Updated: October 2021. Originally published: September 2018
It is known for having the highest dunes in North America, but what may surprise you the most in the Great Sand Dunes National Park is that it is very suitable for pets!
Covering 30 square miles, with high mountain peaks, sparkling streams and majestic dunes, Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado offers you and your pets a lot to explore!
Explore the Great Sand Dunes National Park with pets
Nestled against the rocky Sangre de Cristo Mountains in southern Colorado, the Great Sand Dunes National Park is a great place to visit with pets. Whether you’re hoping to experience the privacy of 750-foot dunes, splash in the creek, hike miles of trails, or camp just steps away from the dunes, you and your pets will find something to do.
Rules for pets on the Great Sand Dunes
Unlike many national parks, the Great Sand Dunes welcomes pets with a leash in the park’s all-day use areas. These include the dune field play area, the Piñon Flats campsite, the Dunes Overlook trail and along the primitive Medano Pass. Pets can also join you at the adjacent national reserve, including the Mosca Pass. Pets should be on a leash at all times and owners should clean up after them.
Pets cannot go is in the back areas of the national park. But that leaves more than enough to keep you and your furry travel friend busy!
READ MORE ⇒ The best national parks suitable for pets in the United States
Keeping pets in the Great Sand Dunes
The Great Sand Dunes National Park is open 24 hours a day, all year round. Depending on the time of year you are visiting, you will need to take some precautions to protect your pets.
* In summer, the surface of the sand can reach 150 ° F. If it’s too hot to walk barefoot – it’s too hot for your puppy! Acclimatize slowly to higher altitudes. Both you and your pet may experience altitude sickness at altitudes ranging between 8,200 and 13,600 feet. If you are not used to lower oxygen levels, plan to calm down and avoid overexertion. * Dehydration occurs easily at higher altitudes. Bring plenty of water for you and your pets and watch your pets closely for signs of dehydration. * Rain and wind storms can occur at any time of the year. Be prepared to protect your pet’s eyes from blowing sand. * Wildlife, including bears and mountain lions, are found within the park. Always be aware of your surroundings and store food and scented items in your car or in bear-resistant containers at Camp Piñon Flats or along Medano Pass Primitive Road.
How did the dunes form?
At one time, a huge lake covered the valley between the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the San Juan Mountains, more than 65 miles to the west. As the lake receded, prevailing southwest winds blew the sand through the valley to the foot of Sangre de Christos.
There the dunes were blown by the stormy winds of Sangre de Christos from the northeast. This pushed the dunes back on itself, giving them exceptional height.
What can you do with pets in the Great Sand Dunes?
It would be easy to spend a long weekend enjoying all the sights and natural beauty of the Great Sand Dunes with your pets!
Explore the dunes
For a view of the entire dune field, start by climbing to the High Dune. This 2.5-mile two-way trip climbs to almost 700 feet and is most dramatic at sunrise and sunset, when the dune ridges cast their shadows.
The average time for two-way tourism for High Dune is 2 hours. But plan to spend up to 4 hours if you are not used to altitude.
Try sand sledding or sandboarding
If you are not ready for a challenging hike through the sand, rent a sled or sand board for an exciting ride on the smaller dunes!
Please note that the National Park does not rent sand sleds or sand boards. They are available for rent at retailers in the area, but some are about a 45-minute drive from the dunes. So, plan to rent your equipment at one of these establishments before you arrive at the park:
The Oasis Store is 4 miles from the Visitor Center near the park entrance. Hours vary. To protect the slippery material at the bottom of each board, Oasis will not rent sledges when the sand is wet. Kristi Mountain Sports is 40 miles southwest of the Alamosa Visitor Center. They rent sand sleds and sand boards all year round. Closed on Wednesday. To protect the slippery material at the bottom of each board, Christie will not hire them when the sand is frozen or covered with snow. Spanish Peaks Outfitters in La Veta, 64 miles southeast of the visitor center, rents sand sleds and sandboards year-round.
Miles thought watching people glide on the dunes was great fun!
Play Medano Creek
Medano Creek is within walking distance of the parking area and is a great place to explode. The river is fed by precipitation and melting snow, so the depths vary according to the season.
In most years, the river flows from April to June, creating a unique beach environment. Watch out for waves in the water – a phenomenon called “rising flow”. Caused by piles of sand forming and falling in the riverbed, the tides are similar to the waves on the beach.
Let’s take a walk
When you are ready to go on the trail, there are many options! For an easy walk, try the Montville Nature Trail, a half-mile trail that takes about 30 minutes.
The Montville Trail connects to the Wellington Ditch Trail and offers a sunny, flat walk one mile to the campsite.
More serious tourists can enjoy the Mosca Pass Tail, which follows a small creek through the aspen and evergreen forests to the top of a low pass in the Sangre de Cristo mountains. The trail is 7 miles in both directions, climbs 1,400 feet and takes about 5 hours.
Or try the Dunes Overlook Trail. It lasts 2.3 miles, climbs 450 feet and takes about 2 hours.
Medano Pass Primitive Road is a 22-mile rough track connecting the Great Sand Dunes with Wet Mountain Valley and Colorado State Highway 69. Passable only during the warmer months and only with high-wheel drive vehicles, it crosses the Medano Pass (10,040 feet above sea level) and provides access to the Great Sand Dunes National Reserve.
This time it crosses deep sand areas and crosses Medano Creek nine times. The average driving time along the entire primitive road is about 2.5 – 3 hours.
Plan a picnic and enjoy the picnic areas in Sand Pit or Castle Creek!
Make your dog a barking ranger
Great Sand Dunes participates in the BARK Ranger program! Ask how to get your puppy a BARK Ranger badge at the gift shop.
READ MORE ⇒ Pet-friendly national parks and the Bark Ranger program
If you are planning a long visit to the Great Sand Dunes National Park with your pets, here are a few more places to explore nearby!
Recreation area of Zapata waterfall
Strapped pets are welcome to join you on a hike to see this 20-foot cascade of waterfalls through a narrow crevice. Along the way, enjoy an incredible view of the entire dune field.
The trail is less than a mile in both directions, but the road to the start of the trail is 3 miles on an uneven gravel road. You also have to go through water to see the waterfall.
Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge
The shelter offers a 3-mile road route and a 2-mile Rio Grande River trail. Both are open all year round.
Depending on the snowfall, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are available in winter. Pets are welcome, as long as they are under control at all times.
READ MORE ⇒ Walks without a leash, suitable for dogs, on federal lands
Dog Bar in Kuchara, Colorado
Take a day trip (70 miles) to Kuchara Ski Resort and dine on the deck at Dog Bar.
We hope we have inspired you to explore this national park suitable for pets! Have you been to the Great Sand Dunes National Park with pets? Don’t forget to share your experience below.
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