Backpack the Great Sand Dunes

Colorado Great Sand Dunes National Park

Added by Michael O'Keeffe

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
Read More

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

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



Backpacking, Camping, Photography

Skill Level:



Year Round




Are we missing something?

Suggest an edit

How to Get There

about 1 month ago

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.

about 1 month ago

2 months ago

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!

2 months ago

3 months ago

A Different Kind Of Colorado

We've never done dessert camping before and it ended up being amazing. The Great Sand Dunes campground was full so we ended up staying at San Luis Lake Campground it was a great alternative. It's a 15 min drive to the Dunes and Zapata Falls.

3 months ago

6 months ago

Wild Adventure

I had the opportunity to backpack the dunes with my girlfriend a couple months back and it was amazing. We were so excited to get to what it looked like the highest dune but turns out there is no summit haha. All in all it was a great hike and adventure.

6 months ago

7 months ago

Truly Unique Experience

Backpacking in the dunes was one of the most unique camping experiences I have ever had. It is hard to grasp the scale of the dunes from photos but rest assured they will leave you in awe time and time again. I highly recommend this adventure to anyone. I also recommend bringing sandbags to keep your tent secure!

7 months ago

over 1 year ago

Hiking the dunes is far more difficult than you can imagine. The more weight you carry, the more you will feel it on slipping sand. Start slow, and find ridges of compacted sand. The sunsets are mind blowing!

over 1 year ago

More Adventures Nearby

Hike Mt. Elbert via Black Cloud Trail

Colorado / Black Cloud Trailhead

Directions:  Heading south from Leadville from U.S. 24: West on CO 82 for 10.5 miles to a hidden right turn that leads to a trail head. If you make it to the Mt.

Mike Stevens
2 Saves

Backpack to Dragon's Back via Horsethief Trail

Colorado / Horsethief Trailhead

The Uncompahgre Wilderness stretches out through the mountains and forests of southwestern Colorado, with worn trails lingering beside abandoned 19th-century mines and crossing old alpine sheep pastu.

Jonathon Reed
15 Saves

Hike to Nymph Lake

Colorado / Bear Lake Trailhead

While not as popular as Dream Lake, Nymph Lake is just as beautiful. The hike to Nymph Lake is an easy hike just over 1 mile.

Nick Souvall
12 Saves