Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Colorado is open year-round and has the highest dunes in North America. Great Sand Dunes makes a terrific family vacation, so when is the best time to visit Great Sand Dunes to experience these epic sand dunes?
We love the Spring for cooler temperatures, but we’ve got all the details for you to decide your own favorite season as well.
Just outside of Alamosa, Colorado, at a base elevation of around 7,500ft, the park is home to a wide range of terrane, from wetlands and forests, tundra and grasslands, to alpine lakes.
From sliding down the dunes, playing in the river, to climbing, backpacking, hiking to waterfalls, camping, and stargazing, there is something for everyone in the family at Great Sands National Park.
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Where is Great Sand Dunes National Park?
Great Sand Dunes National Park lies on the west side of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range in southern Colorado.
Located about half an hour northeast of the town of Alamosa and an hour from the state’s border, it is about 2 1/2 hours from both Colorado Springs, CO, and Santa Fe, NM. From Alamosa, head east on US 160 to CO 150 and then north to the park’s entrance.
(If you are heading to Santa Fe, check out Meow Wolf, it’s great fun for all ages!)
Before you hit the dunes, check out our tips for sand sledding in Great Sand Dunes National Park. For more details on visiting this amazing park, check out the best things to do in Great Sand Dunes National Park.
When is the Best Time to Visit Great Sand Dunes National Park?
The best time to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park is in the Spring and Fall. During May and early June, and September and October, you can avoid the peak crowds, and take advantage of cooler weather. The sand can get quite hot in the summer months- the creeks dry up, giving you little respite from the blazing sun.
Great Sand Dunes National Park is open year-round, but the visitor center and campground are only open from April through October. The peak season is May through August. Medano Creek’s peak flow is from late May to early June and is very popular with tourists and kids.
We visited at the end of July. The creek was still running but was only a few inches deep at the extremes. We arrived around noon and after checking out the Visitor Center, we headed to the Sand Ramp Trail Head in the Piñon Flats Campground. The hike is just about a mile to the Dunes Overlook, but it gave us a nice overview and got the kids excited about sand sledding the following day.
Spring in Great Sand Dunes National Park
Spring in Great Sand Dunes can be volatile with blustery conditions. Plan to visit the dunes in the morning to avoid the higher winds. March and April are the snowiest months of the year on average, with temperatures in the forties and fifties during the day and below freezing at night. Snow falls on the dunes about once a week, but it melts within a day or two.
The creek is still mostly frozen to the east of the dunes, but the main roads are usually quickly plowed.
Early February to late March is a great time to see Sand Hill Cranes migrate to the park. You’re also most likely to see Elk in the part in these cold months.
Piñon Flats Campground opens for the season around the beginning of April and starts to fill up by the end of the month as the weather continues to warm up.
Summer in Great Sand Dunes National Park
By the end of June, Medano Creek starts to recede and is dry through July and August. At this time, the park is bustling with visitors. Weekends this time of year are extremely crowded with long lines to get into the park, overflowing parking lots, and full campgrounds.
If you visit during summer, try to avoid weekends and arrive early to avoid the long lines at the entrance. Arriving early will also allow you to beat the heat, as July and August are the hottest months in the park with daily temperatures in the upper seventies and low eighties.
In July and August, afternoon thunderstorms regularly bring lightning, wind, and heavy rain. But with the rain also comes wildflowers and by the middle of August, the grasslands and hills around the dunes are covered in prairie sunflowers.
Fall in Great Sand Dunes National Park
Autumn is a wonderful time to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park. September is still rather warm with temperatures ranging from the low seventies in the day to the mid-forties at night with mostly clear skies and calm weather.
The aspens turn color throughout the month and come October are at their peak golden color. Cottonwoods peak around the middle of fall and snow showers begin to dust the surrounding mountains.
While there is no hunting around the sand dunes, remember that the fall may be hunting season and if you are hiking up in the hills, be sure to wear bright colors. Most hikers, however, do not see any hunting activity.
Winter in Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes in winter is relatively quiet, with almost weekly snowfall and temperatures often below freezing. Most days though are sunny and calm. Around the holidays, and after a snowfall, you can often find people cross-country skiing or sledding on the dunes.
Temperatures in Great Sand Dunes in winter varies, with lows dipping into the 20s (F). Expect snowfall about once a week, with the most snowfall in March and April.
Where to Stay Near Great Sand Dunes National Park
The town of Alamosa, Colorado is just half an hour from the entrance of the park and has lots of lodging and dining options.
We stayed at the Best Western on Main Street. With breakfast included and an indoor pool, the rooms were clean and the price was good.
Recommended Hotel: Best Western Alamosa
Staying Within Great Sand Dunes National Park
There are no lodges within the park, but camping and backpacking are available.
Piñon Flats Campground
Piñon Flats campground is open from April through October. Located a mile north of the visitor center, sites are $20 per night (2022) and must be made through the park’s website. Individual sites can be reserved up to six months in advance and group sites up to a year in advance.
There are seven designated sites on the Sand Ramp Trail for backpackers and twenty non-designated sites in the dunes backcountry. Find out more on the park site.
FAQ: Great Sand Dunes National Park
Two to three days in the park is plenty to take in most of what the park has to offer. A day sledding on the dunes and a day or two for hiking and seeing the Zapata Falls.
If you are able to be there at night, be sure to check out one of the free ranger-led night programs!
No, it is not always windy! In the late spring and summer months, you’ll often have hot days with little to no wind.
In the early spring, there are some days that are quite windy- you’ll want to avoid these days as the blowing sand can be quite unpleasant! Try visiting earlier in the morning to avoid the high winds.
Yes! This park may be a bit out of the way, but the sand dunes are absolutely worth a visit! Tie in a hike to Zapata Falls and you’ll have a great family adventure.
Don’t miss our full post on all the best things to do in Great Sand Dunes National Park
No, you do not need a reservation to enter Great Sand Dunes National Park. There are no limits to admission.
There You Have It
Great Sand Dunes National Park is a fantastic national park with lots of adventures for the whole family. We’ve got the pros and cons of each season so you can choose the best time to go to Great Sand Dunes, as well as our personal favorite time to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park.
Interested in more National Parks? We’ve got guides to Mesa Verde, Bryce Canyon, Yosemite, Glacier, and more! Check out our full section of National Parks posts, including hiking in Arches and where to stay near Arches National Park.