Great Sand Dunes National Park
“It does not matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop.” -Confucius
There is so much more to explore than sand at the Great Sand Dunes National Park. You have mountains, foothills, diverse forests, and grasslands. We spent most our limited time at the dunes. But I would love to go back and spend more time exploring. And I would really like to camp one night out on the dunes. For this trip we stayed at the Oasis Duplex. The view was wonderful and the room worked well for the two nights we were there. We had plenty of space for the 5 of us to move around. After checking in and unloading the van, we headed to the dunes to see the sun set. It was so peaceful and beautiful just sitting out on a dune as the sun was going down. The temperature was cooler and it wasn’t crowded at all. I think evenings were my favorite time on the dunes.
Morning at the Great Sand Dunes: The next morning we were up early and ready to hit the dunes. We had two goals: to hike to the highest point, and to take turns sledding as we headed back down. We stopped at the Oasis and rented two sleds, and then made our way into the park.
We Quest for Adventure Tip: (Not sure if this a tip or just something to think about) We rented two sleds because they were $20 each, and we were on a tight budget. If we get to go again, I will probably spring for more sleds (at least one more, so each kid could have one). It is really tiring to walk back up a big slope to let another person have a turn!
With our sleds in tow, we set out on our hike up to Star Dune. Just so you know, the dune you see from the parking lot is actually High Dune, not Star Dune. We did not realize this when we set out on our quest to hike to Star Dune. It was a hard hike to the top of High Dune, and it was there that we realized we still had more to go! I’m sure you are on the edge of your seat wondering if we continued with our quest? Well I was ready to throw in the towel, until we did a head count and realized we were short one adventurer. Yep, Addy had continued on to Star Dune. That sweet daughter of ours was up there hiking by herself without paying any attention to what we were doing. So up we went to finish what we started out to do. And we did it!!! It was quite the accomplishment…to me anyway:)
We rested at the top for a bit, and then we worked on our second goal...sledding back down. We all had a blast. It was worth the money to rent the sleds. We spent about 5 hours hiking and sledding. As we were leaving the dunes, there were quite a few people just getting started. I would suggest getting there early if you are going to spend time hiking. The sand can get really hot by midday.
Next it was time for lunch, and we had plans to meet some dear friends (who drove down from Colorado Springs) for a picnic, a visit to the Visitor Center, and then an afternoon hike to Zapata Falls.
Afternoon at Zapata Falls: The water at Zapata Falls was so cold, but welcomed after our hot and sandy morning. Like most waterfalls, you have to work a bit to get to the prize. To get to Zapata Falls from the Visitor Center, you drive south 8 miles, then turn left (east) onto a dirt road at the Zapata Falls Recreational Area sign. It is a 3.5 mile drive up to the trailhead on a very rough and bumpy road. It took us about 20 minutes to make the drive.
The trail is a short hike to the water and then you wade through the chilly water and maneuver over slippery rocks into a crevasse where the 30 ft. high falls cascade onto a ledge. The kids had a blast walking through the cold water. Because it was somewhat crowded on the day we went, I did not get a good picture of the waterfall:( We spent a little time playing in the cold water, before heading back down the trail to the car.
Evening back at the Great Sand Dunes: Food options are very limited, so we had dinner at the Oasis Restaurant. We were all hungry after a full day, so the food hit the spot. After dinner we went back out to the dunes for some more sledding fun. This time we had some handmade sleds that our friends brought. Armed with a can of Pam cooking spray, we were ready to hit the sand. These sleds were way better than the sleds we had rented. Not sure if it was the Pam we sprayed on the bottom, or the design, but whatever the reason they went really fast. The Great Sand Dunes National Park is such a treasure. It was well worth the visit!!
A Few Tips Learned from our Trip:
The best time to hike the dunes is in the morning or evening (we were there in early June). The crowds are low, and the sand is not hot.
Wear closed toed shoes, or socks with your sandals. Might not be very fashionable, but your feet will thank me. Especially if you hike during the middle of the day.
If you hike to Zapata Falls, wear shoes that will protect your feet and that you don’t mind getting wet.
Bug spray is a good idea to bring along. Especially when hiking to Zapata Falls.