A Complete Guide to Camping in Great Sand Dunes National Park

Camping in Great Sand Dunes National Park at sunset

Looking for a unique National Park to visit? Try camping in Great Sand Dunes National Park located in southern Colorado. This park is overshadowed by many other parks that are located in Colorado making it a great place to visit if you are looking to avoid large crowds. 

The size of the park makes it great for day trips, or a weekend trip. I would highly recommend on camping in Great Sand Dunes National Park if you want to get the best views at sunrise and sunset.

Getting to the Great Sand Dunes National Park is no easy task, and a rental car will be needed. There are a few different airports that you can choose to fly into that are about equal distance. Both Denver International Airport and Albuquerque International Airport are about a 4 hour drive. 

It is possible to save about an hour and half of driving when flying into the Colorado Springs Airport. However, it is usually a little more difficult to find direct flights in Colorado Springs, and usually requires a connecting flight. 

When to Visit

Looking at data provided by the NPS, which show the average daily temperatures might make it seem as if any time of the year would be good to visit. The daily maximum temperature is 80 degrees in July. However, there is virtually no shade in the sand dunes and temperatures can reach up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit. 

The best time to visit is late August to late October. These months give great weather, with little rain or snow making perfect camping conditions.

Camping in Great Sand Dune National Parks hiking at Sunrise

Camping in Great Sand Dunes National Park


If you plan on camping in the Great Sand Dunes National Park and want to stay at a campsite your main option is going to be Piñon Flats Campground, which is located near the visitor center. This campground is open from April to October. If you aren’t able to secure a site there are some additional options.

If you are driving a 4 wheel vehicle there is a primitive road called Medano Pass that has campsites, but do not try to access this with any other vehicle. There are also plenty of other options located outside the park. A list can be found here.


In my opinion, backpacking is the best way to go camping in Great Sand Dunes National Park. Recent changes to the permit system now require that you get backcountry permits from for $6.

There are multiple backcountry sites to choose from ranging in difficulty from easy to difficult located both in the National Park and the National Preserve. The most common one for backpackers to choose is the Dunes Backcountry. 

Tip: Start hiking early in the morning to avoid the sun since there is very little shade

Camping in the backcountry dunes is listed as a moderate hike, and for good reason. Campsites are anywhere beyond the first ridge of the sand dunes, which is about 1.5 miles. This might not seem like a lot of hiking, however sand is an interesting terrain. With the additional weight on your back don’t be surprised if you start sinking into the sand when walking. 

Being in Colorado the elevation can also be challenging to some. The height gained is not a lot, but the elevation can make breathing difficult. If you haven’t hiked in Colorado before I would recommend bringing Boost Oxygen. These little canisters of oxygen can come in handy at times if you lose your breath. 

 Once you make it over the ridge of the first dunes you are free to camp wherever, which is awesome. We decided to go about another half-mile to avoid any day hikers that might just be trying to hike to the top of the dunes. 

If you visit the visitor center at all or talk to a park ranger they will mention that the weather can change fast. We experienced a 8 hour sandstorm one night (ofcourse, it was right when we were making dinner) that would not let up. Be prepared and make sure you are camping somewhere that there is some protection other than your ten

Camping in Great Sand Dunes National Park Tent Site

Things to Know Before Visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park

Other than camping there are no additional accommodations near the park entrance. The nearest option is near Alamosa, CO, which is about a 30 minute drive. 

Great Sand Dunes National Park is also a Natural Preserve. Although the sand dunes are the highlight, there is a lot of area around the sand dunes to also explore.

If you like adventure try sandboarding or sledding down the sand dunes. Boards can be rented on a daily rate from Oasis, which is located right outside the entrance of Great Sand Dunes National Park. Oasis also has a small restaurant, gift shops, and showers (these come in handy if you’ve been camping for a few days!)

Star Dune is located inside of Great Sand Dunes National Park, this is the largest sand dune in North America standing at over 750 feet tall.

Dogs are allowed to join in on the adventure! This is one of the few National Parks that allow dogs off paved trails.

Camping in Great Sand Dunes Resting in the heat

Packing List

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  • Tent (remember to bring sand stakes)
  • Headlight
  • Clothes for warm weather
  • Clothes for cold weather
  • Raingear
  • Cookware and utensils (propane stoves only in dune backcountry)
  • Food
  • First-aid kit
  • Sleepingbag
  • Sunscreen

If you are interested in other National Park blogs check out my trip to Denali National Park!

One Reply to “A Complete Guide to Camping in Great Sand Dunes National Park”

  1. 4 Super Dog Friendly National Parks says: January 12, 2022 at 7:20 pm

    […] Colorado and looking to visit a dog friendly National Park? Try checking out Great Sand Dunes National Park. This park is a hidden gem, and will help you escape from some of the bigger National Parks in […]

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