Best Great Sand Dunes National Park Camping & Incredible Activities

Explore a National Park that’s home to the tallest dunes in North America and surrounded by the rugged Sangre De Cristo mountains and the snow-capped mountains of the San Juans. We’re sharing the best Great Sand Dunes National Park camping and hiking trails so that you can plan an epic trip to this area of Colorado.

Great Sand Dunes is one of Colorado’s four National Parks. Originally established as a National Monument in 1932, it was designated as a National Park in 2004. The park is open year-round with its most popular time of year being the summer months.

10 Best Great Sand Dunes National Park Camping Areas

Whether you’re into backcountry camping, camping resorts, or primitive camping, we have an option for you.  Here are 10 different camping spots for every kind of adventurer. 

Paid Campgrounds Near Great Sand Dunes

Here are five campgrounds, all within 30 minutes of Great Sand Dunes National Park. It’s a good idea to book your campsite well in advance when traveling in early summer through late September. 

Piñon Flats Campground

Great Sand Dunes NP&P, 11999 CO-150, Mosca, CO 81146

Pinon Flats Campground is located inside the park, one mile north of the visitor center. Up to 8 people, 2 vehicles, and 2 tents are allowed per site. Each site has a picnic table,  fire pit, and a bear box provided for proper food storage.

There are no hookups or showers, however, all three loops provide restrooms with sinks and flush toilets, a dishwashing sink, and potable water spigots. 

Great Sand Dunes can be exceptionally hot in the summer months. Some sites have trees that provide moderate shade and others are sunny all day long. You can see a photo of each site when you book through the site. 

**It’s important to note that during Medano Creek peak flow, campsites will be booked well in advance**

Rustic Rook Resort

13254 Lane 5 N, Mosca, CO 81146

Rustic Rook Resort is perfect for a boujee camper and is located less than 20 minutes from the National Park. This glamping resort provides a high level of comfort and relaxation alongside all the adventure you’re looking for. 

There are two different styles of tents available to guests. The 14’x16’ Homestead Tent can be booked with a King Size Bed, Two Fulls, or 3 Single beds. These tents utilize a community bathroom with private stalls, showers, and running water. The Estate tent is 16’x20’, includes a king or two doubles, and a private bathroom.

Rustic Rook Resort provides a variety of amenities including bedding and towels, bath products, and adventure planning. A free hot breakfast is provided each morning as well as s’more around the fire each night. Book your stay at this scenic resort at their official website

Mosca Campground

San Luis State Park, Hooper, Colorado, 81136

Mosca Campground is located 15 minutes from Great Sand Dunes National Park inside San Luis Lakes State Park. Anybody ages 18-64 needs an annual access permit to stay here. Additionally, the fee for a campsite is $20 per night. 

This campground does include electrical hookups, a dump station, restrooms, and showers. Potable drinking water is also available at Mosca Campground. 

Shady spots are limited at this campground, however, there is lake access. With a campground boat launch and a lake view at nearly every site, you’ll want to arrive early as this is a first come first served paid campground. 

Oasis Campground

7800 Highway 150 North, Mosca Colorado 81146

Great Sand Dunes Oasis Campground is located less than 5 minutes from the National Park. The facilities here include lodging, camping, a restaurant, and a convenience store. There are 20 pull-through RV sites with electrical hookups, individual tent sites, group tent sites, cabins, and a motel. 

Great Sand Dunes National Park camping at Oasis includes hot showers, a dump station, and individual fire pits/BBQ areas. Pets are welcome at campsites for no additional cost. 

One of the coolest aspects of camping here is that you have access to the primitive camping life and the opportunity to enjoy three hot meals a day at the restaurant if you choose. Sandboard and sand sled rentals are also available here which makes for a pretty seamless transition to a day at the park. 

Zapata Falls Campground

Zapata Falls Campground, Highway 150, Mosca, CO 81146

Located less than 30 minutes from Great Sand Dunes National Park, Zapata Falls Campground is a true beauty. There are 23 singles sites and 1 group site. Of those 23, 12 are designated for RVs and 11 for tents. 

This is the most primitive Great Sand Dunes National Park Camping area that you will pay for. There are 6 vault toilets available and no potable water is available to the public. Once you leave Highway 150, improved gravel roads will lead you to your campsite. 

