Great Sand Dunes National Park: Sand Sledding and Swimming

Last light over dune field and Mount Herard. Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado. Copyright: QT Tuan

Nestled in the heart of Colorado’s San Luis Valley, the Great Sand Dunes National Park offers an awe-inspiring and unparalleled experience. Set against the stunning backdrop of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the park is home to the tallest sand dunes in North America, reaching heights of up to 750 feet. But the park offers more than just an exceptional view; visitors have the unique opportunity to experience sand sledding and swimming in Medano Creek, often on the same day.

Distant view of dunes and Sangre de Christo mountains in the late afternoon. Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado. Copyright: QT Tuan

The most striking feature of the Great Sand Dunes National Park is, undoubtedly, the dunes themselves. Spanning over 30 square miles, these dunes are a constantly changing landscape sculpted by the wind. Sledding down these dunes is an exhilarating experience. The sensation of speeding down the soft, sun-warmed sand with the wind rushing past your face is truly unforgettable. It’s like snow-sledding, but with a warm, sandy twist. Be sure to rent or buy a sand sled or sandboard from an authorized vendor outside the park – regular snow sleds or cardboard pieces won’t glide smoothly on the sand.

Three girls use a specially designed sand sled (available for rent) to slide quickly down the dunes. NPS/Patrick Myers

Just as surprising as the dunes themselves is the presence of Medano Creek, a seasonal water body that flows at the base of the dunes. In late spring and early summer, snowmelt from the mountains fills the creek, offering visitors the chance to cool off after a thrilling sled ride down the dunes. Imagine the refreshing sensation of dipping your feet into the cool, clear water after the thrill of your sandy descent. For children and adults alike, the creek provides a sandy beach experience with the bonus of stunning mountain views.

Children playing in Medano Creek.

Experiencing both sand sledding and creek swimming on the same day requires a bit of planning. The best time to visit is late May to early June when Medano Creek’s flow is at its peak. Start your day early to avoid the intense midday sun and the sand’s high temperatures. Sledding is best done in the cool morning hours. After sledding, you can head straight to the creek to wash off the sand and relax. Don’t forget to bring sun protection, plenty of water, and a picnic lunch to replenish your energy.

Under the vast night sky, the milky way opens up. Photo by Josh Gordon on Unsplash

For a truly immersive experience, consider camping overnight in the park. As night falls, the dunes transform into a perfect place for stargazing. The park is designated as an International Dark Sky Park, and on a clear night, you’ll see a spectacular display of stars stretching across the sky.

Girl on Dune Summit with Arms Raised Up. NPS/Patrick Myers

Great Sand Dunes National Park is a unique destination that offers both adventure and serenity. Whether it’s the exhilaration of sledding down the towering dunes, the refreshing swim in Medano Creek, or the mesmerizing night sky, the park guarantees a memorable experience. With proper planning and respect for nature’s beauty, this could become your favorite summer destination.

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