Driving Medano Pass & Visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park

Driving Medano Pass & Visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park

From Colorado Springs a trip to Great Sand Dunes National Park is a breeze. While you can get there via the highway we decided to take the Medano primitive road as our route into the park. This primitive road turned out to be a beautiful 22 miles of wildflowers, dirt, gravel, creek crossings, and sand paths.

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Taking the Medano Pass Primitive Road to the Sand Dunes

Road to Great Sand Dunes National Park
Wildflowers along the Medano Pass Road.

First of all, Medano Pass should not be attempted by any vehicle that is not 4WD, due to high clearance rocks/dips and water crossings. When we made the trek in July, the water was only 6-12″ at each crossing but it is recommended to check the creek conditions before you make the drive.

It is also recommended for some vehicles (those with regular road tires) to reduce air pressure to 20psi in each tire to navigate the sand. There is a place to refill your tires at the western entrance of the park. You can enter the trail either from the west (from the welcome center) or from the east. We decided to enter from the east due to departing from Colorado Springs.

From Colorado Springs you head due south on 25 until you reach Walsenburg. There we fueled up and took highway 69 west to Gardner. Reset your odometer and drive approximately 8 miles west of Gardner on 69 and you will see a forest service sign with “Medano Pass Road” noted (County Road 559).

The first 5 miles or so on the trail are mild dirt and gravel roads, rarely requiring 4WD, and passing near private property and national forest. We decided to enter “Medano Pass” into Google Maps to keep ourselves oriented as we continued on even though your GPS will not take you this way by default.

The next 5 miles were a wooded trail with varying degrees of incline, sharp turns, and narrow trail. The road was rocky but nothing too daunting. The following 5-mile stretch was more in a plain area with the road having a lot of vegetation on the side of the trail. This is where there were some cutbacks across the creek and where you start to see some of the campsites.

Great Sand Dunes National Park

This was the most tedious portion of the trail due to the slow going and the high amount of traffic. At the end of this segment, there was a rest area with restrooms, which is where the sand portion (and last ~5-mile stretch) begins.

The key to maneuvering through the sand is to keep your vehicle moving and not stop on soft sand. There are great views of the dunes on this last portion of the trail which ends at the camping ground near the Great Sand Dune welcome center.

READ MORE: 2 Days in Colorado Springs

Arriving at Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park
Of course, we had to take a few scenic photos before sandboarding.

After we exited the Medano Pass road, we drove to the Great Sand Dunes Oasis, which is a little gas station about 5 minutes from the park down Highway 150. There we rented a sandboard for $20 and headed back to the park (there are also sand sleds available for the same price).

Sandboarding at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado.
Some of the dunes were really steep! We started off on some of the shorter hills before moving to the bigger ones!

Great Sand Dunes National Park is 85,000 acres of sandy hills and is home to the tallest sand dune in North America (750′).

Depending on how much rain there has been, there are streams that flow around the dunes and are popular for cooling off while visiting the dunes – which was a much welcome reprieve whenever the temperatures were well in the 90s when we visited.

Sandboarding at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado
Trying to hold our GoPro and staying balanced!

Be aware that during the summer months the sand can reach temperatures of 150 degrees, so bring appropriate footwear, and don’t forget a pair of socks if you’re going to be trying sandboarding or sand sledding!

I would also recommend bringing a pair of sandals that have a strap so you can walk up the dunes easier while also protecting your feet.

Sandboarding at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado
Logan trying sandboarding for the first time!

Climbing up the dunes can be quite exhausting, especially if you continually do so while sandboarding or sledding. Every step you take up the dune, the sand causes you to slide down, so be sure to bring plenty of water to stay hydrated!

Visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado
We had a blast on the sand dunes.

Overall, this is one of the most beautiful deserts and a unique national park. Great Sand Dunes National Park is an awesome day trip and driving Medano Pass is well worth it too! So, who’s ready to do some sandboarding!?

Go sandboarding, hiking, and explore the beauty of the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. www.pagesoftravel.org


  • Reply
    Nigel Kane
    September 7, 2016 at 6:26 PM

    I’ve heard of here but never realised it was quite so cool! There really shouldn’t be sand dunes in Colorado :-D. Hope my dune surfing is better than my cross country skiing in the Arctic…I sucked so bad! Good advice about needing a 4WD vehicle as we learnt trying to drive around Monument Valley in a Chrysler 300 on a road resembling the surface of the moon. We really shouldn’t be allowed to leave home some times 😀

    • Reply
      September 11, 2016 at 2:31 PM


      Your comment cracks me up! From my experience, sandboarding was MUCH easier than skiing or any other “boarding” sports I have tried. Plus you can start on some of the smaller dunes and work your way up (that’s what I did so I didn’t bust it too bad)!

      Logan has video footage coming soon on Medano Pass so that others are able to see. We have the same problems a lot of times bahaha…. We’re always lost!

  • Reply
    September 9, 2016 at 3:55 AM

    That dress perfectly fits into the dunes! 🙂
    always wanted to go sand boarding but never had the chance. I’ve been skiing since age 3 and snow boarding since 8…but never did it on san. Sure looks so fun!

    • Reply
      September 11, 2016 at 2:25 PM

      Thank you! It was a spur of the moment decision but we really loved how the photos turned out with the dress.

      You would be a pro at sandboarding if you have that much experience with skiing and snowboarding! We had a blast and once you get the hang of it on the smaller dunes it’s even better from the top because you go much faster!

  • Reply
    September 25, 2016 at 2:27 PM

    First of all, your pictures are gorgeous! I don’t know how well I would fair in the that heat. It looked brutal!