Zapata Falls Campground is home to some of the most beautiful views in the area. This is a unique perspective of the San Luis Valley; a bird’s eye view of the tallest sand dunes in America sitting below the adjacent San Juan Mountains is just exquisite. Be sure to book at in advance as this campground fills up quickly! 

Free Camping Areas Near Sand Dunes National Park

These five Great Sand Dunes National Park camping areas are considered primitive camping options. If you’re lucky enough to snag one of these sites during peak season, you’ll be enjoying stunning views at zero cost! 

Backcountry Camping

Reserve a $6 backcountry camping permit through Recreation.Gov for one of Great Sand Dune’s 27 sites. Free backcountry permits at the visitor center are no longer available. 

Camp along the Sand Ramp Trail for a variety of landscapes and views of the dunes from the Sangre De Cristo Mountains. The Buck Creek Site, from the amphitheater parking lot, is the closest backcountry camping site. After 2.8 miles, and the point of no return on the Sand Ramp Trail or the Medano Pass Primitive Road, the remaining six tent sites continue on for almost 12 miles. 

Another option is to explore the Dunes Backcountry and camp to the west of High Ridge and beyond the day-use area. For this one, you park in the Dunes Parking Lot and then you have to hike 1.5 miles up and over the dune’s first ridge to set up camp. Campers will enjoy wide-open starry sky views within the tallest dunes in North America.  

Lake Como Road

GPS: 37.5219, -105.6014

Lake Como Road is located on BLM land where it is aptly named Mt. Blanca Road and number 5410. It’s about 20 minutes away from Great Sand Dunes National Park and a popular boondocking location for visitors and those hoping to climb Mt. Blanca. 

There are four main boondocking areas for both RVers and tenters on Lake Como Road. Campsites are situated as pull-off areas and begin right at the entry sign.

The first few sites are accessible via car, however, as you climb the road it becomes increasingly more rocky. Low clearance vehicles are not recommended beyond the second camping area.

Huerfano SWA 

Co Rd 580, Gardner, CO 81040

The campsites located in the Heurfano State Wildlife Area are an hour and a half from Great Sand Dunes National Park. If you don’t mind the drive and like camping at a higher elevation for free, these are the sites for you. 

There are five seperate camping areas with picnic tables and pit toilets. Tenting or RVing is allowed in those designated sites along County Road 580. 

A valid Colorado Parks Wildlife Hunting and Fishing License is required for all campers 18 years and older. Remember to leave no trace and pack out all trash from your campsite. 

Crestone Camping Area

GPS: 37.990148, -105.685411

Located about one hour from the park, these free and dispersed campsites are located just outside the town of Crestone, Colorado and just before the Rio Grande National Forest Boundary.

You’ll take Galena Avenue East until you clear private land. At this point, there are several areas to park and camp. Tents and RVs will do the trick here! 

The road is bumpy and higher clearance vehicles are recommended, however, cars can make it through to the first few sites. There is a trailhead at the end of the road with a pit toilet. 

San Luis Lakes State Wildlife Area

16399 Lane 6 N, Mosca, CO 81146

If you’re looking for free Great Sand Dunes National Park camping that is close to the entrance, this is you spot! San Luis Lakes State Wildlife Area is located just 15 minutes from the park. 

There are 51 sites available. All with sheltered tables, fire pits, and nearby water spigots. Some sites even include complimentary electrical hookup. With sweepign views of the Sangre De Cristo, this spot isn’t half bad for its proximity to the park.

Like the other Wildlife Areas, a Colorado Hunting and Fishing License or an SWA pass is required for every member of your party who is over 18. A one day pass is $10, whereas an annual pass is $40.

Top 5 Things to Do in Great Sand Dunes National Park 

This park is 232 square miles of unique experiences, incredible beauty, and tons of fun. Here are the top 5 ways to spend time in Great Sand Dunes. 

