When you think of the tallest sand dunes in North America, what location immediately comes to mind? Is it… Colorado? I have to admit, at first I definitely thought you would have found the tallest dunes in some coastal area and not in Colorado! That’s right, the tallest sand dunes in North America are located in Colorado, at the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve.
The Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve protects the tallest sand dunes in North America, and more. The dunefields are merely the centerpiece in a diverse landscape of grasslands, wetlands, forests, alpine lakes, and tundra. At first glance, the park seems small, but lots of visitors (myself included!) are surprised at the huge size and variation of this park and wish they had more time. If you plan to travel all the way out to the dunes for your elopement, you might as well plan sufficient time to explore all the park has to offer.
My time spent with Rose and Chris at the Great Sand Dunes National Park was incredible. We explored the dunes during the month of October, where the afternoons were still warm but it wasn’t terribly hot. We had a wonderful time. It was such a joy seeing Rose and Chris make the most of their time out there. The two of them were running around, rolling in the sand, and giggling through every bit of it. It was like witnessing a young love that withstood the test of time. Love like that warms my heart so much.
We stayed and ventured around the dunes long into the afternoon, watching the sun set behind the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. Bringing the lanterns out after sunset, into blue hour and the introduction of the night was a fun and unique touch. It’s always so much fun being able to not only slow down and be present with couples but to also have the opportunity to get creative. Traditional wedding days usually don’t allow for that sort of space due to so many strict time constraints, which is just another reason on top of a laundry list of already-known reasons that elopements are worlds better than a traditional wedding any day.
Tips for Planning YourGreat Sand Dunes Elopement
Planning your elopement at GreatSand Dunes National Park & Preserve is really simple!
A permit is required for weddings, elopements, and photo sessions at Great Sand Dunes NP. You can find the special use permits overview, application, and permit fee information over at the park’s website. Since every wedding and elopement is unique and different from one another, those interested in ceremonial activities on land managed by the National Park Service are encouraged to contact the park directly for more information and to discuss how to minimize potential impacts to visitors and sensitive park resources.
The closest city to the park is Alamosa.Pueblo, Colorado, is two hours from the park, and Colorado Springs is two and a half hours. Alamosa is the commercial center of the San Luis Valley, and includes a number of great breweries and Mexican restaurants. All within a few hours in the valley, you can summit North America’s tallest sand dunes, wrestle local alligators, go chasing waterfalls, and still make it back to the hot springs by sunset for some well-deserved rest and relaxation. While there are no lodging options within the national park or preserve, you can find all sorts of options right outside the park, from traditional lodging, to ranch living, classic campsites, and even fully furnished tents.
Best Times of the Year for Visiting
The best time of the year to visit Great SandDunes National Park & Preserve is, really, any time of year! There’s different activities to experience throughout the year at the park.Due to high elevations, temperatures are relatively cool all year, but thin, dry air makes daytime temperatures feel warmer year round. Winds primarily occur in springtime or during regional weather fronts. Midday during summer months, sand temperatures can reach an astounding 150 degrees F.
Medano Creek is a popular seasonal stream with the average peak of annual flow occurring Late May. Fun fact: Alamosa loves to claim Medano Creek at the Great Sand Dunes “Colorado’s Only Natural Beach.” Medano and Castle Creeks are great areas to splash around in and cool off on warmer days.
As they like to say out at the dunes, “Half the park is after dark!” Night at Great Sand Dunes can include dunes exploration under a bright full moon, viewing thousands of stars on a clear moonless night, listening for owls along the foothills, or, for the ecology andamphibian buffs, observing migrating amphibians on a wet night.
With a combination of dry air,high elevation, and little light pollution, Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is an excellent and easily accessible dark sky viewing location.In 2019, it was even certified as an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association.
The Milky Way is visible in the sky on moonless evenings from August through early October. Planning your Great Sand Dunes elopement around the Full Moon will yield the best dark sky night time viewing and photos. The next night I actually went back out to the park to explore the dunes at night. It gets REALLY dark out there, and with nothing but sand and mountain silhouettes in sight, it can be really easy to get lost out there. The night sky out there was amazing. It’s one of the only places in the U.S. I’ve seen the Milky Way with the natural eye.
Fun Activities for Your Great Sand Dunes Experience
Whether you’re looking to get active or kick back and relax during your time at Great Sand Dunes, the park has plenty to offer.
Sandboards and sand sleds can be rented from various retailers in the San Luis Valley. I love trying new things and thought the sandboards were such a rad experience. Plan to rent any gear before entering the park, as there aren’t any retailers inside the park to rent from.
Hiking the surrounding wilderness is super dope. It’s so so cool having a vast mountainous area such as the Sangre de Cristo Mountains literally right next to the tallest sand dunes in North America. And what’s cooler than trekking the sand dunes one day, and the alpine mountains the next?!
Imagine the campfire stories and epic star gazing you can experience when camping out under the stars at Great Sand Dunes. There are a number of campground options both inside and outside of the park, if tenting it up is your thing!
Interested in planning your own Great Sand Dunes elopement? I’d love to help! Contact me and let’s start chatting about what you would love to experience!