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We also traveled south of RMNP to the Great Sand Dunes National Park on our road trip. Unfortunately, we were met with really bad weather and so we didn’t get to enjoy the Dunes like we had hoped for. Plus, we only planned for a 1 day stay there. We will have to plan at least 3 days there for our next visit here.
What to expect in the Great Sand Dunes National Park:
1. Weather change. Like RMNP, the Great Sand Dunes area was really windy! Prepare for very windy situations.
2. Campground information: the nearest campground is Pinyon Campground, just a short drive past the Sand Dunes general parking area. Unlike RMNP, the campground is not ministered by anyone. That means, if you made an advanced reservation like we did, all you have to do is drive through loop B (the reservable loop) and find your reserved site. There should already be a post with your name and how many nights you reserved the site for on the post. If you are planning on doing a first-come-first-serve stay, then you’ll have to stay in loop A and here’s the thing … you will have to drive around loop A and find a site that no one has taken yet. Set up your things, and then go back to the registration booth at the entrance of the campground and fill out an envelope with a check/credit card info and drop it in the box they provide at the booth. If you’ve already made advanced reservations and is staying in loop B, there is no need for you to visit this registration booth.
Now, I had made early reservations for this campground in February too and when I did, all the sites that were suggested online were already gone. Actually, most of the reservable sites were already gone. Fortunately, I was able to book 3 sites that were close by one another and near the restroom (again, very helpful if you have children). Although these sites didn’t quite have amazing views as the sites I had wanted, I’m thankful we got these instead because it was so windy when we went that as I was driving by the sites I had originally wanted (with great views of the Dunes), I saw that their tents almost flew away. Not good for them. Lucky for us, we had a tree and at least some protection from the wind from that. The sites we stayed at were sites 84, 50, and 49.
You can watch this video my husband took of our sites in proximity to the Dunes.
3. Medano Creek was the highlight of why we wanted to do this roadtrip in the first place. We had seen videos on YouTube and saw how much fun the kids were having in this desert place with this cool creek. Unfortunately when we went, the creek was already pretty low (the ranger told us the creek had hit its peak 10 days earlier) and it was too windy for the kids to enjoy it. The creek water was pretty warm though so I could imagine if you went on the perfect day, how enjoyable it’d be! Here is a video of the second day we were at the Dunes (the morning we left).
4. No gas or groceries for miles! Serious. The closest store that had some groceries (hot dogs, beer) and a gas pump (that we weren’t even sure that worked) was the Great Sand Dunes Oasis. Which, if you’re google mapping it, took us the other direction and we got lost finding it. This store/restaurant is actually towards the Great Sand Dunes, not the other direction like our gps was telling us. So, if you’re driving, make sure you get gas and food before you get there.
I think the GSNP is a hit or miss. Either way, you should plan to stay for a few nights at least to allow yourself the time to explore this region and pray that you’ll get 1 good day out of your stay to enjoy the Dunes in all it’s glory!