What's the best time to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park?
The best times to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park are in early May and late September to early November, avoiding peak crowds and enjoying mild weather. Early May allows for activities like floating in Medano Creek, while both periods offer ideal conditions for hiking and exploring with cooler sand temperatures. These times also provide opportunities for quieter camping and stargazing.
A trip to Great Sand Dunes National Park, nestled by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Southern Colorado, is guaranteed to provide incredible views, hours of fun, and unforgettable memories for every visitor.
But if you’re planning a trip to these tallest sand dunes in North America, it’s crucial to make the most out of your time in the park. Knowing the best time of year to visit can ensure that you have the best possible experience exploring this destination.
Whether you’re looking for warm weather and an abundance of activities, want to avoid crowds, or are searching for the cheapest airfare, there’s a time to visit the park that can meet your needs.
Overall Best Time to Visit Great Sand Dunes National Park
The overall best time to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park is at the end of spring or the beginning of fall. Early May is one of the best times to visit the park to enjoy an abundance of activities, avoid crowds, and experience mild, warm weather.
Southern Colorado can have extreme wind, cold, and snow during the winter months up through March. By late April/early May, these blustery conditions are generally over, and you can enjoy high temperatures in the 60s and 70s.
The park’s peak season starts around the end of May and goes into the warm summer months. During this busy season, the park can become crowded with tourists, and it can be difficult to find peace and quiet on the trails or dunes.
Visiting in early May, before the crowds roll in, helps ensure that you can enjoy uninterrupted access to all the activities the park has to offer.
The seasonal Medano Creek also flows through the area starting in May, so visitors in the spring can splash around and float in the shallow water to cool off after a day of hiking.
And if you want an unforgettable night under the stars, the park’s campgrounds open in April and don’t get too busy until the summer. While you might miss out on a dip in the creek if you visit in early fall, late September or early November are also great choices when planning your Colorado vacation.
During this time, you can enjoy warm, mild weather and avoid the swarms of tourists that arrive in the peak summer season. The sand dunes can also reach extremely high temperatures during the summer months.
If you’re interested in hiking, exploring, or sledding down the sand dunes, the mild, cooler temperatures in May or September can help you avoid any extreme surface temperatures.
Cheapest Time to Visit Great Sand Dunes National Park
The cheapest time to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park is in the cold winter season between December and March. With fewer tourists visiting the park during these colder months, visitors can save money on the lodges and cabins near the entrance of the park.
Many of these accommodation options have seasonal pricing, so you can save money while exploring the park by visiting during the off-season.
When it comes to booking your flight, planning a trip for the winter offers cheaper flight options compared to the busier summer seasons. January specifically is one of the cheapest times of year to fly to Colorado, so be sure to take advantage of the low prices when planning your trip.
The region experiences cold weather between December and March, with low temperatures and frequent snowfall or blizzards throughout the week.
If you’re looking to save money during your vacation, there’s also plenty to enjoy during the winter. You can sled down the sand dunes, go snowshoeing, or keep an eye out for wildlife such as elk, pronghorns, and cranes.
Least Busy Time to Visit Great Sand Dunes National Park
The least busy time to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park is during the quiet winter season between December and February.
The winter months bring snow and below-freezing weather to the sand dunes. During this time, many of the main highlights of the park aren’t as accessible.
There’s limited access to hiking trails, the seasonal beach isn’t available, and the Medano Pass Primitive Road is closed to all traffic.
Because many of the park highlights aren’t available due to weather conditions, not as many tourists flock to the sand dunes when the weather gets cold. Despite the temperatures and closures, however, there’s still plenty to enjoy at the park if you’re trying to avoid crowds.
During the winter, you can participate in snow sports throughout the park, including:
- Cross-country skiing
- Sledding down the dunes
While mountain hiking trails are generally closed, there are also some foothills trails with shallow snow that are still available for hiking.
And best of all, you can explore the park and discover all this incredible destination has to offer while enjoying the peace, quiet, and solitude of this rugged and rural park.
Worst Time to Visit Great Sand Dunes National Park
The worst time to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park is in January, when the park has limited activities and freezing weather.
January is the coldest month of the year in Southern Colorado and often brings below-zero temperatures and deep snow throughout the sand dunes. This means that many of the more challenging mountain hikes are closed, and you can’t enjoy full access to all of the park’s activities.
From hiking to horseback riding to swimming, we think that this park is an ideal vacation spot for any adventurous traveler.
But with the beach, trails, scenic roads, and more unavailable in January due to harsh weather conditions, there are significantly fewer things to discover throughout this national park.
Spring, Summer, and Fall bring significantly more activity options, with the seasonal beach, alpine lakes, sand dune hikes, and so much more. But if you want to avoid crowds, you also might want to avoid a trip between June and August.
During these months, the dunes become crowded with families and other visitors. The sand surface can also reach temperatures of 150 degrees during the summer, so be sure to plan around the weather to avoid discomfort and extreme heat during the day.
Despite the middle of Winter and Summer both posing some challenges while planning a visit, it doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to enjoy while there during these times of the year. During the summer, you can enjoy access to all the seasonal activities, especially camping under the starry sky.
