Well, you drove this far... park the car, get out and climb up. Take your shoes off.. Try a small dune first as you will quickly see when you get to the top, that the dunes go on for a lot further than you can first see when you cross the stream.
Although we actually did not rent a horse here (we did closer to Mesa Verde), it did seem like a great way to explore the dunes and have a great time. This group passed by us, and were the only other visitors we saw for a while.
Horseback riding is permitted in the Monument, but riding is not permitted in the main public use area (off the dunes parking lot).
As you can see from the picture, tent camping is a very good option here. These campers were set up a few hunded yards away from the stream in a relatively quiet area near the edge of the dunes. Just imagine the big sky at night in this dry air.
Notice the horses on the ridge.
A surprise to many is how many beautiful flowers you can see in desert areas. This is particularly true after a substantial rainfall in the spring, but as shown in this picture, even in the hot dry days of summer, the beauty of bloom can be witnessed.
If you get away a bit from the crowd, you should be able to see wildlife. Here you can see a deer grazing just below the dunes. There is also some wildlife in the dunes themselves. You just need to slow down, sit down, and observe.
The roads into and out of Great Sand Dunes offer beautiful panoramas and a typical western US experience. As you approach the sand dunes they grow from a small speck to a respectable size. Depending on the time of year and day, you could be driving with no cars in sight. As usual around here, curves are rare and when they do occur, you often wonder why they made the road curve here!!
It's what I said. It's what I think a lot of people say.
That's the highest dune! I will climb that one.
They get to the top and look around at the sea of sand. It's not the tallest, and in fact it's hard to tell which one is the tallest.
When you go for that dune remember that the quickest way is probably not the most direct path. If you follow ridges up, crisscrossing the way you won't end up with a horribly steep ascent.
If it's not too hot (or too cold) take your shoes off on the dunes - you can save yourself from having to shake sand out.
Of the four types of sand dunes three are found in the park. There are Reversing Dunes, Star Dunes, and Barchan Dunes. They are formed in different ways. Barchan Dunes are formed when the wind comes from only one direction. Reversing Dunes are formed when the wind comes from two opposing directions. Star Dunes are formed when winds come from multiple directions. The higher dunes that dominate the landscape here are Reversing Dunes. The sand originated from erosion in the mountains and as sediment washed into the flats by streams and creeks. Winds from the Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) Mountains and across the San Luis Valley competed to keep the sand in the same location and build it into these Reversing Dunes. Most of the dunes are no longer growing because the sand sheet has stabilized and there is a limited supply of sand. The dunes closest to the creeks continue to grow, however, from the sand sediment in the waters.
The park has picnic areas in a few different parts of the park should you wish to dine in the great outdoors. The easiest to access is the one just across the parking area from the dunes. Some of these sites are set aside for handicapped use.
There is a lot more here than just the dunes. There are several different ecosystems inside the park. There is an area of alternating salt0encrusted plains and wetlands called a "Sabkha"; a vast "Sand Sheet" that contains over half the sand in the park; "Riparian & Wetland" areas near the creeks and springs; a "Montane Forest" that stretches from 8000 to about 9500 feet in elevation; a "Sub-Alpine" area from 9500 to 11,000 feet in elevation; and an "Alpine" region on the mountaintops that are over 11,000 feet.
Get an instant answer from local experts and frequent travelers