One Day in Great Sand Dunes National Park Itinerary

Great Sand Dunes is one of the most unique national parks we have visited. Instead of a day of sight seeing, it was mostly a day of playing and exploring. And it was incredibly fun.

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Since it’s a rather unique park, I’ve put together a Great Sand Dunes National Park Itinerary so you’ll know what to expect and how to spend one day at Great Sand Dunes. This is almost identical to how we spent our day in Great Sand Dunes, but tweaked so you get even more out of it!

From where to grab your rental equipment, what to do, and how to enjoy the park, here is a 1 day Great Sand Dunes National Park itinerary that families will love. Use it to make an easy, memorable day at the park.

pinnable image of Great Sand Dunes National Park Itinerary- 4 images of sand dunes from different perspectives: sand dunes in distance at sunrise, two people sitting on sleds at top of sand dune, dark sky with stars, sand dunes with patches of snow

Where to Stay

There are plenty of places to choose from when you stay near the sand dunes.

A popular, convenient location is the Sand Dunes Lodge. This is located only a few minutes from the park and 10 minutes from the visitor center. It’s one of the only places to stay that close, unless you’d like to camp.

Since it’s so convenient, it’s often booked. In that case, head to the nearest, larger town of Alamosa. Here’s you’ll find plenty of hotels with familiar chain names. The drive is a little farther, but still convenient for the stores and feeling of being in a town.

🏠 Book the Sand Dunes Lodge ASAP!

We visited the Great Sand Dunes during one of our road trips where we then visited Mesa Verde. Our schedule allowed for one day at Great Sand Dunes, but it ended up being a perfect, fun-packed way to spend the day. We actually stayed on the dunes longer than we imagined because we were having so much fun.

So here is a one day Great Sand Dunes National Park itinerary for those that also just have one day. It’ll still be tons of fun!

Krisit Mountain Sport store, exterior is brown with big red KRISTI letters on top, blue skies behind and empty roadway in parking lot in front

In the Morning

Breakfast

To start your day, enjoy breakfast at your lodge (included at Sand Dunes Lodge and many other chains). Then head to Kristi Mountain Sports in Alamosa (rentals available for GUESTS at Sand Dunes Lodge) to rent your sand sled or sand board for the day.

Rent Your Sled

Krisit allows you to rent for the day, shows you how to wax it and use it properly. You’ll have to return it by closing, but if you’re having too much fun, they have a partnership with a local hotel where you can return it after hours.

Pack a Lunch to Go

Once you have your board, grab some lunch and throw it in a cooler to take with you.

We love to bring our own food to save money, but you can just stop somewhere and grab something if you’d rather.

Then, make the drive over to Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Great Sand Dunes National park, sand dunes with patches of snow, view from the top with a few people scattered walking in the distance

Play on the Dunes

Once you find a parking spot, you’ll have to trek across about 1/2 mile of flat sand out to the dunes. Take your time and just enjoy, and make sure you have plenty of water.

Now, find a great dune to play on for the morning.

We really enjoyed sledding down all day, playing in the sand, and enjoy snacks atop the tall dunes of Colorado.

DO make sure to bring snacks. You’ll want to enjoy a long morning here and a later lunch. Remember to leave no trace… pack out all your trash!

Afternoon at the Great Sand Dunes

Once you are well and worn out from hiking around the dunes (it’s hard work!), start making your way down to the bottom.

Medano Creek

If you are visiting in late spring or summer, you’ll want to take advantage of playing at Medano Creek. After a day hiking up and down the sand dunes, you’ll be nice and toasty and enjoy the refreshing break at the creek.

Let the kids play and dip your feet in yourself. This is a special place people love to relax at the sand dunes.

Late Lunch

When you’ve cooled down enough and start to get hungry, stop at the car to grab your lunch out of the cooler. Head to the covered picnic area to enjoy a scenic picnic.

Zapata falls in winter frozen waterfall

We visited while Zapata Falls was still fozen

Zapata Falls

One of the coolest things to do around the park is to stop at Zapata Falls. This is located right off the road into the park.

Zapata Falls is just under a mile round trip and not a hard hike, making it perfect to bring kids to. Once you reach the top you’ll be able to enjoy a huge waterfall that falls between two mountain walls. It’s a fun little hike with a great payoff.

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Evening at Great Sand Dunes

Dinner and Return Sled

If you’d like a nice break, head back to town to return your board and grab some dinner. This is a nice rest from a long day. But to add even more fun to really pack your day at the dunes, you’ll want some rest before continuing on.

It’s about 30-40 minutes to the Dunes from Alamosa, so this is a nice break. You’ll want to be alert for when it gets dark for the next activity.

dark night sky with splash of the milky way, over the dark Great Sand Dunes in Colorado

Photo Credit: NPS on Flickr

Go Stargazing

When I say go stargazing, I really mean it. Great Sand Dunes National Park is designated as an International Dark Sky Park. This means you are likely to get really incredible stargazing opportunities, and even a chance at the milky way.

Thanks to its remote location, there isn’t much light pollution, giving you crystal clear views into the night sky.

To go stargazing, you’ll want a flashlight to help you find your way up the dunes. Be mindful of your location and direction you hike since there are no lights around the parking area (to protect the dark skies).

Find a great place and enjoy the night sky like never before.

Note: though summer days may bring awful heat, it cools down at night. Bring layers and water to stay comfortable.

brief, written itinerary for one day in Great Sand Dunes National Park with picture of sand dunes with patches of snow and blue skies in the background

What Makes Great Sand Dunes National Park Special?

Great Sand Dunes is home to the tallest dunes in North America. It’s tallest dune, Star Dune, is a 750 foot dune of sand. Pretty impressive!

While the park in whole is 150,000 acres, the dune field itself is still giant at 30 square miles.

Why Can’t we Play All Day on the Dunes?

This itinerary assumes you’ll visit in summer, when most people go.

While you can play all day on the dunes, the sand gets very hot as the sun rises higher. The sand can reach up to 150 degrees, enough to cause serious burns.

For this reason, it’s best to get an early start and spend the morning on the dunes before it heats up too much. And then at night, for stargazing, the sand will have cooled off a bit.

That’s why I’ve filled this Great Sand Dunes National Park itinerary with other activities to do during the heat of the day. There are still other great ways to spend one day in Great Sand Dunes, even when it heats up too much.

However, if you visit in fall or spring (or winter, if you’d like), then the sand shouldn’t be too hot and you can play all day comfortably.

Great Sand Dunes National Park Itinerary

That is a lot to pack into one day at Great Sand Dunes National Park, but it will be well worth your while. This park is surprisingly fun, despite not needing to drive around a huge park all day.

Kids will love sledding and playing in the sand all day. Plus, it’s nice to get off the sand for a short time to see a cool waterfall. If you have the evening as well, I recommend trying the stargazing, which is best on a moonless night.

Even if you just have one day in Great Sand Dunes, you can really enjoy all it offers.

And if you have another day or two to spend there, check out all the awesome things you can do on the dunes and nearby.

No matter how you choose to spend your day, this will be one of the most fun national parks for kids to enjoy.

pinnable image of Great Sand Dunes National Park Itinerary- 4 images of sand dunes from different perspectives: sand dunes in distance at sunrise, two people sitting on sleds at top of sand dune, dark sky with stars, sand dunes with patches of snow

Want more dunes?

Check out How to Spend a Day in White Sands National Park

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