7 Best Sights in Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Mosca Pass Trail

Fodor's choice

This moderately challenging route follows the Montville Trail laid out centuries ago by Native Americans, which became the Mosca Pass toll road used in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This is a good afternoon hike, because the trail rises through the trees and subalpine meadows, often following Mosca Creek. Watch for grouses and turkeys along the route and listen for songbirds and owls cooing at dusk. It is 3½ miles one way, with a 1,400-foot gain in elevation. Hiking time is about two hours each way.

Colorado Field Institute

This nonprofit teams up with the experts at the park and other area organizations, such as the Rio Grande National Forest, San Luis Valley National Wildlife Refuges Complex, and the Nature Conservancy's Medano/Zapata Ranch to conduct in-depth outdoor educational programs on the natural and cultural resources of the area. Check its website for the lecture and field-trip schedule.

Fort Garland Museum

Colorado's first military post was established here in 1858 to protect settlers in the San Luis Valley, which was then part of the Territory of New Mexico. The legendary Kit Carson once served here, and the six original adobe structures are still standing. The fort features a re-creation of the commandant's quarters from Carson's era, as well as period military displays, and a rotating local folk-art exhibit.

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High Dune

This isn't the park's highest dune, but it's high enough in the dune field to provide a view of all the dunes from its summit. It's on the first ridge of dunes you see from the main parking area.

Great Sand Dunes National Park, CO, 81146, USA

Hike to High Dune

Get a panoramic view of all the surrounding dunes from the top of High Dune. Since there's no formal path, the smartest approach is to zigzag up the dune ridgelines traversing about 2½ miles round-trip. High Dune is 693 feet high, and to get there and back takes about two hours, or longer if there's been no rain for some time and the sand is soft. If you add on the walk to the 741-foot Star Dune, plan on another two or three hours and a strenuous workout up and down the dunes.

Great Sand Dunes National Park, CO, 81146, USA

Mosca Creek

Great Sand Dunes National Park's only picnic area is shaded by cottonwood trees with easy access to the sand and seasonal creek. It has a dozen places where visitors can park a car or small RV near a picnic table and a grill.

Zapata Falls Recreation Area

If it's a hot day, take a drive to the falls section of the Zapata Falls Recreation Area, about 7 miles south of Great Sand Dunes National Park (and about 10 miles north of Alamosa). From the trailhead, it's a ½-mile hike to the 40-foot waterfall and a mildly steep trail, which can include wading in a stream and walking through a narrow gorge to view the falls (depending on water levels). Air temperatures in the gorge are always cool and inviting, and the falls are beautiful, but be careful of the current (and slippery rocks) here. A picnic area and restrooms are at the entrance. The trailhead is 3½ miles off Highway 150, between mile markers 10 and 11.