The treadmill can be a bit boring. I always come back from a hiking trip and try to mimic the same movements and excitement on a machine and it just isn't the same. We spent the Thanksgiving holiday road tripping to through Arizona, New Mexico and ending up in Colorado for the week. On my bucket list was a quick 2 hour day drive from our cabin base at Pagosa Springs to the Great Sand Dunes National Park. What we discovered there was an incredible feast for the eyes and also a kick-ass workout for the body. From afar, climbing the dunes looked totally do-able. We had just finished a 12 mile hike through National Forest a few days prior so I figured I was ready for anything. Oh, how wrong I was! Trying to conquer these sand dunes was like trying to run on the beach and climb a mountain at the same time. Every time we made it to the top of one dune, another bigger, steeper one loomed behind it. But I don't think I have ever been happier. My fiance and I had to bear crawl up the steep side of a massive sand hill, all while cheering each other on and feeling like we could conquer anything we set our minds to. My mom was with us, and even she enjoyed a walk and a bit of a climb before resting on the ridge line of a dune to just take in the beauty.
It's pretty accessible, particularly in the spring/summer/fall months. This was probably the last day I would advise people to come here because it had barely began to really snow for the season. Also, there's a bison park directly across from the dunes and I think it's all best explored during the dry, sunnier days of the year. The campground also closes November 1 through March 31 so unless you have a cabin nearby like we did, I suggest not getting stuck out there.
How to Get There:
- From Denver it's an easy drive down 285 about 4 hours
- From Albuquerque, NM it's also about 4 hours and only a few main roads. Take 25 to 285 then to 160 to get to the park. This is a fun route because you can stop in Sante Fe on the way!
What to Do
- Be advised that during the summer months the sand can burn your feet, so explore early morning or late afternoon
- Try the quick hike to Zapata Falls for a quick dip under the waterfall.
- Visit Zapata Ranch to admire the plains Bison conservation program
- There's not a ton of light pollution out here so camp out on a clear night and photograph the Milky Way and some of the clearest stars you'll see in Colorado!
- Throw a full moon ceremony on the dunes. The light from the Full Moon lights up the dunes and you won't even need a flashlight to explore.