You can hike anywhere you want in the sand dunes, although there are no designated trails. If you make it all the way to the top, you'll be rewarded with spectacular views of the dunes and the nearby mountains. It usually takes about 1 1/2 hours to get to the crest of a 750-foot dune and back to the base. Hiking in the dunes is especially pleasant on a moonlit night.
In the past, wheelchair users were pretty much limited to seeing the dunes from their motor vehicles and parking areas, because the loose sand made access to the dunes nearly impossible. But two wheelchairs specially designed for over-sand travel, with large, inflatable tires, are available for loan at the visitor center. A helper is needed to push the chair, and the chairs are not suitable for very large adults. There is also an accessible viewing deck at the north end of the dunes parking lot.
The park also has miles of conventional trails.
This convenient trail runs through a grassy area, connecting the campground with the dunes parking area. 1 mile RT. Easy. Access: Campground (near site 32) or dunes parking area.
Medano Creek to Castle Creek
This route, which leads north along the face of the dunes from the dunes parking area, follows Medano Creek upstream to a spot where the dunes are so steep that they avalanche into the creek. 5 miles RT. Moderate. Access: Dunes parking area.
Montville Nature Trail
This pleasant loop -- especially nice on hot days -- runs along shady Mosca Creek, through the lower part of Mosca Canyon, offering dramatic views of the dunes from several high points. A guide for the nature trail is available at the visitor center. .5 mile RT. Easy. Access: Parking area on east side of main park road, just north of the visitor center.
Mosca Pass Trail
This challenging hike, which climbs 1,463 feet into the mountains, passes through forests of pinyon, juniper, aspen, spruce, and fir to grasslands near the top of the pass. It offers good chances of seeing quite a bit of wildlife. Note: Rangers say that each year, hikers report seeing bears and mountain lions along this trail. 7 miles RT. Strenuous. Access: Montville Parking Lot.
Sand Ramp Trail
Those looking for a longer hike than most of those at Great Sand Dunes can escape any crowds that happen to be in the park by following this trail along the northern edge of the dunes, crossing Little Medano Creek and Cold Creek. For a pleasant half-day jaunt, hike the first 3 miles, then turn around and head back. 11 miles RT. Moderate. Access: Campground, near site 62.
Sand Sheet Loop Trail
This fairly level loop through a grassland features exhibits on the area's natural history. Watch for miniature short-horned lizards in the grass along the trail during the summer. .25 mile RT. Easy. Access: Visitor center.
Wellington Ditch Trail
This level trail offers good views of the dune field. Part of the trail follows an irrigation ditch that was hand dug by a 1920s homesteader named Wellington. 2 miles RT. Easy. Access: Montville Parking Lot or Loop 3 in campground.
Exploring the Backcountry
Backpacking is permitted throughout the park, and there are backcountry campsites along the Sand Ramp Trail. The required free backcountry permits are available at the visitor center.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.