Sand Dunes Loop Trail
A distinct change from Colorado’s quintessential alpine hikes, the Sand Dunes Loop Trail traverses the sandy terrain, boasting breathtaking panoramic vistas. This intermediate hike enables hikers of most skill levels and ages to enjoy the incredible ascent along the ridgeline of North America’s tallest sand dunes.
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Route Description for Sand Dunes Loop Trail
You didn’t expect to be hiking through sand dunes on your trip to Colorado, did you? The Sand Dunes Loop Trail in the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is an awesome, easygoing adventure up into the dunes and along the seasonal Medano Creek. Though one of the more accessible and manageable treks in the park, hiking in sand dunes presents inherent challenges and dangers. In the summer months, the sand radiates heat—blistering feet, causing heat exhaustion and dehydration. So be sure to wear footwear in the warmer months, bring sun protection, and pack plenty of water—more than you anticipate needing, trust us!
Additionally, the exposed high-altitude terrain warrants dangerous lightning storms common on summer afternoons, so be sure to keep an eye on the skies and try to head out at dawn or in the evening to mitigate the chances of getting caught in a nasty storm! When hiking in the dunes, we also suggest wearing layers and eye protection if the wind picks up as you climb! Additionally, note the Great Sand Dunes NP charges an entrance fee of $25USD for 1-6 passenger vehicles, which allows access to all the trails and attractions within the park.
There is nothing quite as astonishing as the vista from the dunes. Located in southern Colorado, the Great Sand Dunes sits east of the San Luis Valley and runs adjacent to the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range. The stark topographic contrast is breathtaking as you stand atop the warm sand overlooking the snow-dusted vaulted peaks of the Colorado Rockies. Though there are many ‘trails’ within the park, the Sand Dunes Loop Trail is one of the more easy-going expeditions. This trek is ideal for families and those seeking to dip their toes into the sand dune hiking waters; this trek presents a challenge without demanding too much exertion. Not to mention the tail end of the hike travels along the stunning but seasonal Medano Creek! If the sand is cool, why not take off your shoes and let the soft terrain swaddle your bare feet? This hike is a one-of-a-kind adventure, and we cannot recommend it enough!
Once you obtain your park pass, make your way to the High Dune Trailhead off Highway 150, where your adventure along the Sand Dunes Loop Trail begins. Though this is a popular excursion in the park, the revered trail is often left untraceable as the wind erases the footsteps along the sculpted ridges. For this reason, a trail GPS or map may prove helpful! When you are ready, the Sand Dune Loop Trail heads northwest over Medano Creek and across the flat terrain to the base of the dunes. Here you will begin you ascend the wind-sculpted ridge of the dunes. Follow in the footsteps of those who have ventured before you– if there are any, and if not, blaze your own trail! Hiking up the vertiginous, soft terrain can be tiring, but we find that taking larger steps makes it more bearable.
Once you ascend the ridgeline, you will likely split from the crowds as those climbing to High Dune and Star Dune will divert south as you track northeast. As you wander along the ridge, the enormity of the dunes will astonish you. Admire the expansive sandy terrain that neighbors snow-capped alpine peaks in the east. Gradually descending the dunes, you will eventually reconnect with Medano Creek. At this point, the path will redirect south along the creek. If you are hiking in late summer or winter, the waters will likely have vanished, but the creek will surge in the springs and early summer! Take this opportunity to rejuvenate your tired feet in the alpine waters as you meander south back to the trailhead, marking the completion of your circuit.
Medano Creek is a seasonal body of water that runs adjacent to the Great Sand Dunes on the park's eastern side. A tributary of the Arkansas River, this stream follows from the alpine snowmelt of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, forming a 3-inch layer of refreshing water over the sandy terrain in the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Heavily dependent on the season and weather conditions, the small layer of water that floods the base of the dunes is a popular watering hole for tourists and locals alike.
In the spring and early summer, the surging waters over the dunes provide a perfect setting for surfing, skimboarding, floating, splashing, and of course—sandcastle making. Named Medano to reflect the Spanish word ‘sand dune’, this creek is an extremely popular and unique experience worth trying in the area!
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to hike the Sand Dunes Loop Trail?
The hike along the Sand Dunes Loop Trail can take anywhere from 2-5hrs depending on the adventurer and the weather conditions.
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.
Can you drive ATVs in the Great Sand Dunes National Park?
No, off-roading and ATVs are prohibited in the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.
Insider Hints for Sand Dunes Loop Trail
- If the sand is cool, take off your shoes and hike barefoot.
- Wear eye protection and layers as insurance against blowing conditions.
- When bringing your pup along, be sure to test the sand as the heat can cause blistering on their paws.
- Bring plenty of water—you’ll need it!
- Head out at dawn or in the evening to mitigate the chances of getting caught in a dangerous lightning storm.
- When visiting in the spring and early summer bring your bathing suit and splash around in Medano Creek to cool off after your hike.
- Head out at night and admire the moonlight reflecting off the sand and the bright stars glittering above.
Getting to the Sand Dunes Loop Trail Trailhead
Access the Sand Dunes Loop Trail from the High Dune Trailhead off Highway 150.
Sand Dunes Loop Trail Elevation Graph
Weather ForecastCheck Area Weather
Sand Dunes Loop Trail Reviews
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