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Approaching the giant sand dunes of Great Sand Dunes National Park will make you feel like you’re on a completely different planet.
From a distance, the sand dune field looks like an endless sea of sand. It’s only when you get close you appreciate the enormity of the dunes.
There is plenty to do at Great Sand Dunes, but you can’t visit this national park without going sledding or sandboarding. This is a truly unique experience and if you plan ahead, you can take on the tallest sand dune in all of North America.
In this guide, you’ll learn everything there is to know about Great Sand Dunes National Park sledding and sandboarding and how to make the most of your trip.
Why You Have to Try Sledding and Sandboarding at the Great Sand Dunes National Park
The Great Sand Dunes National Park has the highest sand dunes in North America. There are 30 square miles of dune field with five massive dunes – the tallest being 750 feet.
Almost half a million people visit Great Sand Dunes every year to sled and sandboard down these incredible dunes.
It’s a great place for adrenaline seekers as well as families, with opportunities to take on more extreme areas of the dunes and more gentle spots.
Sledding is a popular way to enjoy the dunes, but don’t be fooled – it’s not as easy as using snow sleds. The sand is looser so it takes more effort to walk up the dunes and can be a learning curve getting the right technique to make it down.
You can’t use any old toboggan or sheet either, you need a special sled designed for sand dunes to get some speed and stop yourself sinking in the dry sand.
If you want to feel like you’re surfing the dunes, you can also do sandboarding at Great Sand Dunes. Again, you can’t use a snowboard, you’ll need to get a special sandboard.
It’s a little more tricky learning to sand board than it is to sled, so if you’re planning on taking kids, sand sleds are probably a better option.
But if you’re a keen snowboarder and want something a little different, you’ll pick up the technique of sandboarding quickly.
Where do I Get a Sand Sled or Sandboard?
You can bring your own sand sled or sandboard with you if you want to buy your own. But if you don’t have one and this is a one-off trip, you can rent them from nearby towns for a great price.
The park doesn’t have anywhere to rent equipment though, so you’ll need to stop in a local town and pick them up before you get to the national park.
There are also tons of videos online showing you the techniques needed for sand sledding and sandboarding, so check a couple out before you go if you’ve never tried it before.
Great Sand Dunes Oasis is the closest place to rent equipment. It’s open between April 1 and October 15, and it is around 3.5 miles before the park entrance.
It costs around $25 per sled or board and the owner will give you advice on the best sled for sand dunes for you and your family.
How Much Will it Cost You?
You’ll need a pass and pay an entrance fee to get into Great Sand Dunes National Park. You can buy these online before you arrive or at the national park entrance:
- Non-Commercial Vehicle and Occupants (normal car): $25
- Oversized Vehicle, 15+ passengers, age 16+ (large van): $15/person
- Motorcycle and Riders: $20
However, the park does have some entrance-fee-free days to celebrate certain holidays if you’re looking for a bargain.
Don’t forget to factor in the cost of renting a sand sled or sandboard into your trip costs (around $25 per person).
Best Time to go Sandboarding and Sledding
The best time to go sandboarding is in late Spring (end of May or the beginning of June). Weekends are when it’s busiest, so aim for a weekday if you can.
Late Spring gives you the best chance of enjoying good (but cool) weather and means you’ll also be able to enjoy Medano Creek where there are grasslands and wetlands. In the early morning, you might even spot the bison roaming.
The hike up High Dune is easiest in the Spring, and you can also take on Star Dune if you’re feeling up to it.
The summer months are also great for sledding and sandboarding, but the very hot weather can make the sand temperature unbearable. If you go in the summer, aim for early morning or late evenings or you’ll burn your skin on the sand.
Are Sandboarding and Sledding Safe for Kids?
Absolutely! What kids don’t love making sand castles? Thousands of families visit Great Sand Dunes every year and kids love taking on the dunes.
Sledding is the easier of the two for little ones who aren’t already experienced at snowboarding but make sure you let them know it takes some practice to get the hang of it.
Also, don’t forget plenty of snacks and plenty of water. It’s tiring climbing up the soft sand dunes to ride back down, and little ones, in particular, will tire out quickly.
That’s why it’s great to go in the Spring when the weather is a little bit cooler.
What Else to do in Great Sand Dunes National Park
If you need a break from sledding at Great Sand Dunes National Park, there are plenty of other activities that are suitable for the whole family.
The hiking trails in the dunes are tough work but a great way to explore. There are hikes for all abilities, so whether you’re looking for a tough hike or a family-friendly walk, there’s something for everyone.
Visitor Center Trail
There’s an easy trail that leads to the dunes from the visitor center if you’re looking for a peaceful walk and a look at the dunes.
High Dune on First Ridge
This one is the most popular dune to climb. You’ll get incredible views of the entire sand dune field, standing at 699 feet (just 50 feet shorter than Star Dune, which is the tallest).
It will take about 3-4 hours to do a round trip, and you’ll hike about 2.5 miles up and down on the hike.
Star is the tallest dune in North America, standing at an impressive 750 feet tall. You can either hike over other dunes to get to this one, or you can go south along Medano Creek for an easier route.
It doesn’t have an established trail, so you just need to follow any ridge to the summit. It’s a tough climb that takes around 5-9 hours to complete, moving around 8 miles in total.
Mosca Pass Trail
This is an established trail stretching 7 miles in total (there and back). You’ll follow the creek to the summit in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which gives plenty of welcomed shade under aspen trees.
Sand Ramp Trail
This trail is a little longer at 11 miles and is best for experienced hikers and backpackers looking to find backcountry spots to camp (don’t forget you’ll need a backcountry permit to camp).
The first two miles are shaded but the rest is miles of sand, so expect to get very hot in the sun and be whipped by sand if it’s windy.
There are two creeks at Great Sand Dunes. Medano Creek is closest to the Visitor Center and the most popular with visitors.
Depending on the conditions, visitors can surf, wade, raft, or just dip their toes in and enjoy a cool off.
Don’t be fooled by its appearance either – it looks shallow but is up to a mile deep in parts. It’s regularly filled by snow runoff coming from the mountains and is a beautiful thing to see.
If you’re planning to camp or stay late at the park, you won’t see a more beautiful sight than starry nights. The park itself has a saying, “half the park is after dark!”.
On a moonless night, you’ll be able to see the entire night sky and because of this, it’s been certified as an International Dark Sky Park, along with the Grand Canyon National Park.
The dry air, elevation, and lack of light pollution make this the ultimate spot for stargazers and night photographers.
If you’re worried about being in the park after dark, the Rangers lead night walks to help you explore as a group.
Fat Tire Biking
No type of motorized vehicle is allowed in the park to preserve the natural beauty. However, you can go fat tire biking as a unique way to explore. You can ride along the Medano Pass Primitive Road (which permits vehicles) if you’re feeling like a challenge.
Medano Pass Primitive Road
This road starts at the Visitor Center and runs along the front of the dunes all the way to the Great Sand Dunes National Preserve and to Medano Pass.
The road is popular with 4×4 vehicles looking to go “off-roading”, but make sure you check conditions before going – they change rapidly and can make some of the primitive road unpassable in bad weather.
Camping at Great Sand Dunes National Park
Sledding at Great Sand Dunes National Park is a unique adventure to tick off your list. From Medano Creek to sandboarding down the tallest sand dune in North America, this one will be a trip to remember.
A lot of visitors stay in nearby Alamosa when visiting the park, but many choose to go camping to take advantage of the stunning night sky in the park.
If you’re thinking about camping at Great Dunes National Park, check out our full guide to plan your trip.