Want to feel like you’re traveling through the desert in the Middle East, but don’t want to leave the United States? All you have to do is make your way to Colorado and visit Great Sand Dunes National Park. We stumbled upon this place by accident since we were camped out so close at the San Luis Wildlife area (which, by the way, is free!) We woke up early in the morning and drove towards the giant sand dunes in the distance, unsure of what they really were. We just knew they were massive. As we got closer we could make out that it was sand—it was pretty surprising because it’s definitely an odd spot for dunes. They seem so out of place in comparison to everything else around, which makes them even more special in my opinion. Around the dunes are lush green mountains on every side, and there’s flat desert everywhere else for miles. It makes sense though because for the entire drive into Colorado from New Mexico, we kept seeing mini sand tornadoes alongside the road; apparently the tornadoes all deposit at the bottom of the dunes and that’s how they get so high. Currently they are the tallest dunes in North America at 750 feet high.
There are obviously no marked trails on the sand but you are able to walk along the dunes and potentially go as far as you want. We even saw some people sliding down them on sleds and boogie boards! Depending upon the season, there is also a creek that runs alongside the dunes where you can swim. If you have 4WD there are primitive roads you can go on which will probably give you a nice tour to the other side, closer to the mountains.
As far as campgrounds go, there are some official ones inside the park. But I highly recommend checking out the San Luis Wildlife area. It’s free for the first night, there’s a lake nearby, and there are electrical hookups to charge up on all your devices. If you want to stay another night you have to pay $15 for a department of fish and wildlife pass. But that’s still probably cheaper than the park campgrounds!
Location: Great Sand Dunes National Park