5 Essential Tips for Visiting The Great Sand Dunes National Park By RV
For some baffling reason, the Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado doesn’t receive nearly as much credit and attention as it should. With the tallest sand dunes in all of North America (some up to 750 feet) and a vast amount of land full of wildlife, it’s one of the most unique national parks in the entire country.
Many people who visit RV parks in Colorado, including our own Cool Sunshine RV resort, come to the state in hopes of visiting The Great Sand Dunes. However, this isn’t a national park you should visit without preparation.
Here are some of the top tips to keep in mind as you pack up your mobile home and head our way. It pays to think ahead if you want to have a good time at the dunes, and these tidbits of advice will help you make the most of your memorable experience.
1) Bring Enough Sunscreen for Everyone
This may sound like a no brainer, but many people don’t realize that the addition of light-colored sand to an already warm day can dramatically increase your chance of burning.
When it’s just 90 degrees outside, the sand can reach over 120 degrees. Plus, the reflection on the surface of the sand leads to extra sunshine on your sensitive skin.
Also, don’t assume that summer is the only time of the year that can lead to sunburns. Even when the sand dunes are coated with snow in some of the winter months, you can still get a scorching sunburn on your skin if the sun is strong enough. Do yourself a favor and pack a full tube of protection no matter when you visit.
If you’ve already made your way to the area without packing sunscreen, don’t fret. Many of the travel trailer parks you might stay at will either sell sunscreen themselves or be able to point you to a nearby store that does.
2) Dress for the Hot Sand
As we just pointed out, the sand can reach unbearably hot temperatures during certain times of the year. That means you need to dress accordingly if you don’t want to suffer burns on your skin when you come in contact with the dunes.
Starting in the May afternoons, the NPS says that the dunes can reach up to 150 degrees. That doesn’t just mean burns – it could mean third-degree burns, so truly think about how you’ll protect your skin. Additionally, the dunes can experience high winds that throw burning sand about and potentially irritate your skin.
When out at the dunes, you’ll want to bring:
- A sun hat
- Sun gloves
- A long-sleeve shirt that offers UV protection
- A bandana or some sort of face cover
However, other areas of the national park require different kinds of attire. If you want to swim in the river or hike, you’ll need to pack those kinds of clothing as well.
3) Visit at the Right Time of Year
The San Luis Valley, Colorado, as well as the Sand Dunes, certainly have their popular tourist seasons. The National Park Service even goes as far as to request that visitors avoid coming in late May and early June as there are often overflowing parking lots, limited accommodations, and long lines of traffic.
If you’re hoping to see the dunes while the weather is warm and the creek is swimmable, the best plan is to come during the weekdays of the early summer when crowds are at a minimum. You may also want to consider trekking out in the early month of May before school is out and the families arrive in waves.
4) Look Into Any Sand Sports Ahead of Time
A large chunk of the Great Sand Dunes visitors come to experience the unique sports offered on the tall heaps of sand. You can sled, sandboard, and even ski your way down the dunes, as long as you plan to do so in advance.
Renting the equipment for the sand dunes is a great idea, but you’ll need to do so ahead of your visit if you want to be sure you’ll get what you need. For a list of places where you can rent equipment, visit the NPS recommendation page.
You may bring your own equipment such as homemade sleds, but they won’t slide as well on the sand. Plastic items tend to dig or drag, providing a less than enjoyable experience in comparison to items made specifically for sand.
Keep in mind that the kinds of sand sports you’ll be able to try will depend on the weather and conditions at the park. For instance, sandboards and sleds work in pretty much any weather, but skis only slide well after some rain or snow.
5) Don’t Forget to Explore Less Popular Parts of the Park
Although you should certainly try out sand sports and spend plenty of time at the dunes, we also recommend exploring the lesser-known activities the park has to offer, including hiking and backpacking.
There are several trails that will take you up for great views of the dunes and help you explore every inch of the sand-covered area. However, there are also forested trails that offer a much-needed respite from the heat of the sand. Try Mosca Trail or Sand Ramp Trail for a shaded break in some green nature.
If you really want to see some wildlife, get out of the RV parks and campgrounds and head to the grasslands and shrublands where migrating herds of elk can often be found, among other animals. If you’re lucky, you may even get to see a bear or two while backpacking – but be careful!
The famous Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve has so much to offer visitors of all kinds. The more you can learn before you go, the more prepared you’ll be to have an amazing time and create life-long memories.
For RV accommodations near the park, look no further than our own Cool Sunshine RV Park. With us, you can maintain the comfort of home while also embracing the many adventures that this part of Colorado has to offer.