Southwest of Colorado Springs and northeast of Alamosa, the Great Sand Dunes National Park encompasses breathtaking dunes and the scenic Sangre de Cristo mountain peaks. It is known for the tallest sand dunes in North America, with some over 800 feet tall. These dunes are popular with hikers and sandboarders alike.
Within Great Sand Dunes National Park, there are several hiking options including the following.
The Sand Ramp Trail skirts the east and north sides of the dunefield for 11 miles, starting at Pinon Flats campground and ending at Sand Creek Camp, on the north side of the dunes. En route, there are 6 designated back-country campsites. An alternative starting point is Point of No Return, about one mile north of the campground on the Medano Primitive Road. Parking is limited there, so check for availability when you obtain your permit. If you are looking at older maps or literature, be aware the Sand Ramp Trail was recently renamed from two trail segments called the Little Medano Trail and the Sand Creek Trail.
The Medano Lake route is a 4 mile one-way trek with 1900 feet of elevation gain. It is moderately easy for first three miles; then very steep and rough. The trail begins at 9600 feet, about a 0.5 mile west of Medano Pass in a stand of spruce and fir trees, then rises as it follows Medano Creek to Medano Lake. Access the trailhead from the Medano Primitive Road (4WD required), which begins near the entrance to Pinyon Flats Campground or from the east via Highway 69 and USFS road #559. This popular trail gradually rises through the forest with few views until you reach Medano Lake. The dunes can be seen by hiking to the ridge lines above the lake. Summer and early fall are usually the best times for hiking; snow may block the trail through June.
The Sand Creek Lakes route is 4 to 6 miles one-way with 2000 feet of elevation change. This route is moderately difficulty. This spectacular area is accessed from Music Pass on the east side of the Sangre de Cristo range. Driving time to the Music Pass trailhead from the national park visitor center is about 3 hours.
The Star Dune Trail begins at the Dunes Parking Lot and is about 4 to 5 miles one-way with 750 feet of elevation gain. This is a difficult route. The Star Dune is the tallest dune in North America (from base to top it is 750 feet). It can be approached from the High Dune, or from Medano Creek south of the Dunes Parking Lot. From the High Dune, the Star Dune is the very prominent high point about 1 mile to the west. To approach from the south, hike downstream from the Dunes Parking Lot about 2 miles, then begin watching for ridges leading north. Its about 1.25 miles to the Star Dune. Expect many false summits as you climb.
While technically just outside the Great Sand Dunes National Park boundary, another popular hike in the region is the short hike up to Zapata Falls. It is a secluded 25 foot falls that has good flow in the late spring and early summer.
To reach Great Sand Dunes National Park from Denver, Colorado Springs or Pueblo, head south on US25 to Exit #50 for Walsenberg. Head west on US160 for about an hour passing through Fort Garland. Turn right heading north on SR150 which leads into Great Sand Dunes National Park.
Overall, Great Sand Dunes National Park is the 41st most popular hiking trail of all 72 hikes in Colorado.