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Backpacker Magazine – April 2008

North America's Highest Sandbox: Great Sand Dunes National Park

The most exotic hike in the United States is smack in the middle of the country: Welcome to Great Sand Dunes National Park.

by: Evelyn Spence, Photos by Steve Howe

The author and pal Tracy track the evening temps (mid 40s)
The author and pal Tracy track the evening temps (mid 40s)
Climbing the tallest dune in the park (750 ft.)
Climbing the tallest dune in the park (750 ft.)
Weaving through rabbitbush
Weaving through rabbitbush
A frosty morning on
A frosty morning on "the beach"
Trekking to 11,466-foot Music Pass
Trekking to 11,466-foot Music Pass

video icon GREAT SAND DUNES VIDEO EXCLUSIVE
Join the Backpacker editors on their 2008 Editors' Choice trip through Great Sand Dunes National Park where they tested the latest gear for the magazine.

Plan It
Great Sand Dunes National Park, CO

Getting There
The park is about 150 miles southwest of Denver. Head south on I-25 to Walsenburg, then west on US 160 and north on CO 150.

Hiking
There are no trails in the dunes proper, but you can wander without restriction. The 11-mile Sand Ramp Trail skirts the transition zone between dunes and foothills. The Upper Sand Creek Trail leads 13 miles up into the Sangre de Cristos. Leave a shuttle at the Music Pass Trailhead or return the way you came. The one-way route is best done in four to five days.

Camping
You can camp anywhere in the dunes (pick up a free permit at the visitor's center). Six designated backcountry campsites are located along the Sand Ramp Trail (reservations and permits required). Backcountry camping in the Sangre de Cristos is unrestricted.

Water
It's bone-dry here. Pack all the water you need for the dunes (plan a gallon per person per day). On the Sand Ramp Trail, water is available from several creeks.

Season
Fall is the best time to visit, with mild days in the 60s and 70s. In summer, temps can hit the 80s–but on the surface of the sand it's a sole-scorching 140°F. Spring temps are mild, but high winds are common.Nights are chilly year-round.

Contact
(719) 378-6399; nps.gov/grsa




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READERS COMMENTS

Star Star Star Star Star
stevo
May 13, 2013

We go every May. Sometimes we stay at the new Zapata campsite and hike Ellingwood/Blanca. Other times we set up base camp by the car at Pinon Campground then we hike into the dunes, or up the Sand Ramp trail to backpack/camp in the wild. The area is one of the most biodiverse in the US with desert, alpine, tundra and everything in between. WE LOVE GSDNP!

Star Star Star Star Star
Sierra
Apr 30, 2013

I think the Great Sand Dunes is a outstanding place to visit. My family and I climbed all the way to the top of the Dunes and were exausted after. The sand was blazing hot when we were climbing down the sand. After all the sand can reach as high as 100 degrees farenhight. OUCH! I would definatly recomend going there to have an incredable time hiking, camping,flying kites and much more!

Star Star Star Star Star
Sierra
Apr 30, 2013

I think the Great Sand Dunes is a outstanding place to visit. My family and I climbed all the way to the top of the Dunes and were exausted after. The sand was blazing hot when we were climbing down the sand. After all the sand can reach as high as 100 degrees farenhight. OUCH! I would definatly recomend going there to have an incredable time hiking, camping,flying kites and much more!

Travis Brown
Apr 21, 2011

I have to say I love this area. I have been to Great Sand Dunes 2 times and plan on going again this June. I would like to know a good way to get up into the mountains and see the lakes, but I am still amature and don't want to get lost out in the middle of no where. Can anyone give me some good directions. Maybe email me the_babster@yahoo.com

ken
May 22, 2009

Doug, I am thinking of going to Deadman, nice big fish in there?

DOUG
Aug 03, 2008

I've hicked across the Dunes at least 6 times,but not by the route the Dunes but straight across from the ranger station to Cold Creek. Then up Cold Creek and over the Peaks to a small lake called Smith Creek lake. 5 days to get there. I was going to go fishing but the lake was only about 3 feet deep, not very good fishing to say the least. Then we hicked dowm Smith Creek to where it intersects with Sand Creek. From there we hicked up to the Little Sand Creek lakes. Then went over a 13 thousand foot ridge to Deadman Lakes both had great fishing. To complete our trip we walked down to the valley and on to Crestone. What a trip didn't see another soul. Any one out there thats done this trip or at least the part to Smith Creek Lakes.

Sam
May 21, 2008

We visit the Dunes regularly. A great resource for people looking for a variety of hikes and backpacks is the guidebook "The Essential Guide to Great Sand Dunes" by Winger. The website www.GreatSandDunes.info has some good info too.

Chris
May 14, 2008

We were there 3 years ago, a stunning place and we hope to go again in September

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