Great Sand Dunes National Park {National Parks with Kids}

One of our newest favorite family activities?  Exploring National Parks when we get the chance!

In the spring, the kids and I were still living in Colorado before we joined the husband in Washington.  We headed out camping in New Mexico near Taos for the weekend, and, on the way back, we stopped at Great Sand Dunes National Park near Alamosa.

Great Sand Dunes is home to the highest sand dunes in North America and part of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain range. We learned they were formed from soil and sand deposits from the Rio Grande and that the winds make the dunes change shape every day!  We also discovered that one of the coolest things at the sand dunes is sliding down them.

Like all National Parks, Great Sand Dunes offers the Junior Ranger program and the kids decided to try it out.  Much of the information is available in the visitor centers, so they were able to fill out quite a bit before we headed out.

Closer to the sand dunes is a parking lot for passenger vehicles, along with a very small paved area.  Once you head onto the dunes, it is ALL sand.  Medano creek separates the flatter area from the dunes--it's shallow and only flows part of the year, but it is very COLD fresh water!

The best activity, by far, is trying to sled the sand dunes.  The kids gave it a fair try, but the sand was a bit dry for it.  We were recommended to try again when the sand was a bit wetter and to use flat wood sleds versus plastic.  The kids hiked quite a ways out while I watched from a higher, yet closer perch.  Walking in sand is a crazy amount of hard work.

The park rangers also warned us that storms could blow in very quickly and that you absolutely MUST get off the dunes if they do.  We were lucky (unlucky?) to get to see one and it is amazing how quickly the weather changes.  Thankfully, the kids had already earned their ranger badges and tried sledding before we had to leave.

Our recommendations:
  • Bring footwear you can walk in and get wet!  The creek is exceedingly cold and the sand can be exceedingly hot (we did not experience the hot sand, but there are plenty of warnings).  
  • Use wooden sleds or flat plywood boards to sled down the sand.  It works better.
  • Try and find Zapata Falls!  The weather precluded us from doing so, but the rangers told us that the hike is pretty and you get to go through a cave.