snow flowing down the mountains causes a wide, shallow creek to flow across one side of the dunes. The creek is such a fun place for kids to play!
As my sister and I were saying, the sand dunes are the perfect beach for us. It’s about as hot, as humid, as salty, as crowded, and as far from home as I want to be!
I also really love that the water is only a few inches deep in most places, which is great for little kids.
If you hit the creek at just the right time of the season, you can float down the creek in inner tubes. And by you, I’m going to say that it’s mostly going to be your kids because most of us adults are probably too heavy even at peak flow!
Some of our group hiked up to High Dune, the tallest dune on the first ridge. There’s a taller dune (Star Dune) that’s a longer hike. (We’ve done it before and we are almost positive it didn’t quite take the five hours the park says is average. Based on our photo timestamps, I think it took Jeremy and I about three hours when we hiked it in our first year of marriage. Regardless of how long it takes, hiking in sand is pretty grueling!)
Flashback! Here we are in 2003 at Star Dune at sunset:
It appears that I hiked up in flip flops… Probably not the best idea but the sand wasn’t too hot since it was evening. We carried a monopod with us to take the photo!
And here we are in 2008 when we just had two kids:
Anyway, back to our most recent trip (five kids later!)…
I’m not sure what the ideal footwear for hiking is. Flip flops are really not a good idea, but sneakers don’t feel great, either. The kids took their sneakers off and hiked in socks!
Here are some things we’ve learned from our trips to the dunes:
- The sand gets hot. When the sun is hottest, you can feel the heat of the sand through flip flops and it is, at times, unbearable with flimsy shoes. Bring sneakers or good sandals even if you don’t think you’ll wear them.
- The water can be really cold. When we were there this year (June 1st), it was quite comfortable, but it’s been really cold when we’ve been there before.
- The peak time for the creek to flow is late May to mid June, and you can check on the status of the creek flow on the NPS website. The best time to go with little kids is definitely when there’s water!
- You really need to hike the dunes even a little bit in order to grasp how huge they are. Definitely plan to go up a few ridges even if you don’t hike terribly far.
- Sand sledding is supposedly a “thing”, but honestly, every time we’ve been there, we see a lot of people carrying sleds but not a lot of sledding going on. It’s a lot of work to hike back up when you sled down, and unlike with snow sledding, you don’t keep gliding when the hill tapers out. Most people we saw sled down once or twice and that was it, and then they had to carry the sled around with them on the dunes.
- Definitely take water with you when you hike! A Camelbak or similar carrier is really great to have.
- There is a cleanup station with water for cleaning the sand off yourself. The water coming out of the “shower” is cold and we ended up just brushing off the sand with a dry towel. (I’ve heard baby powder works really well to help facilitate this!)
- Thankfully I didn’t need to use them, but I took saline eye drops in case anyone got sand in their eyes. If it’s windy when you’re on the dunes, eye protection is a really good idea to keep sand out of your eyes!
- If you have time while you’re in the area, Zapata Falls is another great stop!
We love experiencing God’s creation at Great Sand Dunes National Park! For more information on the park, visit the National Parks Service Website.