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Family Travel in the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

 
Families visiting the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve give their kids the chance to play in America's biggest sandbox

A clear mountain stream splashes to the edge of the dunes. It's 
cool wading for hot toes and perfect for sand castles



Photo: Medano Creek, at the base of the Great Sand Dunes, is the perfect place to cool you toes after hiking on the hot sand.







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Did You Know?

The Great Sand Dunes National Park offers the best place in North America to see a rare hydrological phenomenon called surge flow.

During the spring runoff, when the creek at the foot of the dunes swells, ripples grow into sand waves or bores, which can be an inch high or a foot deep.

These bores roll downstream, and create endless entertainment for kids and their parents playing in the water.










Photo: The world's biggest 
sandbox is in Colorado. 

At the
Great Sand Dunes
National Park
and Preserve
,
kids can play
for hours
in Medano Creek,
near the base
of the dunes.


Photo: The dunes have been piling up for centuries near the base of the mountains. 


Photo: The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve offers some of the most stunning scenery in Colorado.
Photo Credit: NPS

Bump Rudely into a Pile of Sand

A great rift cleaves the earth’s crust in North America. It stretches from Mexico up into central Colorado, forming valleys in the Rocky Mountains reaching as far north as Leadville. Geologists call it the Rio Grande Rift, after the major river that flows through it.

The largest of Colorado’s valleys
, the San Luis Valley, is part of this great North American rift. It spreads in the southern third of the state, between the Sangre de Cristo Mountains on the east and the San Juan Range to the west.

With an average of less than 8 inches of precipitation per year, the San Luis Valley is a true
desert. Irrigation allows it to bear the fruits of agriculture. Its broad, flat plain supports fields and farms within the encircling arms of high peaks.

On the eastern side of the valley, the saw edge of the Sangre de Cristos climbs 13,000- and 14,000 feet above sea level. Snowy peaks arch over conifer forests and glittering alpine lakes.

Freshwater streams come laughing down out of this high country only to bump rudely into a pile of sand, the Great Sand Dunes.

Covering 30 square miles, the dunes reach over
700 feet tall in places. This pile, in turn, stops the streams in their tracks, loads them up with millions of tiny grains, and sets them on a path around the dunes’ edges.

On the other side, the streams can carry the sand no farther. They drop the sand, then flow out across the plain of the San Luis Valley. North, east, and south of the dunes, they meander through the sand sheet, a grassy, shrubby flat inhabited by desert plants and animals.

Meanwhile, some of the stream’s water hits the deck when it first runs into the dunes. It dives below the surface and seeps out later into what is called the sabkha area, south east of the dunes. Here the water surfaces in pools and wetlands, supporting a variety of wildlife.

The national park, itself, encompasses the main dune field plus parts of the sand sheet and sabkha regions to the north, east, and south of the dunes. The visitor center and campground sit just above the southeastern curve of the dune field, within the national park. The Great Sand Dunes National Preserve curves around the eastern side of the national park, extending to the crest of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

With the exception of the corridor where the paved roads to the dunes parking area and to the campground run, and of the Medano Pass four-wheel drive road, most of the park and the entire preserve are designated as
national wilderness areas, where no motorized vehicles are allowed.

Next page >>> Best Family Attractions at Great Sand Dunes




Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve 
Travel Guide for Families


BEST FAMILY ATTRACTIONS AT GREAT SAND DUNES 

RANGER PROGRAMS FOR KIDS 

AMENITIES: PICNIC AREAS, RESTAURANTS, CAMPGROUNDS, AND LODGING 

TOWNS NEAR GREAT SAND DUNES NATIONAL PARK

GREAT SAND DUNES QUICK GEOLOGY GUIDE

GREAT SAND DUNES QUICK WILDLIFE GUIDE

GREAT SAND DUNES QUICK HISTORY GUIDE


TRAVEL INFORMATION FOR GREAT SAND DUNES NATIONAL PARK

SAFETY CONSIDERATIONS FOR FAMILIES 

WHAT MAKES THE GREAT SAND DUNES SPECIAL



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