High Dune Trail
Did you know there are sand dunes in Colorado? Well, the highest dunes in North America are located in Colorado, and the High Dune Trail is the best way to experience this geological anomaly. Though you may have never considered adding the Great Sand Dunes National Park to your Colorado adventure itinerary, we highly suggest you explore these immense sand mounds that are the most biologically diverse environments in the state.
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Route Description for High Dune Trail
The High Dune Trail is an epic feat that demands an intrepid spirit and determination. Though the terrain is soft and gradual compared to most alpine ascents in the state, the sand presents a set of challenges different from those of Colorado 14er treks. Open year-round, the summer warrants warm but sometimes unbearable conditions. The high altitude, exposed terrain radiates heat when venturing in the summer, often causing heatstroke, dehydration, and blistered feet! We highly suggest an early morning or late-night adventure because of the heat and common afternoon lightning storms! Additionally, it is recommended to wear layers and eye protection if the wind picks up as you climb!
Though demanding and technical, the High Dune Hike is an epic experience. Not only is the soft, sandy terrain picture-perfect, but it also delivers a butt-burning workout—free of charge, well, kind of! One of our favorite experiences when hiking in the national park is going barefoot, which you can do in the cooler seasons or in the morning before the sand gets too hot. As you hike, you will also be astonished by the stark contrast of Colorado’s topographies. As you climb up the soft sand dunes, you will be in the company of the snow-capped craggy peaks of the Sangre de Cristo peaks that dominate the eastern skyline. Another amazing experience is hiking in the evening or nightfall when the moon reflects off the sand and lights up the enormous dunes. There is no reason not to hike the High Dune Trail—the breathtaking scenery and excellent workout outweigh any drawback or danger.
Your adventure up the High Dune Trail begins at the High Dune Trailhead off Highway 150. Once you pay the entrance fee, which costs $25USD for 1-6 passenger vehicles, you will have access to the trails and attractions within the National Park. Though this path is well-revered, the wind-sculptured ridges change over time, and worn paths are erased with the smallest guest, so we urge you to use the trail map or trail GPS. Departing from the trailhead, cross over Medano Creek and begin your trek to High Dune. Heading northwest through the sandy terrain, follow the sculpted ridge and the footprints of those who have ventured before you (if there are any). The falling sand intensifies the climb, but we find the best way to ascend is with large steps. As you wander, be sure to keep an eye on the skies, and if they start to look eerie, turn around!
Soon the terrain will become more vertiginous, demanding stamina and patience as you climb the falling path. Once you finally ascend the ridgeline, the path will divert southwest, up to the peak of the High Dune. You will be granted 360-degree panoramas of Colorado’s diverse topographies from the summit. In the east are the glaciated peaks of Sangre de Cristo, in the west, San Luis Valley, and in the near south, Star Dune. Note that pups cannot go any further than High Dune. Have a picnic or simply admire the jaw-dropping views from here before beginning your descent. Retrace your footing down the dune to the trailhead when you are ready. Let us tell you, the trip down is way more fun than the journey up! Run, fall and slide down the slopes of the sandy dunes.
Great Sand Dunes
Did you know there were sand dunes in Colorado? Well, the highest sand dunes in North America are within the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. The Great Sand Dunes stretches over 150,000 acres, or 604km2, and is one of the most biologically diverse places in the state. Over a thousand years old, these dunes loom above the San Luis Valley, providing some of the most unique hikes in the state. The stark contrast of Colorado’s topographies is explicit from atop the highest dunes in the park as the snow-capped alpine peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness dominate the northeastern skyline. Star Dune, which sits 226 m from base to peak, is the tallest dune in the park and North America.
Frequently Asked Questions
How tall are the Great Dunes in Colorado?
The Great Dunes in Colorado tower above 229 m from the valley floor.
Are the Great Sand Dunes the tallest in the United States?
Yes, the Great Sand Dunes are the tallest sand dunes in the US and North America.
How tall is the High Dune?
The High Dune usually sits at an elevation of 2,649 m.
How much does it cost to enter the Great Sand Dunes National Park?
Per vehicle, it costs $25USD for 1-6 passengers, $40USD for 7-25 passengers, and $100USD for 26+ passengers.
Insider Hints for High Dune Trail
- Head out at dawn to mitigate the chances of getting caught in an afternoon storm
- This trail is unmarked, so be sure to use the trail GPS.
- Though not necessary, trekking poles may prove useful as you trek along the soft sand.
- In the summer you need to be adequately prepared for the hot conditions—sun protection, plenty of water, proper clothing, and shoes.
- Night hiking is permitted and extremely fun! Just make sure to obtain a free permit from the Visitors Center.
- If it is a hot day, then consider leaving your pup at home as the hot sand can blister their feet and the radiating heat can cause heatstroke.
- If the sand is cool, then take off your shoes and hike up bare feet!
- Pack plenty of water more than you anticipate needing—trust us!
Getting to the High Dune Trail Trailhead
The High Dune Hike begins from the High Dune Trailhead off Highway 150.
High Dune Trail Elevation Graph
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High Dune Trail Reviews
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