Are you ready for a difficult hike? The hike up the High Dune Trail in Great Sand Dunes National Park is one of the hardest shorter hikes that you can do! However, once you’ve made it to the High Dune peak, you’ll feel like you are on top of the world! It’s a truly unique experience and it’s one of the best things to do in this national park.
I have gone over 60 hikes this year alone and this was definitely one of the most memorable! As we walked up the dunes, wind was howling, sand was whipping us, and we felt like each step took a considerable amount of effort. At times, I felt like giving up and was unsure that I would make it to the top of the dune, but we did it! Once we got to the top, I felt like I could see for miles all around this incredible landscape. I definitely recommend trying this walk, if you are willing to struggle up!
Great Sand Dunes National Park is one of the four parks in Colorado located outside of Alamosa. This beautiful park is famous for having the highest dunes in the entire country. Although High Dune is not the tallest one, it looks like it is from the front of the dunefield. You can continue to Star Dune (the tallest dune) if you have enough energy to go on. Read all about the details of the High Dune trail below including a packing list and things to know before you go!
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Table of Contents
High Dune Trail Details
Elevation: 629 Feet
Type: Out and Back
Length: 3 miles
Description of High Dune Trail
As soon as you get to the dunefield, you will see the dunes rise up to large heights in front of you. There is a flat area to walk on for a short distance, before you get to the actual dunes. When you walk on this flat part, you can test the sand temperature and whether you think you will want to wear shoes or not. It’s also a good time to get used to the feeling of walking in the sand, with your feet sinking in a bit as you go. Once you get to the bottom of the dunes, it’s time to start your ascent!
There is no clear cut path to High Dune, but you can see clearly that it is the tallest one. You may want to take a few minutes to strategize on the easiest way to reach the top. There are plenty of options to try like weaving back and forth or going straight up in a line. The dunes are always changing, so one day one way may be easiest and another you may find a different path.
Once you start walking up the dunes, you will immediately feel why this trail is so hard. You almost feel like your walking in place as your feet sink deep into the sand. It gets difficult to just walk a few steps up the mountain. You’ll probably need to take many breaks along the way, due to the thinner air and tough conditions. Take your time and drink lots of water as you make your way up the mountain.
After about 1.2 miles (this varies) you will reach the top of a dune, in front of you, you will be able to see High Dune. You can follow the ridgeline up and around to the very top of High Dune. Once you get to the peak, you will have unparalleled views of the dunes all around you and the mountains behind you. It’s a seriously epic vista, that you will have worked hard for.
Luckily, the way back down is much easier, because you can just glide down the mountain side. If you’ve rented sandboards, you can even ride them down the hill and revel at the mountainous dune you just climbed up!
How to Get There
The closest airport to the park is in San Luis Valley, which is a small airport that has service out of Denver. If you want to find cheaper flights, then you can fly into Denver and drive from there. In order to get to the park, you will need to drive through Colorado Springs.
Once you get off the major highway, you will drive through Alamosa until you get to the turn for CO 150 N. Take a left onto that road and you will continue on it, until you reach the sand dunes. Although these dunes are hard to get to, you’ll see that a trip there is worth it!
Best Time to Hike
The best time to go to Great Sand Dunes National Park and the High Dune Trail are during the early Fall or late Spring. During this time of year, you can see wildflowers, experience mild temperatures, and the parks aren’t usually too crowded. Plus, the sand temperature is lower, so you might be able to hike the dunes without any shoes on.
You can still visit during the summer and winter months, you just may have to contend with some weather. The summer gets very crowded and the temperature of the sand can get up to 150 degrees, so you won’t want to walk without shoes. In the winter, you may see snow fall, which makes it harder to sand board or sled on the dunes. It also may make the hike up to High Dune a little tricky.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Great Sand Dunes has a fee of $25, but there is no entrance station. Instead, you can pay the fee at the visitor center right before you get to the dunes. If you have a pass, you can display it on the dash of your car.
- Wind can make sand on the dunes fly around, whip your legs, and get into your eyes. You should wear some sort of eye protection to make sure that nothing gets in.
- The park is open 24/7 year round, so you can go into the park to watch the sunrise, see the sunset, or even observe the dark night sky.
- If you want to camp, then you can spend the night at Pinon Flats Campground. The sites are open from April-October, but you have to make a reservation in advance on recreation.gov.’
- Do not take any of the sand with you and remember the Leave No Trace Principles. As always, you want to leave nature looking better than you found it.
- Pets are allowed in many areas of the park including the main use area and the campground. However, you must keep them leashed. They are now allowed beyond the first high dunes of the dunefield.
- You can rent sandboards and sand sleds at multiple locations before the park. You cannot get them in the park itself.
- Oasis Store
- Kristi Mountain Sports
- Spin Drift Sand Board Rentals
What to Bring
Dunes can get extremely hot in the warmer temperatures, with sand getting as hot as 150 degrees So, you’ll want to practice caution when visiting the dunes and wear shoes if the sand feels warm to the touch. Remember to always wear a lot of sun protection, because sun can reflect off of the surface of the sand. Even though the sand gets very hot, air temperatures in the summer are usually in the 70s and 80s during the day but dip down into the 40s at night. You’ll want to be prepared for the variable weather.
- Comfortable Walking Shoes or your bare feet!
- Small Pack
- ½ Liter of Water
- First Aid Kit
- Hat to block sun
- Sandboard (optional)
Great Sand Dunes have some of the most impressive dunes that I have ever seen in my life! Although the walk up to High Dune is incredibly difficult, I think that you will find it was worth it. You’ll create memories that will last forever. If you want to have an even better time, consider renting a sand board or a sled to ride back down the dunes after the difficult trek up them.
Let me know in the comments if you found this hiking guide helpful!
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