This is one of the can’t-miss natural destinations in Colorado. From a distance, the sand dunes look unreal, like a giant painting done on the lower slopes of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. The park and preserve stretches from the saltbush deserts of the valley floor all the way up to alpine tundra above treeline; the biodiversity is tremendous. Habitats in the park include grassland, semidesert shrubland, pinyon-juniper woodland, deciduous riparian woodland, and mixed-conifer woodland–and those are just the habitats that are easily accessible from the main roads and trails! Almost any mountain bird species can probably be found somewhere in the park. Pinyon Jays and Bushtits can be found right in the campground areas, while Mountain Bluebirds are hard to miss in summer. Up to four species of hummingbirds might drop by in late July and August. And birds aren’t the only attraction: mammals in the park range from Ord’s kangaroo rat up to pronghorn, elk, and bear. The Nature Conservancy manages a herd of bison in an area just west of the main dunes. At least six species of insect are endemic to the dunes, including the striking Great Sand Dunes Tiger Beetle. With luck, you might even find a Giant Sand Treader Camel Cricket (what a name!).County: Alamosa
Attractions: Tallest sand dunes in North America.
Habitat: Pinyon-Juniper Forest, Lowland Riparian, Burn Area, Foothill Shrub, Sagebrush, Mixed Conifer Forest, Streamside Willow
Directions: From US 160 fourteen miles east of Alamosa and five miles west of Blanca, turn north on CO 150 and proceed about sixteen miles north to the park entrance. Alternatively, from CO 17 just north of the tiny town of Mosca, head east on Six Mile Lane (CR 6N) sixteen miles to a T intersection, then turn left onto CO 150 towards the park entrance.
Delorme: 81 C6
Roads of Colorado: 135 F2
Dates of Access: Open all year
Ownership: National Park Service
Admission: National Parks fee
Parking: Paved parking areas.
Lodging: Campgrounds; also backcountry camping. The Great Sand Dunes Lodge is open seasonally, (719-378-2900). Hotels in Alamosa.
Handicapped Access: Standard for a national park. Visitor center, campgrounds, viewing platforms, amphitheater, and some trails accessible; sand wheelchairs available.