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Old 09-23-2008, 11:01 AM   #1
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Great Sand Dunes National Park

Shhhhhhh! This is a secret. I’m only telling this to fellow Airstreamers. DON’T TELL ANYBODY ELSE! Its already crowded enough!

If you are travelling through Colorado and have the opportunity to swing through the south-central area, you should make it a point – go out of your way – to see the Great Sand Dunes National Park. If your travels take you north/south, forgo I-25 and instead take state highway 285 and 17. If you’re going east/west, take highway 160. In all cases, a beautiful drive. See map below.

If you’re just passin’ thru, give yourself a half-day to hike on the dunes. This is an experience not to miss. If you’re in decent shape, you can make it to the top of the highest dune and back down in two to four hours. Bring water, and a hat. Also, be prepared to walk across a shallow river that runs between the dunes parking lot and the access to the dunes.

If you only make it halfway to the top, its worth it – but to get all the way up and enjoy the full 360 view is spectacular.

For overnight stays, you have two options near the park – the San Luis Lakes State Park and the Great Sand Dunes National Park, run by the National Park Service. I have pictures of both below.

We stayed at the National Park in June. Its snuggled in between the dunes and the Sangre de Cristo mountains. You can read more about it here. The park is nice, clean and convenient to the dunes. Only a few sites have good views of the dunes – many are screened in the low trees native to the area. Sites are first-come, first-served. No reservations. To get a good spot, YOU MUST ARRIVE BEFORE NOON. To get any spot, you’d better get there before 3 p.m. We got there at 2 p.m. on a weekday in early June and got the last spot big enough for the trailer. That’s another thing – there aren’t many sites that will accommodate a larger trailer. Ours is 30’ and pretty much maxed-out the biggest spot. I wouldn’t have wanted to try to get a 34-footer in there. The sites have electric hookup only, are fairly small and close together.

There’s more to do than just hike the dunes, but we were on our way elsewhere and couldn’t take the time. Take an extra 30 minutes and go to the information center. There’s a walking tour that explains the origins of the dunes – very interesting.

In September, we stayed in the San Luis Lakes State Park. More about it here. This park is about 5 miles west the dunes as the crow flies, and borders the San Luis Lakes. Like all Colorado State Parks, the sites have electric hookup only, although ours happened to be right next to a fresh water outlet. Views from this park are fabulous (see pics below). The lakes aren’t great close-up, but they provide a nice foreground to the mountains and the dunes. You can reserve your spot through ReserveAmerica online – the best sites are on the east side of the Mosca A Loop. Watching sunset (and sunrise) from this park is almost better than being close up in the National Park. These sites are larger and better spaced than the National Park – many are pull through – and can accommodate the big MoHo’s. Be sure to check seasonal dates – we showed up on Sept. 13th without a reservation and found they were closing for the season on Sept. 14th.

The local area is flat and agricultural. There’s an alligator farm (!) nearby that everybody jokes about – but it’s the real thing. We didn’t stop in, but kids might enjoy it. The drive north on 17/285 is well worth it – a flat valley bordered by mountains on both sides. We split right at Leadville and took highway 91 to Copper Mountain. Gorgeous drive, no problem for the trailer (30’ with F250 Turbodiesel).
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Hey, its the only way to be sure!
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Old 09-23-2008, 11:18 AM   #2
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Wow!!!!!! Thanks for sharing this's gorgeous! And, we also have a 30-footer, so the campground tips are helpful, too.

I wonder how long this has been a National Park....

2004 30' Airstream Classic
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Old 09-23-2008, 11:35 AM   #3
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Great place, epically in the late spring and early fall. BTW, I love the geese shot.

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Old 09-23-2008, 12:08 PM   #4
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That is a great spot, great part of the country; we'll be down there in a couple of weeks.
Thanks to you, it'll prolly be full!
"A settled wisdom, plus the itch to be elsewhere"
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Old 09-23-2008, 02:15 PM   #5
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LOTS of national forest campgrounds in the area..............Take the road over to Chama and you pass a bunch of them........Maybe take a steam engine train ride out of Antonito................Dennis
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Old 09-23-2008, 03:21 PM   #6
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College Town USA , Virginia
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Great Sand Dunes is a really interesting spot to visit and with all the other sights in that region of our great country, Chama, Taos, Rio Grande Gorge and north into the high Rockies etc etc it's not to be missed if you're traveling in that region. We recommend it highly.

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