Great Sand Dunes National Park: Star Dune Loop

Ascend North America's tallest dunes for a day surrounded by alpine peaks, a desert valley, and shifting mountains of sand on this 6.6-mile loop in America's newest national park.
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Ascend North America's tallest dunes for a day surrounded by alpine peaks, a desert valley, and shifting mountains of sand on this 6.6-mile loop in America's newest national park.

Mapped by Andrew Matranga

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 10.6

Waypoints

SDL001

Location: 37.7393341064453, -105.517547607422

Hike through junipers to dunefield; enter Medano Creek's "perched aquifer" area, lifeblood of the dunes.

SDL002

Location: 37.7410850524902, -105.51789855957

Watch surge flow in action as Medano Creek recycles sand from E and N sides of dunefield

SDL003

Location: 37.7438316345215, -105.521667480469

Reach foothills of dune and enter sand sheet

SDL004

Location: 37.7491493225098, -105.533020019531

Apex of High Dune; an example of a transverse dune, one that progresses forward via minuscule sand avalanches

SDL005

Location: 37.7479820251465, -105.538017272949

Panoramic views to SE of San Luis Valley

SDL006

Location: 37.751148223877, -105.556503295898

Steep ascent up Star Dune

SDL008

Location: 37.7512016296387, -105.557929992676

Descend Star Dune along E ridge; start looping back to main dunefield

SDL009

Location: 37.7492980957031, -105.558067321777

L @ saddle of Little Star Dune; descend into basin

SDL010

Location: 37.7401351928711, -105.549217224121

R @ Lookout Dune; see Blanca Peak, CO's 4th highest (14,345 ft.)

SDL011

Location: 37.7366676330566, -105.543403625488

L @ ridgeline

SDL012

Location: 37.7355690002441, -105.524864196777

L @ terminus of dunes; follow Medano Creek back to trailhead

SDL007

Location: 37.7514839172363, -105.558197021484

Relax atop ever-changing peak of 8,900-foot Star Dune, N. America's tallest; snowy Sangre de Cristo Mtns. to E

Resilience

Location: 37.7450065612793, -105.55598449707

Deep in a pocket dune, a small desert plant sticks its head above the sand. ©Jesse Ryan

Ascending A Mountain of Sand

Location: 37.7477722167969, -105.546051025391

©Jesse Ryan

Footsteps In the Sand

Location: 37.7481880187988, -105.536392211914

The Great Sand Dunes framed by the Sangre de Cristo Range.©Jesse Ryan

View from Medano Creek

Location: 37.7376556396484, -105.518646240234

Leading edge of the dunes against the Sangre de Cristo's. ©Jesse Ryan

Sand and More Sand

Location: 37.7402763366699, -105.551475524902

©Jesse Ryan

Climbing Star Dune

Location: 37.7514419555664, -105.557197570801

Andrew Matranga wrestles with sliding sand while climbing the park's highest dune. The Sangre de Cristos stand in the background. ©Jess Ryan

Hulking mountains of sand

Location: 37.7415084838867, -105.518814086914

The east side of the dunefield. ©Jesse Ryan

Shifting Ridge walk

Location: 37.7471046447754, -105.540641784668

Walking along a slim, sandy crest. ©Jesse Ryan

Shadows

Location: 37.7482681274414, -105.525947570801

Early morning lights filters over the lip of a dune. ©Jess Ryan

Wind patterns on the dunes

Location: 37.7517204284668, -105.557899475098

Subtle changes become visible in the middle of the dunefield. Blanca Peak pokes out over the horizon. ©Jesse Ryan

Unlikely pair

Location: 37.7470588684082, -105.556968688965

Two small flowers thrust through the weight of the sand. ©Jesse Ryan

Grassy slopes

Location: 37.7417869567871, -105.554443359375

In the contours of the dunefield, grass grows--a testament to the water of Medano Creek cycling below. ©Jesse Ryan

Valley view

Location: 37.7380104064941, -105.547309875488

On the southern end of the dunefield, the farmlands of the San Luis Valley come into view. ©Jesse Ryan

Stick in Medano Creek

Location: 37.7357711791992, -105.523941040039

An animal-looking stick in Medano Creek, low in mid-July. This creek forms the lifeblood of the dunes, constantly recycling water and the edge of the dunefield. ©Jesse Ryan

Dune close up #1

Location: 37.7366561889648, -105.541618347168

Rising hundreds of feet above the San Luis Valley, the dunes can be seen for miles. ©Jesse Ryan

Dune close up #2

Location: 37.7361450195312, -105.540550231934

The grassy slopes of the Great Sand Dunes are visible for miles. Here, a close-up view. ©Jesse Ryan

Descending

Location: 37.7407150268555, -105.553329467773

Andrew Matranga bounds down a thin ridgeline of silica. ©Jesse Ryan

Another steep climb

Location: 37.7499961853027, -105.55785369873

The pitch of the dunes is deceiving from afar, but the one-foot forward, two-steps backward motion can be tiring. ©Jesee Ryan

Deep in the dunefield

Location: 37.7477111816406, -105.550575256348

Criss-crossing footprints laced the center of the dunefield, hours from the eastern edge of the dunes. ©Jesse Ryan

Morning on the dunefield

Location: 37.7461700439453, -105.524223327637

Sun over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. ©Jesse Ryan

North over the dunefield

Location: 37.7507400512695, -105.558128356934

The slopes and valleys of the northern dunefield, backdropped by Cleveland Peak. ©Jesse Ryan