I’m a sucker for a national park. They’re a great way to get outside and experience nature without really “roughing it”. Sure, they can be crowded, but if you take a few minutes and are down to hike a bit, there are always spots you can get away from the pushing and shoving tourists and screaming children for a little peace and quiet. The Great Sand Dunes is absolutely PERFECT for this, and is one of the most magical places I’ve ever been to in my life. I kept forgetting that I was still in Colorado instead of somewhere in the Middle East, because you just don’t expect to find miles and miles of sand dunes amongst the mountains.
The Great Sand Dunes National Park is roughly 3.5 hours driving from Denver, which is where we started from, but you can also fly into San Luis Valley Regional Airport, which is about 30 minutes from the park. We were lucky enough to get one of the coveted Dunes-facing camping spots for two nights, which was the perfect amount of time to get really sandy but not feel too disgusting. There is a river that runs between the campground/visitors center and where the Dunes begin, which is created by the snow runoff from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It flows strongly in late spring and very early summer, but by the time we were there in early June it was little more than a trickle, and will be completely dry by July, which makes the atmosphere feel much more like a desert. If you visit in the summer, and you’re feeling scorched, Zapata Falls flows throughout the year and is only about 15 minutes away.
Ok, so a few things to know about the Dunes before you go: it can be really hot, and there isn’t much shade, but it’s TOTALLY WORTH IT. Bring a bunch of sunscreen, a few sweet hats, and a sunshade if you’re camping. Water is absolutely essential, and you should carry it with you at all times, even if you aren’t planning to go that far. The campground/visitor’s center starts around 8500 feet, and the tallest Dune is around 13,500, which is both a long way to go up and down… keep that in mind before you get too big for your britches! You can bring sleds and sandboards with you, and you can also rent them at the visitor’s center, which is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! Dogs are allowed (they aren’t in most national parks), but should be monitored to make sure they aren’t burning their tootsies. The sand gets so hot that you will likely need to wear shoes during the day… but the night is where things really get amazing.
You aren’t allowed to enter the park after dark, but if you’re camping, you can go into the Dunes at any time, and we were lucky enough to have nearly a full moon during our, ahem, trip. We headed out from the campground at around 10pm, crossed the river (which was actually still freezing at night), and headed into the great abyss of sand with no general destination in mind… just a couple of joints and a few edibles under our belts. The Dunes are deceptively hard to climb up, but it’s somehow easy to get high and suddenly have an entire world of endless sand hills underneath you. I always have a bunch of goodies in my “Cannabis Camping Bag”, and was lucky enough to find a few Hippie Chicks edibles, which really hit the spot as we laid under the stars for hours enjoying this insanely weird and magical place.
It’s not that easy to get to, but if you ever find yourself in Southern Colorado, this is a place I absolutely cannot recommend enough. It’s gorgeous, you get a bit of a workout and immerse yourself in nature, you’ll get a tan (hopefully not a burn!), and you’ll feel like you’re an entire world away from reality, which is something we all need sometimes. As always, stay cool and stay high!
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