    • Reply
      September 25, 2016 at 2:35 PM

      Thanks so much Pack Your Baguios! We really enjoyed taking these. The sand was 150 degrees F and definitely scalding. Sandboarding was fun but not for the faint of heart due to the nice burns we got on our toes! We should have taken video of us running full speed up the dunes in our socks so we could save our feet. HAHA! Fortunately there was a nice breeze and the weather itself was only around 88 degrees F.

  • Reply
    September 25, 2016 at 3:36 PM

    Thanks for the lovely info.You should definitely visit India sometimes. There’s a cold desert as well as a hot desert in India.

    • Reply
      September 25, 2016 at 4:52 PM

      We hope to make it to India someday. We love how beautiful sand dunes can be! The cold desert sounds much nicer than the 105 degrees this one was!

  • Reply
    September 26, 2016 at 7:35 PM

    Wow! Absolutely stunning photos! I’ve never spent much time exploring Colorado, but this has definitely made it to my USA ‘must see’ list! Thanks for the detail and directions 🙂

    • Reply
      September 26, 2016 at 7:36 PM

      Thanks Lindsay! The Medano Pass was somewhat challenging to navigate so Logan decided it would be best to incorporate some directions. We are working on a video so people can get a feel for the terrain as well. Definitely stop there for a day or so! It’s well worth it. 🙂

  • Reply
    September 27, 2016 at 12:50 AM

    Loved your article. I went to the dunes on the NC Outer Banks this summer. Great tips about footwear, not only did I have flip flops on, but my feet were sunburned from a day on the beach so I just could not spend much time out there on the burning sand. I would love to go to the dunes you were at and also White Sands National Park in NM. I know my son would love to sled down them. Would be fun to blog about all the different dunes areas in the US.

    • Reply
      September 27, 2016 at 6:41 PM

      I definitely understand! We had some bad sunburn on our feet and toes after sandboarding for a few hours. Many kids were there enjoying it just fine, it was us adults that had such a hard time dealing with the heat! Go figure. 🙂

  • Reply
    September 27, 2016 at 7:47 AM

    Very nice! I’m an avid hiker/trekker and only been to a few spots in CO such as Longs Peak among others. I heard about this part of CO but since I live in the east coast it isn’t easy to fly back to CO to visit. I found your blog useful and if I ever get a chance to go to CO again, I would love to check this place out. Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply
      September 27, 2016 at 6:38 PM

      I’m so glad you found this inspiring! We love hiking and are always looking for new trails or places to visit. If you are able to fly into Denver it isn’t too far from Colorado Springs. It would definitely be worth a day trip! 🙂

  • Reply
    September 28, 2016 at 3:19 AM

    Surfing on the sands sounds like a really brilliant idea. Can you tell us an appropriate time of the year to try this out?

    • Reply
      September 28, 2016 at 9:22 PM

      Sure thing! We went late July/Early August and it was amazing weather but the sand was incredibly hot (105 degrees F). I would say that May-September would be idle but visit in the early morning if you are going in July/August. 🙂

  • Reply
    October 2, 2016 at 1:17 PM

    Beautiful pictures! Sand boarding seems like so much fun, though I’d probably fall more than ride. And the view of the mountains on the back is just a cherry on the top of the cake! Would definitely like to visit.

    • Reply
      October 2, 2016 at 3:48 PM

      Agnes, so glad you found this inspiring! I hope you do visit some day. I was actually surprised by sand boarding. I’m not the best at any type of board sport but this came much more easily. However, you can also rent a sand sled! 🙂

  • Reply
    Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon from Las Vegas Tour or Self Drives
    November 29, 2016 at 3:41 PM

    […] were both on my must visit list. If I had more time on my side I would also have loved to tick off Great Sand Dunes national park as […]

  • Reply
    January 4, 2017 at 9:43 PM

    Love your dress! This looks like a really cool place to visit. I didn’t make it there when I was in Colorado

  • Reply
    January 5, 2017 at 7:54 AM

    Your photos are beautiful!! Great Sand Dunes looks like an amazing place! 🙂 I’ve been to Colorado Springs a few times before, so I don’t know how I missed it!

  • Reply
    January 5, 2017 at 1:58 PM

    First of all, that header photo is STUNNING. That alone is inspiring me to get out to the desert for my own desert princess photoshoot 😉 I especially loved reading about the Medano Pass Primitive Road. What a fun adventure to get off the beaten path and explore a relatively untouched wilderness!

  • Reply
    Lena Ameri
    January 5, 2017 at 9:32 PM

    In love with the photo of Kallsy with the long dress! AMAZING!! Sand boarding looks like so much fun! We want to try that! I think we’d be terrible at it though. Sounds like such a fun day!

  • Reply
    January 6, 2017 at 4:43 PM

    I had no idea this was in Colorado! It looks amazing, it’s definitely going on my list. Awesome!

  • Reply
    January 8, 2017 at 2:04 PM

    I went here on my way to Florida and loved it! It was way harder to climb the dunes than I expected, but it was totally worth it.

  • Reply
    Alex Cote
    January 9, 2017 at 10:38 PM

    I never heard of this park in Colorado, though I spent many summers in Teluride Colorado! I love the picture of you in the dress, you look so gorgeous!

  • Reply
    February 27, 2017 at 11:14 AM

    Lovely photos! We visited the Great Sand Dunes during a roadtrip through New Mexico and Colorado in 2015 – it was incredible! Such an otherworldly landscape. And where my Teva sandals bit the dust – tons of sand got between the two layers and stuck to the glue…from now on I only buy one piece sandals! Haha!

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