One of the things I love about this national park is that Abby can be with me out on the dunes. Most national parks limit where you can take dogs, so this is a special treat for anyone with a furry best friend.
A few tips for visiting this national park… Check the weather before committing to hiking the sand dunes! Wind storms make it absolutely miserable to be out in the sand, so choose a day with the least amount of wind in its forecast. Nature can change at any moment, but make smart choices to have a safe, fun time. Sunrise and sunset on the sand dunes are a special experience, and there are plenty of places to get away from crowds, as long as you’re willing to hike a bit in the sand.
Get into the park early in the morning, and if you can, visit on a weekday. The line to get into the park during peak hours is atrocious, and honestly, it’s just better to be out in the dunes when less people are around. Plus, the sand gets really hot if you try to hike around later in the day.
Our next stop was the beautiful Zapata Falls, a hidden gem just a few miles outside the Great Sand Dunes National Park. You can camp nearby, but reservations are required, and you can check availability at rec.gov. If you can’t spend the money or there aren’t any spots open, check out the app iOverlander for free campsites nearby.
The hike is pretty simple but also popular, so prepare to be around a lot of people. I recommend going midday as there are less mosquitos. I tried going early in the morning to avoid the crowds, but the bugs were brutal.
Sand Dunes Recreation Center
When researching the area, I saw there were hot springs nearby, so I just had to check it out. The Sand Dunes Recreation Center is a great pit stop during your time in the area. For a reasonable fee, you can swim, soak, and play all day. There’s even a restaurant and bar onsite. The main pool is quite busy, so if you want a more chilled out vibe, you can pay the extra money to hang out in the adults only area.
As a van lifer, this place was great because I could hang out all day, going in and out of the facilities and then hit the road and camp on the way to my next destination.