11 Amazing Trails Near Sand Dunes National Park

Hiking the trails near Sand Dunes National Park should be on any outdoor enthusiast’s bucket list. Sure, this National Park is a great place to visit and have fun, but that wouldn’t be complete if you didn’t hike the trails at the park for some breathtaking views!

This park has one of the most serene and captivating views, and that’s why you should hike at some of the fantastic hiking trails here. Below is our list.

High Dune Trail

Length: 3 miles
Difficulty: Hard
Highlights: 530 feet elevation gain, out and back route

Hiking on dunes can be somewhat challenging, and that’s the case with the High Dune trail. Apart from being strenuous, it’s also one of the popular hiking trails in the Great Sand Dunes National Park, near Gardner, Colorado.

However, you have to be extra careful while hiking here because there are no markings. Therefore, bring a map or GPS with you on the trip. You can also follow the ridges on the dunes as you hike.

You can cover the trail at the High Dune in about an hour and a half if you walk at an average pace. Moreover, you should know that the Dunes shift due to erosive wind and water. 

To enjoy the best of your hike here, ensure you wear sand-proof hiking boots to prevent you from making several stops to shake off the sand, which can be inconvenient. Nevertheless, if you have pets, this trail is also suitable for them.

Mosca Pass Trail

Length: 6.4 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Highlights: 1,459 feet elevation gain, out and back route

Dunes are not the only trails in the Great Sand Dunes National Park! Hike the high mountain pass to get to the Sand Dunes, near Mosca, Colorado. The trail here is rocky, and you would need to climb about 1,500 feet to reach the point where you can view the spectacular dunes in the park.

This area is moderate and not as difficult as walking on sand. The Mosca Pass trail is multi-use and popular for mountain biking and trail running, so prepare to meet a few adventurers like you.

While the route may not be challenging, you should prepare to spend almost four hours on the trail. However, to make up for the long hours, you’d get to see the east, south, and north of surrounding mountains at the vantage point. 

In addition, this trail features evergreen forests, and you’re likely to hike through aspen and a little creek in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

High & Star Dune Loop

Length: 8 miles
Difficulty: Hard
Highlights: 1,309 feet elevation gain, a loop route

Another trail to hike in the Great Sand Dunes National Park is the High and Star Dune loop. These are two trails looped together, with the high dune being the tallest sand in the park and the other in a star-like shape. However, both of these trails are considered top-rated in the park.

Before you set out, you should know that the trail is challenging and primarily suitable for experienced hikers. Moreover, you might spend a lot of time hiking through the high dune due to the elevation gain. 

Since this trail is difficult, you are unlikely to meet other people there, except for some people who love challenges. However, it does take about 4 hours to complete this trail, so be ready for a long hiking day!

Upper Sand Creek Lake Trail

Length: 7.4 miles
Difficulty: Hard
Highlights: 1,964 feet elevation gain, out and back route, lake

Hike the out and back trail of the Upper Sand Creek Lake near Westcliffe, Colorado, at the Great Sand Dunes National Park. This is a challenging route and will take about four and a half hours to cover, and you need to be careful when descending as the slope might be steep at places.

The trail goes deep into the National park’s backcountry, which rises above the south’s dune fields. In addition, the trail features Upper Sand Creek Lake, which has alpine meadows and snowfields all around. 

The best time to visit this trail is May through September and be ready for some serious climbing with its 1,964 elevation gain. The terrain varies from sand to rocky, so ensure you wear appropriate hiking boots and do the same for your dog to protect its paws.

Hiking, backpacking, or trail running here is challenging, so you’re unlikely to meet many other adventurers while on the trail.

Medano Pass Primitive Road

Length: 19.9 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Highlights: 2,049 feet elevation gain, point to point route

If you want long hours hiking, you might be interested in checking out the Medano Pass Primitive road. Completing this trail will take over 9 hours, and it makes sense for you to go on an overnight backpacking trip after obtaining your wilderness permit.

The path that leads to the trail is a 4WD road, and it climbs over the Medano Pass to the park’s northeast. You can either drive along the road park around the backcountry before hiking or start your hike from the beginning.

If you’re driving through, ensure you deflate your tires a bit to make the ride easy for you. Then, if you can’t hike for 9 hours or don’t want to camp on the trail, you can do your bit and return home. 

The route is moderately challenging, so prepare for a slightly strenuous day and ensure you pack everything you need.