And winter sports enthusiasts will find plenty of options throughout the park during the winter months. For a cozy winter visit to the park, you can also stop by the January Rio Frio Ice Festival in the nearby Alamosa.
Great Sand Dunes National Park by Month
Still unsure about the best time to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park? Take a look at our summary of the weather and climate by month below:
January in Great Sand Dunes National Park, with temperatures often between 8 to 34°F (-13 to 1°C), presents a serene winter landscape. It’s perfect for snowshoeing on the dunes, capturing stunning winter photography, and enjoying the peacefulness of the park in its off-season.
February continues the winter charm, ideal for sledding down the snow-covered dunes, exploring the frozen Medano Creek, and stargazing under the crisp winter skies, often clear and perfect for astronomy enthusiasts.
As the snow begins to melt in March, temperatures range from 16 to 46°F (-9 to 8°C). This is a great time for early spring hikes, watching the unique phenomenon of “sand-surfing” down the dunes, and spotting the early wildlife awakening in the park.
April’s milder weather, with temperatures between 22 to 55°F (-6 to 13°C), beckons for sandboarding and sand sledding on the dunes, enjoying the stunning sunsets over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and exploring the park’s diverse ecosystems.
May brings warmer days, from 34 to 67°F (1 to 19°C), perfect for hiking the park’s trails, such as the challenging High Dune trail, exploring the Medano Pass Primitive Road for off-road adventure, and enjoying the night skies during the new moon.
June, welcoming summer with temperatures between 42 to 79°F (6 to 26°C), offers ideal conditions for camping under the stars, experiencing the Medano Creek as it swells with spring runoff, and attending ranger-led programs to learn about the park’s unique geology and ecology.
July’s warmth, with temperatures from 50 to 83°F (10 to 28°C), is all about splashing in the Medano Creek, enjoying picnics with stunning dune views, and exploring the surrounding hiking trails like Mosca Pass.
In August, with temperatures of 49 to 80°F (9 to 27°C), explore the Zapata Falls, just outside the park, enjoy early morning hikes to beat the summer heat, and witness the diverse birdlife in the park’s wetlands and grasslands.
Welcoming fall, September, with temperatures from 42 to 73°F (6 to 23°C), is perfect for experiencing the changing colors in the surrounding mountains, enjoying quieter visits after the summer crowds, and stargazing during the clear, cool nights.
October’s cooler days, from 28 to 62°F (-2 to 17°C), are ideal for exploring the park without the extreme heat of summer, photographing the dunes against the backdrop of autumn foliage, and enjoying wildlife viewing, as many animals are more active in the cooler temperatures.
November, as the air turns brisk, temperatures from 17 to 49°F (-8 to 9°C), is a time for peaceful walks on the dunes, capturing the early snowfalls on camera, and enjoying the solitude of the park before the winter sets in.
December brings a quiet winter landscape, with temperatures ranging from 8 to 35°F (-13 to 2°C). This month is perfect for winter hiking, enjoying the unique beauty of the snow-covered dunes, and celebrating the holiday season in the tranquility of nature.
Frequently Asked Questions
When should I visit Great Sand Dunes National Park?
Great Sand Dunes National Park is open year-round, 24/7, so there really is no bad time to visit the park. But if you’re looking for plenty of activity options, fantastic weather, and fewer crowds, late spring or early fall are two of the best times to visit.
During these seasons, visitors can enjoy mild weather, peaceful and quiet hikes, and plenty of seasonal activities such as swimming and hiking.
Do I need a reservation to enter the park?
Great Sand Dunes National Park doesn’t require any permit, fees, or reservations to enter the park. If you are planning on camping at one of the 88 campsites, however, you will need to reserve a spot and pay a fee at the visitor center.
What’s the weather like at Great Sand Dunes National Park?
The diverse landscape at the national park sees a huge range of weather conditions throughout the year. Between the Spring and Fall, weather conditions are generally mild, with occasional rain, wind, and thunderstorms. The temperature also drops quickly at night, so come prepared with layers if you’re camping at the park.
During the winter, the park experiences snow and frigid weather at least once a week. However, when it’s not snowing, the winter days are often mild and sunny, and the snow clears quickly from the dunes.
Is Great Sand Dunes National Park worth a visit?
While Great Sand Dunes National Park is more off-the-beaten-path than other parks, it has so much to offer and is worth a visit at any time of year.
From outdoor adventures to winter sports and festivals, this area truly has something for everyone. If you want to experience the great outdoors with unforgettable views, you can’t go wrong with a visit to Great Sand Dunes National Park.
So, What’s the Best Time to Visit Great Sand Dunes National Park?
Overall, the best time to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park is in May or September, when the weather is still warm, and there are fewer summer crowds.
During these months, you can enjoy all the seasonal attractions without the drawbacks of traveling during the peak summer months. If you’re looking for a budget-friendly trip or a peaceful vacation away from crowds, you can visit in the winter as well.
While some activity options might be limited, an off-season trip to the park guarantees plenty of space to explore, cheap accommodation options, and unique wintertime activities in both the park and surrounding cities.
Now that you have a full guide for visiting this serene and unique park, you’re ready to make your itinerary for an unforgettable vacation. So what are you waiting for — book your trip today!