Great Sand Dunes NP – High Dune

We had initially planned to hike the dune field on Saturday but the weather was terrible and overcast so we postponed our visit to the dunes until Sunday. We were amply rewarded for our patience with brilliant sunshine and temperatures in the 60’s.

One reason we were really excited to visit Great Sand Dunes NP is that it is one of the very few dog friendly National Parks in the US. Dogs are allowed on the dune field up the highest ridge of dunes. There are no trails to follow and you can make your own path across the dunes however you like.

walking the dunes

The first step is to cross Buck Creek which should have been roaring in late April with spring runoff. Sadly an epic drought led to 10% of average snow in the mountains which left the creek dry in the dune field. The initial approach to the dune field is very flat and rocky. Once you cross the 1/2 mile or so of flats and reach the dunes you can begin to appreciate their size. The dunes are huge and in places quite steep.

Your best bet is to find the hard pack sand to make your ascent up the dune field. Trying to climb up the steep soft faces of the dune field is an exercise in futility. We found a gentler path winding our way NE away from High Dune with a plan swing back along the peak ridge towards High Dune. Max (our Mini Aussie) absolutely loved running up and down the dune faces with us. It was a thrill to watch him enjoy himself playing and romping along an endless wave of sand.

Once we reached the ridge line we turned around and saw no one in our vicinity. The view from the top is epic! Off to the north the dune field extends for miles looking like a stationary set of sand waves. Off to the east the snow capped peaks are a stark contrast to the endless waves of sand. It’s absolutely surreal experience to see Great Sand Dunes in the spring with snow still on the mountain peaks.

views from the dunes

After frolicking in the sand for a bit we set our sights on High Dune to climb the 2nd highest dune in the field (Star Dune is slightly higher but not dog friendly). We took off our shoes and took the opportunity to set our feet in the closest thing to a beach we have in Colorado.

After a few minutes of Max soaking in the attention from every group of kids on High Dune we took advantage of the soft steep slopes to run down near vertical slopes of the dunes. It was exhilarating to run down the face of the dunes and a helluva lot easier than the climb up. It was a short hike to the top of High Dune but it was damned fun and we’re looking forward to visiting the dunes again next year :D. The views from the dunes at sunset were also quite pretty.

sunset at great sand dunes

Distance: 3.56 miles
Elevation Gain: 663 feet

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