Montville Nature Trail

Length: 0.5 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Highlights: 80 feet elevation gain, a loop route

Families with kids and hiking groups with beginners can hike this easy trail in the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Montville Nature trail is short, and you can quickly complete it in about fifteen minutes at an average pace.

The trail loops near Mosca, Colorado and is famous for walking, hiking, and multiple other nature trips. So, if you cannot deal with the strenuous elevation gains and energy-draining Dunes, this trail is for you.

This trail also features educational signposts so you can lead a bit about the area. While out there, you will also see different types of wildlife and plants around the mountain and dune field. 

Moreover, you will enjoy a day out in the sun, and your dog can come with you. Finally, if you need to spend a longer time in the park, you can try some more neighboring trails.

Zapata Falls Trail – Outside the Park

Length: 1 mile
Difficulty: Easy
Highlights: 215 feet elevation gain, out and back route, waterfalls

Zapata Falls trail is pretty easy and quick to cover in about half an hour. In addition, it is well-known, and since it’s easy, it is more populated than others.

This trail features a waterfall about 30 minutes south of the park. Unfortunately, the waterfall turns into a frozen fall during winter. However, if you’d like to see the frozen falls, plan to go during winter.

If you go during winter, make sure you wear microspikes for traction. And if you’re not visiting during winter, the best period to hike at Zapata Falls trail is April through October.

Since the path is pretty easy, it’s beginner and dog-friendly. Lastly, while hiking here, you are likely to hop on rocks on the trail and wade through the water.

Lake Como Road – Outside the Park

Length: 8.3 miles
Difficulty: Hard
Highlights: 2,929 elevation gain, loop route, lake

Check out the Lake Como Road trail if you want a rigorous hike in the Great Sand Dunes National Park. The track is not for beginners. The path is rugged and leads directly to the lake. 

At the trail’s end, you will see Lake Como, an alpine lake at Great Sand Dunes National Park’s south. In addition, the trail is suitable for a full-day hike out in the sun. It also features two access points: the Blanca Peak and Ellingwood point, which is moderately challenging to hike. 

Lake Como road is quite intense, and climbing the peaks is a lot of work. Therefore, backpacking is probably the best option for this trail if you intend to get to the peak.

Willow Lake Trail – Outside the Park

Length: 10.2 miles
Difficulty: Hard
Highlights: 2,805 feet elevation gain, out and back route, waterfall views

Willow Lake Trail is a hiking path near Crestone, Colorado, is famous for camping, trail running, nature walks, and trips. The trek leads to the depth of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which reveals the Willow lake with water draining from the Obstruction Peak glacial trough.

The trail features forests, aspen arbors, and more scenic views. However, prepare to spend about six hours on the track if you want to explore every part.

Nevertheless, those long hours will have you see some of its features like a mountain meadow, steep gorge, and Willow Lake. 

Hiking here is somewhat tricky, so you have to be extra careful. However, it’s fun, and there are a lot of views to see and capture with your lens.

Eastern Dune Ridge

Length: N/A
Difficulty: Moderate
Highlights: point to point route

Another hiking trail in Sand Dunes National Park is Eastern Dune Ridge. This path is more of a free region you can explore as it has no trail markings, but you can find some hiking recordings by previous hikers if you’re interested.

You can access the path through a 4WD vehicle, and you would need to drive to the Castle Creek Picnic or Sand Pit areas. Another option would be to start hiking from the Point of No Return, especially if you have a 2WD.

Additionally, the trail leads to Medana Creek, and you can hike around there for a full day hike. The dune for this trail is ever-changing, so if you find previous markings, it’ll probably be different by the time you get there.

Dunes Overlook/Sand Ramp Trail

Length: 1.5 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Highlights: 265 feet elevation gain, out and back route type

The Dunes Overlook/Sand Ramp trail is a moderate trail and will take about 45 minutes to cover at an average pace.

Moreover, this trail is well marked, so you don’t have to worry about losing your way. It features wildflowers, nature, and a creek. The Dunes Overlook/Sand Ramp trail path is primarily flat with a moderate incline. 

The best time of the year to visit the trail is March through October, and it’s dog-friendly. Moreover, backpackers often use this path to access more strenuous trails, so you might likely meet more people on the trail.

Conclusion

Most of the Sand Dunes National Park hiking trails are moderate to challenging. However, there are more accessible paths, and you can choose those routes if you’re with family or kids. You can go here to find some more exciting trails in Colorado and other states

While out here, ensure you park hiking essentials and wear appropriate footwear and cloth, and don’t forget to consider the weather! Have fun hiking out there!

Emily Winters

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