Updated: October 2021
Originally posted: September 2018
It’s known for having the tallest dunes in North America, but what might surprise you most about Great Sand Dunes National Park is that it’s very pet friendly!
Covering 30 square miles, with high mountain peaks, sparkling streams, and majestic dunes, Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado offers you and your pets much to explore!
Exploring Great Sand Dunes National Park With Pets
Nestled against the rugged Sangre de Cristo mountains in southern Colorado, Great Sand Dunes National Park is a wonderful place to visit with pets. Whether you’re hoping to experience the solitude of the 750-foot dunes, splash in the stream, hike miles of trails, or camp just steps from the dunes, you and your pets will find plenty to do.
Great Sand Dunes Pet Policy
Unlike many national parks, Great Sand Dunes welcomes leashed pets in all day use areas of the park. That includes the play area of the dunefield, Piñon Flats Campground, Dunes Overlook Trail, and along the Medano Pass Primitive Road. In addition, pets can join you throughout the adjoining national preserve, including on Mosca Pass Trail. Pets must be leashed at all times and owners must clean up after them.
Pets can’t go is in the backcountry areas of the national park. But that leaves more than enough to keep you and your furry travel buddy busy!
READ MORE ⇒ Best Pet Friendly National Parks in the US
Keeping Pets Safe At Great Sand Dunes
Great Sand Dunes National Park is open 24 hours a day, year-round. Depending on the time of year you visit, you’ll need to take some precautions to keep your pets safe.
- * During the summer, the surface of the sand can reach 150°F. If it’s too hot for you to walk barefoot – it’s too hot for your pup!
- Acclimate slowly to higher elevations. Both your and your pet could experience altitude sickness at elevations ranging between 8,200 and 13,600 feet. If you’re not used to the lower oxygen levels, plan to take it easy and avoid overexertion.
- * Dehydration occurs easily at higher elevations. Carry plenty of water for you and your pets, and watch your pets carefully for signs of dehydration.
- * Rain and wind storms can occur any time of year. Be prepared to protect your pet’s eyes from blowing sand.
- * Wildlife, including bears and mountain lions, are found within the park boundaries. Always be aware of your surroundings and store food and scented items inside your car or in bear-proof containers in the Piñon Flats Campground or along Medano Pass Primitive Road.
How Did The Dunes Form?
At one time, a huge lake covered the valley between the Sangre de Cristo mountains and the San Juan mountains, more than 65 miles to the west. As the lake receded, prevailing winds from the southwest blew the sand across the valley to the foot of the Sangre de Cristos.
There the dunes where blasted by storm winds out of the Sangre de Cristos from the northeast. This pushed the dunes back on themselves, giving them their extraordinary height.
What Can You Do With Pets At Great Sand Dunes?
It would be easy to spend a long weekend enjoying all the sights and natural beauty of Great Sand Dunes with your pets!
Explore the Dunes
For a view of the entire dunefield, start with a hike up High Dune. This 2.5-mile round-trip climbs nearly 700 feet and is most dramatic at sunrise and sunset when the dune ridges cast their shadows.
The average roundtrip hiking time for High Dune is 2 hours. But plan to take as much as 4 hours if you haven’t acclimated to the altitude.
Try Sandsledding or Sandboarding
If you’re not up for a challenging hike through the sand, rent a sled or sandboard for an exciting ride down the smaller dunes!
Note that he National Park does not rent sandsleds or sandboards. Rentals are available at area retailers, but some are as much as a 45 minute drive away from the dunes. So, plan to rent your gear at one of these establishments before arriving at the park:
- Oasis Store is located 4 miles from the Visitor Center near the park entrance. Hours vary.
To protect the slick material on the bottom of each board, Oasis will not rent sleds when the sand is wet.
- Spin Drift Sand Board Rentals in downtown Blanca is 25 miles southeast of the Visitor Center.
- Kristi Mountain Sports is 40 miles southwest of the Visitor Center in Alamosa. They rent sandsleds and sandboards year round. Closed on Wednesdays.
To protect the slick material on the bottom of each board, Kristi will not rent them when the sand is frozen or covered in snow.
- Spanish Peaks Outfitters in La Veta is 64 miles southeast of the Visitor Center, rents sand sleds and sandboards year round.
Myles thought watching people slide down the dunes was great fun!
Play in Medano Creek
Medano Creek is easy walking distance from the parking area and is a great place to have a splash. The creek is fed by precipitation and snowmelt, so depths vary by season.
In most years, the creek flows from April though June, creating a unique beach environment. Watch for waves in the water — a phenomenon called “surge flow.” Caused by mounds of sand forming and falling in the creek bed, the water surges are similar to waves at the beach.
Take a Hike
When you’re ready to hit the trail, there are plenty of options! For an easy walk try the Montville Nature Trail, a half-mile trail that takes about 30 minutes.
The Montville Trail connects to the Wellington Ditch Trail and offers a sunny, level one-mile walk to the campground.
More serious hikers might enjoy Mosca Pass Tail, which follows a small creek through aspen and evergreen forests to the summit of a low pass in the Sangre de Cristo mountains. The trail is 7 miles round-trip, climbs 1,400 feet, and takes about 5 hours.
Or try the Dunes Overlook Trail. It runs for 2.3 miles, climbs 450 feet, and takes about 2 hours.
Medano Pass Primitive Road is a rough 22-mile track connecting Great Sand Dunes with the Wet Mountain Valley and Colorado State Highway 69. Passable only in the warmer months, and only with high-
clearance 4-wheel drive vehicles, it crosses Medano Pass (elevation 10,040 feet) and provides access to Great Sand Dunes National Preserve.
This road crosses areas of deep sand and traverses Medano Creek nine times. The average driving time for the entire primitive road is about 2.5 – 3 hours.
Plan a picnic and enjoy Sand Pit or Castle Creek Picnic Areas!
Make Your Dog A Bark Ranger
Great Sand Dunes participates in the BARK Ranger program! Ask about getting your pup a BARK Ranger badge in the gift shop.
READ MORE ⇒ Pet Friendly National Parks and the Bark Ranger Program
If you plan an extended visit to Great Sand Dunes National Park with your pets, here are some more places to investigate nearby!
Zapata Falls Recreation Area
Leashed pets are welcome to join you for a hike to see this 20-foot waterfall cascade through a narrow crevasse. Along the way, enjoy spectacular views of the entire dunefield.
The trail is less than a mile round-trip, but the road to the trailhead is 3 miles on a bumpy gravel road. Also, you must hike through water to view the falls.
Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge
The refuge offers a 3-mile auto tour route and the 2-mile Rio Grande River Trail. Both are open year round.
Depending on snowfall, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are also available in the winter. Pets are welcome as long as they’re under control at all times.
READ MORE ⇒ Dog Friendly Off-leash Hiking on Federal Lands
Dog Bar in Cuchara, Colorado
Take a day trip (70 miles) to the ski resort of Cuchara and have lunch on the deck at the Dog Bar.
We hope we’ve inspired you to check out this pet friendly national park! Have you been to Great Sand Dunes National Park with pets? Be sure to share your experience below.
Our Great Dane, Selar, loved the dunes. She was also welcomed at the Ranger talk in the campground, barking when the audience applauded. One ranger actually thanked us for bringing her to the presentation.
That’s wonderful, Jenny! It makes me happy to hear that the rangers are so welcoming to the pets. We didn’t have an opportunity to enjoy one of their presentations on this trip, but I’ll look forward to it the next time. Thanks for sharing your experience!