  • Hike the Tallest Sand Dunes in the United States
    Star Dune is the tallest sand dune in North America at 750 feet! With no set trails, you’ll have to create your own path in the soft sand to the highest dune in the continent.
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park Sandboarding
    Sandboards and Sand sleds are permitted on the dunes. Plan to rent them prior to entering the park as the National Park Service does not provide them. Sand Sledding is one of the most unique, best things you can do with your family when visiting the park. 
  • Splash in the Medano Creek Bed
    In late May and early June, Medano Creek experiences surge flow due to melting snowpack in the surrounding mountains. 
  • Drive Medano Creek Primitive Road
    A high clearance 4WD vehicle is required to reach Medano Pass via the primitive road. 
  • Stargaze at this International Dark Sky Park
    Snag a backpacking permit and enjoy the night sky from the dunes overnight or simply drive into the park and enjoy the night sky from a parking area. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll see the Milky Way. 

Best Hiking Trails in Great Sand Dunes

Great Sand Dunes National Park’s location in Southern Colorado means the best time to hike is in the early morning or late in the afternoon if you’re visiting during the warmer months. 

It is a beautiful place with unique hiking opportunities for explorers of all ages and abilities. It is a beautiful place with unique hiking opportunities for explorers of all ages and abilities. From towering dunes to alpine lakes, here’s what we think are the 7 best hiking trails in Great Sand Dunes!

Montville Nature Trail

Distance: 0.5 Miles

Elevation Gain: 100 Feet

Difficulty: Super Easy

Type: Loop

Perfect for escaping the heat and families with littles! Quick, easy, and shaded, the Montville Nature Loop also includes informational signs about the historic community that corresponds to a numbered booklet you can pick up at the trailhead.

Zapata Falls

Distance: 1 Mile

Elevation Gain: 200 Feet

Difficulty: Easy

Type: Out-and-Back

This is the trail for you if you love mountain views and unique waterfalls without too difficult of a hike. We made it here in late spring, so the waterfall was still frozen. It was so cool to walk right up to it on the ice (microspikes are recommended). The views of the dune field against the mountainous backdrop on the return hike were simply incredible.

Photo Credit: AllTrails

Dunes Overlook Trail

Distance: 2.7 Miles

Elevation Gain: 500 Feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Type: Out-and-Back

If you’re in search of a relatively easy hike with incredible views of the dunes against their mountain backdrop, look no further. Despite the ease and beauty of this hike, it isn’t overly popular so it may be a great place to escape some of the National Park crowds! 

Photo Credit: National Park Service

High Dune 

Distance: 3.0 Miles

Elevation Gain: 600 Feet

Difficulty: Hard

Type: Out-and-Back

High Dune is difficult because you hike the full 3 miles in the sand. It is, however, the most popular dune to hike in the park. With stunning views and close proximity to the parking area, you’ll want to get an early start to avoid the crowds. Don’t forget about sand temperatures, high temperatures at the base of the dunes means you should be wearing appropriate footwear and apparel for your safety.

Mosca Pass

Distance: 6.5 Miles

Elevation Gain: 1,500 Feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Type: Out-and-Back

If you like elevation gain and tree cover, plan for this hike. The Mosca Pass trail is quite beautiful as you’ll meander through Aspen and Evergreen Trees for much of the hike. There are a handful of beautiful views as you climb to the pass, however, this trail is hiked for the journey as opposed to the destination. It actually brings you outside of the park boundaries and into San Isabel National Forest.  

Photo Credit: National Park Service

Star Dune 

Distance: 7.1 Miles

Elevation Gain: 980 Feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Type: Out-and-Back (can be Looped With High Dune)

If you want to hike the tallest dune in North America then you have to hike this trail. This is a physically demanding hike and we recommend you start your hike very early in the morning to avoid the heat of the day if you are hiking in peak summer months. With sand surface temperatures soaring to 150 degrees on a sunny summer afternoon, hiking these gigantic sand dunes in the late afternoon is one of the best ways to have a bad time. 

Photo Credit: National Park Service

Medano Lake

Distance: 8.5 Miles

Elevation Gain: 2,400 Feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Type: Out-and-Back

If you are visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park with a 4 wd vehicle, then you can access this trail. The trail begins on Medano Pass Road at about 10,000 feet elevation and leads to a beautiful alpine lake.

As a national park that is home to the Continent’s highest sand dunes, very little light pollution, and other beautiful high elevation features, Great Sand Dunes is an incredible adventure destination.

With a variety of public lands within an hour of the park entrance, there are so many Great Sand Dunes National Park camping areas to choose from. Plan a full Colorado Road Trip visiting Great Sand Dunes, and the three remaining Colorado National Parks for a full week of adventure!

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