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Great Sand Dunes Wilderness

General Location Maps Contacts Area Management Wilderness Laws Trip Planning Images


The United States Congress designated the Great Sand Dunes Wilderness (map) in 1976 and it now has a total of 32,643 acres. All of this wilderness is located in Colorado and is managed by the National Park Service. The Great Sand Dunes Wilderness is bordered by the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness to the east.


For century after century, streams, creeks, melting snows, and flash floods brought bits of rock that became sand grains out of the mountains and to the valley floor. When sand lay exposed, southwesterly winds began the slow process of bouncing the grains toward the low curve of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains where they piled up to become the Great Sand Dunes. Reaching heights of 700 feet, these are the tallest dunes in North America, and the sight of them lying at the very foot of the snow-clad Sangres can be a bit unsettling at first. This is the only Wilderness defined as a saltbush-greasewood ecosystem, with hardy plants that include blowout grass, Indian ricegrass, scurfpea, and prairie sunflower. It's also the only place on Earth where you'll find the Great Sand Dunes tiger beetle and the giant sand treader camel cricket. Kangaroo rats may be seen dancing lightly on the shifting sands, and the night awakens other interesting denizens of the dunes.

You really should stay overnight in order to appreciate the greatest wonder of the dunes: the ever-alternating colors and shadows as the sun moves across the sky and the moon rises.

Planning to Visit the Great Sand Dunes Wilderness?

Leave No Trace

How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Great Sand Dunes Wilderness.
  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
For more information on Leave No Trace, Visit the Leave No Trace, Inc. website.

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