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The tallest dunes in North America are up to 750 feet tall and neighbor grasslands, shrublands and wetlands. They were formed by sand deposits of the Rio Grande on the San Luis Valley, and the park also has alpine lakes, six 13,000-foot mountains, and ancient forests.

hiking
26 days ago

Awesome park!

hiking
30 days ago

Simply great!

hiking
1 month ago

When you reach the end of the trail, don't stop. The view east is a bit further along. Follow the dirt road and stay to the right up the hill, maybe 1/4 mile further. You will be rewarded with a view of the valley beyond. Enjoyed the hike very much.

Great hike, you get a little bit of everything. Some solid uphills on the way up thru trees on dirt, up in some rocky areas, and then some tundra-ish marsh to a pretty cool lake. Fantastic views the whole way up. GPS is going to vary, funny watching people post the various distances. I got 4.7 one way on mine. Wasn't terribly difficult. Hour and a half up, hour down. As every hike, moderate and difficult is going to be a personal judgement. Its around 3-3200 ft elevation gain up in somewhere between 4.5-6 miles. If that seems hard for you, its going to be hard. If that seems like a day in the park, you'll breeze through! I thought the actual hike was more enjoyable than the destination, but that's just me. Not that the lake was a disappointment by any means. Lots of marmots prowling around the path leading up to the lake. I went and it was sunny - a little overcast, very enjoyable day on the trail. Well worth the time to check out, even if you don't go all the way. The falls are also pretty cool. Little rock hopping thru a very short slot canyon. If you don't have good balance, you may want to wait until after the hike in case your feet get wet, or bring some grippy water shoes.

hiking
1 month ago

The dunes are always a great time. We hiked Sunday mid morning to late afternoon. Definitely a leg burner. Be sure to bring sun screen, sunglasses and extra water! It’s almost worth wearing long sleeves and pants as the wind can pick up the sand pretty quickly. Incredible views

hiking
1 month ago

Completed this trail in a little over 2 hours, so the estimated time is pretty spot (I don't consider myself a super adept hiker). Additionally, I went on a relatively cloudy day, which turned out to be beneficial because it definitely lowered the temperature and kept the sun from beating down on us the entire time. It seemed that 90+% of the people that made it to high dune did not venture further to the Star Dune (tallest in NA). I ended up continuing to Star and it was undoubtedly pretty difficult. There are a fair amount of large dunes between the two points (I believe it's roughly 1.5 mi past High Dune). Overall, hiking up Star Dune, itself, was challenging, since the grade was steeper than I had anticipated. If you do continue on to Star- be sure to bring plenty of water. Good luck!

little water this time of year. late August.

1 month ago

Beautiful, loved having the mountains surrounding!

I'm giving this a 4 because there is no way this trail is 8 miles long. at the very least, it's 6 miles one way. there are two points where you are losing all of the elevation you've gained, just to have to go and regain it again. bring more water than you think you need.

also, the map posted on all trails is not real. it's not a straight path

hiking
1 month ago

Magic!

I didn't hike the full trail, but it is somewhat shielded from elements, has a beautiful view of the dunes, and was overall very enjoyable

hiking
2 months ago

It's my first time to climb a sand dune. I didn't imagine it's so hard to hike on the sand dune. It's really hard but funny. The only problem is sometimes the wind is so strong that you cannot even open your eyes. I think it's better to wear a long sleeved clothes. I didn't wear it and I felt pain when the sands beat me. There will not be many people climbing to the top of the dune, so I felt proud for my success.

hiking
2 months ago

A small hike to see the plants near the Great Sands.

So beautiful!! Could be considered hard for casual hikers, and for avid hikers moderate.

Very neat experience! Definitely tough on the way up. Really suggest going early, especially if you bring dogs! Also make sure to wear shoes you don’t mind getting sand in.

hiking
2 months ago

Hiked Memorial Day Weekend. Absolutely beautiful hike! But please note that the lake is 6 miles ONE WAY, thus making this hike 13 miles if you include the Falls. We started around 9 am, and it took roughly 6 hours to do both and take a lunch break at the lake. Very steep trail, but once you hit the boulder fields it flattens out. Make sure to bring enough water, it gets hot in the afternoons. Lots of people were trying to start the hike (with no layers, visible water or snack supply) when we were finishing without realizing how far it really is.

hiking
2 months ago

Hiking on the Dunes is such an incredible experience. We went at sunrise, and it was well worth it. Some things to keep in mind:
-hiking in sand is much more difficult than regular hiking. It's a short distance (approx a mile to High Dune), but each step takes a lot more effort than hiking on usual surfaces
-we went the morning after a rainstorm. The sand was more packed/hard than usual, and this made hiking much easier. I highly recommend it!
-even though it's counterintuitive, wear shoes/boots/socks, not sandals. The sand can get quite hot and it burns. Even if you start out in the dark/early morning, the temperature can rise quickly.
-be careful in planning your path to the Dune; avoid the fragile plants!
-if it's windy, you'd appreciate long pants, a hat, and a windproof jacket (a rain jacket would do). At one point while sand boarding, I even wished for goggles.

