Backpack the Great Sand Dunes

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Camp in one of the most unique and exotic wildernesses in the West and climb the tallest sand dunes in North America. Distance and elevation gain vary depending on how far you choose to hike in.

Few places can match the epic scale of this bizarre wilderness in southern Colorado. Great Sand Dunes National Park contains 750 foot tall sand dunes (the tallest in North America) resting at the foot of 13,000 foot peaks (the Sangre de Cristo range). However, to really experience the park in its wildest, purest form you'll have to backpack and camp in the dunefield itself.

One of the coolest aspects of the Great Sand Dunes is that you have the freedom to hike and camp wherever you want on the sand dunes with just a few exceptions. Backpackers must hike at least past the day use area of the dunes (generally about a mile or so deep into the dunefield) as well as obtain a free permit from the visitor center. Once that is settled the Great Sand Dunes are at your disposal.

Make it a short overnight or turn it into a multi-day traverse of the entire dunefield, it is up to you! Just remember there is no water on the dunes so be sure to carry plenty of it. Also, if making the trek in summer, be sure to monitor weather conditions as frequent afternoon thunderstorms are common.

Pack List

  • Backpacking Gear (tent, sleeping bag, etc.)
  • Hiking Boots
  • Plenty of Water
  • Camera
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Activities Camping, Photography, Backpacking
Skill Level Intermediate
Season Year Round
Features
Scenic

Reviews

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Overall rating: 

Not For The Faint Of Heart, But Worth It!

We backpacked in for 1 night; hiking up the dunes past the day use area is steep and arduous, especially packing in all the gear/water. However, watching the sun set on the dunes was 100% worth it. Sleeping on the dunes was also fantastic and unlike any other camping experience. Otherworldly for sure! Also keep any eye out for wildlife- there were a surprising amount of fresh tracks in the morning.

Desert adventure

Wow. Nothing but sand dunes and sky and distant mountains. The sand was easier to climb than expected (that being said, the dunes were higher than expected). Be ready for unrelenting wind. Bring extra tent pegs.

Once in a lifetime experience!

Coming from Ohio, I have never seen anything like the Great Sand Dunes, let alone hike the dunes. I wouldn't consider myself an athletic person, but pushed myself all the way up to the first big range dune. Absolutely worth the struggle, plus face-plant into the sand on my first "down-hill" on the dunes... Definitely push your way up to the top... the view is absolutely worth it! We went early in the morning in July so the heat wasn't really bad at all. Photographers be aware of sand getting down into your buttons! My Camera was locked up for a few hours because one of the buttons was stuck. Overall, amazing experience!


Please respect the places you find on The Outbound Collective.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

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