Renting an RV from Cruise America allowed us to comfortably tour the National Parks of Colorado. You can read our full review of Cruise America rental RVs here. You can also view our entire 3,200 mile Summer road trip itinerary to Colorado and Utah by clicking here.
It was evening when we pulled our rental RV into Great Sand Dunes National Park and we were bummed but not surprised to find the first come,first served Pinyon Flats Campground already full. Since we wanted to explore the dunes during the evening as well as the next morning we did not want to travel too far to camp and the Ranger manning the entrance directed us to the Oasis Campground located just outside the park entrance. We headed there first in order to secure a spot. While very convenient to the park, the campground was pretty much a flat parking lot with RV hookups. I’m not complaining because we were glad we didn’t have to go far to camp, but this would not be a place you would choose to camp based on the campsites. At $38 bucks a night for two people plus $2.50 for each additional person, it wasn’t a thrifty option either. In any case it remained the best option for us so we booked a site before heading back into the park for an evening dune hike. Once again, since we had an America the Beautiful National Park Pass we did not have to pay the $3 per adult entry fee. We get this pass every year and it has always payed off.
Parking the RV, we headed into the dunes. With the Sangre de Cristo Mountains as a backdrop, at first glance the dunes are deceptively small. However, it didn’t take long for us to realize that they were actually quite huge. We walked and walked and still could only see the rising sand in front of us. With tall rises then equally deep valleys it takes a lot of effort to get anywhere. It was a blast and we loved running up and down the sand hills. Eventually we decided to turn back as the sun was setting and we actually ended up hiking for about an hour in the dark with just our lantern to guide us. It was exciting and a little scary to hike by moonlight! We could see a couple of flashlights and lanterns flickering out in the dunes and we told scary stories about who the other dune climbers might be. Once back at the RV, we drove back to our campsite and settled in for the night. Hiking in the evening had the added bonus of being very comfortable and it had been nice to climb the dunes away from the intense summer heat.
The morning dawned bright and hot and after using the comfortable shower facilities at the campground we headed back into the park to the Visitor Center. The kids picked up Junior Ranger booklets (50 cents each) and we spent an hour or so looking at the exhibits and watching the park video before attending a Ranger led program about the geology and life of the dunes. We then headed back into the dunes to explore. Dave and Garrett had a goal of hiking to the top of Star Dune which at 750 feet tall is the tallest dune in North America. The girls and I decided this was more ambitious then we wanted to be, so we wished them luck and they took off while we climbed and played in the closer dunes.
It took them about three and a half hours to make the round trip hike and they had a great time together although it was definitely a challenge. If you do any climbing in the dunes make sure to wear a hat and slather on the sunscreen and bring plenty of water since it can be wicked hot in the summer time. Garrett felt really proud of himself to have made it to the top! Meanwhile we were picnicking and reading in the shade back at the bottom of the dunes and having a relaxing and fun time. With our large family, we have come to the realization that sometimes two different itineraries are necessary in order to satisfy everyone.
Once they got back, Garrett and Dave took a long rest in the shade to cool off and eat lunch. We also finished up working on the Junior Ranger booklets and played for a while longer in the enormous sand box. Before heading out, the kids picked up their badges at the nearby Visitor Center. Great Sand Dunes National Park is a wonderful place to visit with kids and we all had a great time exploring the area. Next time we go we even plan to camp in the dunes- I know the stars will be unbelievable!
What a great blog! We are planning a trip to Sand Dunes and Mesa Verde with our little girls and this was very helpful.
Love the dunes! It’s awesome how you had such a different experience than we did visiting at different times of the year. We were just here last January with hardly anyone around and the Jr ranger booklets were free 🙂 How cool to hike at night though. We actually did some sand boarding and it was so fun. Glad to see some pictures from the top. That was a little ambitious for us too but glad your little man was able to do it.
Weren’t they fun? I would love to go when it is less crowded and less HOT!