Enjoy!

hiking
2 months ago

Wow. Definitely not a hike for those with weak knees. We planned on camping here, but due to lighting we ended up getting on the dunes around 2a.m. Definitely a challenging, but very rewarding hike. Some of the best views you can experience in America!

Surreal place and great little hike. Water and sunscreen are a must.

Amazing hike. I bit more challenging than anticipated, especially coming from sea level. Started 7:00am at the campground trailhead. Made it to the lake by 11:20am. Back to campground by 3:00pm. Bring lots of water and sunscreen. The Sun is very strong. Also, thunderstorms started moving in around 1:00pm.

Went on a windy, cloudy morning before a thunderstorm and it was a magical experience. Definitely follow the ridges where the sand is more firm. The wind was blowing the sand around, making beautiful eddies but blasting our legs. Wear pants on a windy day (easy to say when it was cloudy) and stay on the windward side of the ridges.

Tips aside, one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, 100% recommend!!! The beauty was otherworldly. If you go beyond the first high dune ridge, all that you can see for miles are dunes and mountains.

Update: we went again the morning after a steady rain, and the sand was solid and cool to walk on. Perfect conditions for hiking, and the patterns that showed up were breathtaking. I walked barefoot in the dunes for hours with plenty of sunscreen and plenty of water.

backpacking
3 months ago

A moderately challenging hike with some steep sections. Beautiful views at the lake though!

Beautiful hike, and though sandy, hot, and hard, it’s so worth it! We tried sliding down in a cardboard box, but it didn’t work very well for us and we ended up just tumbling down the dune. Overall, it was a wonderful trip!

Amazing views on the way! We started very late about 5 pm and went to the falls first started to trail from the falls around 6 pm and went uphill for about another 2 hrs and turn around at 8 pm. We didn’t finish the trail but my gps told me we went about 3.4 miles so we were about 1.2 mile short of finishing the trial. It’s totally doable and worth it. Amazing views of sunset and the valley

hiking
3 months ago

If you're taking your dog, be aware of the temperature of the sand! Nothing is worse for your furry friend than four burned paws. According to the lovely rangers, the sand gets 50 degrees hotter than the ambient temperature. So get an early start, or do a sunset hike if you're bringing your pets.

hiking
3 months ago

Absolutely breathtaking, I am from upstate NY and there simply isn't anything that will prepare you for the contrast of enormous sand dunes against the backdrop of such majestic mountains. There is no marked trail, it is go as you please (a refreshing change from life here in the northeast) so you really so feel as if your hike is unique. Don't be fooled though, the further you go the more you understand that hiking in sand is more difficult than you might expect. There really are no words for the beauty you will see, so do not miss this if you are in the area. If you are afraid of heights, as my wife is, it can really push your limits as you walk the ridge lines heading to High Dune. If is a windy day, which it was, the blowing sand can sting and get everywhere ( I mean everywhere). But don't let that stop you, the view from the top of High Dune is unlike any I have ever seen. Looking out over that vast dune field and grassland is something you will never forget!

hiking
3 months ago

FYI, walking up steep sand dunes is tougher than it looks.

Great hike and since of accomplishment when you reach the top! Definitely wear wind breaker pants and take something to cover your face. The sand hitting you on some of the ridges from the wind hurts! Take lots of water and take lots of breaks!

This hike is moderately difficult but STEEP once you're about a third of the way up. These mountains are powerful and the San Luis Valley can create some wild weather, so don't forget to keep your eye to the west once in awhile (the view is worth it!). When we attempted this hike during early June of 2016, there was still plenty of snow remaining on the last third of the trail, causing us to miss part of the trail that went south at a creek crossing; we instead entertained ourselves with a fairly large boulder field and eventually met back up with the trail. You're getting right up underneath some amazing, high peaks once at South Zapata Lake. Love this section of mountain ranges for the magic it still has in it!

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