Family Dunes

We managed to snag a campsite reservation at Great Sand Dunes National Park thanks to a last minute cancellation posted on one of the family camping FB Groups. With only a few days notice, we jumped into a flurry of activity to get pending work with deadlines wrapped up, kept the kids entertained and packed our GMC Terrain to the brim—as we always do when camping. So. Much. Gear.

In fact, we ended up giving up a night of camping in lieu of not going totally mad trying to make it work. The reservation was from Thursday to Sunday over the 4th of July weekend but we just weren’t ready to roll out by Thursday afternoon. So we took a deep breath and settled on heading down first thing Friday morning to ensure we didn’t forget anything (important) in a mad rush only to get there in the dark and risk the kids’ moods in the process.

The drive down from Boulder was relatively easy. Lots of construction along I-25 south of Denver, but once we broke free of the greater Denver area it was smooth sailing to Pueblo where we stopped at the Riverwalk to stretch legs before pushing westward to the park.

At Camp

Our campsite was on the dune side of the campground—no one between us and the dunes. We had a nice big tree in the southwest corner of our site which provided lots of afternoon shade. A welcome relief after seeing many of the camp sites had next to no trees or shade any time of day.

With our late afternoon arrival, we went right from setting up camp to making dinner. With the days near their longest of the year, we still had plenty of light to make the quarter of a mile hike down to the edge of the dunes to scout things out and make a plan for the next day.

It was an easy quarter-mile walk from our campsite down a single track trail to the dunes. The kids were amazed at the piles of sand and couldn’t resist crawling and rolling around in it. We got a good look at where we wanted to go the next day and had to pry the kids out of the sand to get back to the tent.

We woke shortly after the sun rose and slowly started to get ready for the day with breakfast and gathering all the gear for what was essentially a “beach day”. We didn’t get going until a little after 10am—a very lazy (and wonderful) start to the day. At the foot of the dunes, we were excited to find there was still some water flowing from Medano Creek and we set up a little camp with a beach umbrella for some shade along the water flow on the sand. Of course, the kids had no interest in playing where we set up the shade and were soon done with the water and heading up the nearest dune to roll down it.

We brought snacks but headed back to camp for lunch and some quiet (maybe nap) time. The tent was nicely shaded and the kids were ready for the down time after playing hard in the sand and sun.

For the afternoon we took a drive up the Medano Pass Primitive Road. Our GMC Terrain is All-wheel drive, but not 4-wheel drive, and it doesn’t have great ground clearance so we only drove as far as the Sand Ramp Trailhead and went for a short walk. We discovered this is where we’d like to come explore more of next time we visit. We’re also keen to do the Medano Pass road which is described as a fun 4×4 adventure.

We got back to the tent just in time to hunker down as a small rain storm came though and cooled the air nicely. We then emerged to make dinner, watch the sun set behind the dunes and bed down for the night. The next morning we did a small stint of the Dunes Overlook trail—again, something we’d like to do all of but would rather start much earlier in the morning so we can do it in the cooler part of the day.

The kids passed out on the drive home and we’re already dreaming of a return trip a little earlier in the year to have more water in the creek and when the kids are a little older to hike deeper into the dunes.



About the author

Adventure Correspondent Cameron L. Martindell is a freelance adventure travel and expedition writer, photographer and filmmaker who founded in 2000. He has contributed to Elevation Outdoors Magazine, The Gear Junkie, National Geographic, The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Outside, Backpacker, Wired, Australian Geographic, and others. He has been to all seven continents and lived on five of them, including a four-month stint at the South Pole. Cameron has more than 10 years of mountain search and rescue experience, is an Eagle Scout, has been an Australian bush firefighter, competes in sailing regattas, plans national and international youth programs, guides Oregon rafting trips and Australian bush backpacking trips.

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