The Great Sand Dunes are one of those only in Colorado places that you must experience if you’re visiting or live near Denver. So, it should come as no surprise that summertime can get busy and crowded at the Dunes but summer temps also help avoid those cold desert nights if you’re staying overnight. We camped for 2 nights at the piñon flats campground during the first week of July. We did bring a canopy for some relief from the sun although most campsites provide plenty of shade under the trees.
The nights didn’t get too cold and as long as you’re there during summer months you should be ok with mild night temperatures. There is also Mosca Outpost (a tiny mountain shop) at the campground selling most items you might have forgotten, and the sand dunes national park also has a general store/restaurant near the visitors center that sells everything from Colorado stickers & Colorado apparel to outdoor clothing and ice cream. Side note --- no hammocks allowed at the campground :(
We did two hikes during our visit. One hike inside the park and one just outside. The first hike we did was the Zapata Falls Hike. It takes about 30 mins to get there from the park and it’s about a mile hike to an amazing canyon waterfall. The hike wasn’t too steep at all and we did it with two 7yr olds and one 4 yr old without any issues. Definitely worth checking out and it was fun for everyone!
The second hike we did was up to the highest point of the Dunes. This one was definitely more challenging for the kids and took a lot more work but once again its do-able, you just need to know a few things to prepare for. First thing is the dangerous temperature of the sand. In order to avoid it hike in the morning or closer to sunrise and you will be ok. We did bring shoes and socks just in case and they did help with traction on our way back and the rising temp of the sand. As always bring plenty of water, sunscreen and hats/bandanas. We also brought some sandwiches to eat at the top. The 4 yr old struggled a little on the very last part (and needed to be carried) but the 7 yr olds did it all on their own.
FUN FUN FUN:
A few tips for family fun during the day/night. The visitors center inside the park offers plenty of interactive games as well as organized activities throughout the day. The kids in our group had a blast becoming junior park rangers at the center. It took about an hour and they learned a lot about the geography of the park as well the all the animals and cool things about it. The best part was being sworn in as rangers and getting badges (bonus, it’s free!).
Another must is waiting for the night sky to turn darker and watching the stars. If the sky is clear you can see the milky way with your bare eyes, and if you’re patient enough you might get lucky enough to even see some shooting stars. The kids were beyond amazed, and it was truly an experience to remember. If you’re visiting during the spring, chances are there will be water in the creek at the base of the dunes. It’s always shallow and great for kids. Unfortunately, it was all dried up during our stay due to the severe drought this year.
The nearby general, hiking store and restaurant also offers rentals for sand boards and sleds. They cost about $20 per day. We have seen a lot of families enjoying those on the dunes!