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Unearth Optimal Seasons for Stunning Great Sand Dunes Visits

Imagine standing amidst a sea of sand, with every grain telling a tale of time. The Great Sand Dunes await, but when? Unlock the secret to the perfect visit and breathtaking views, right here.

Tobi Miles
August 9, 2022

Great Sand Dunes National Park is a breathtaking landscape in Colorado. The view of the sand dunes is gorgeous at all times of the year. Expect soft, sandy hills backing up to the jagged San Juan Mountain range.

There are a few things to consider before planning a trip to Great Sand Dunes National Park. First off, the weather. Temperatures can dip well below freezing in the winter, especially at night. Snowfall can also be a concern that renders some trails inaccessible in the winter.

Between May and September is the best time to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park. The weather is consistently 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit with an average of only 5 rainy days per month. It is also the ideal time for catching events like the Alamosa Art Gala. The winter boasts fewer crowds and up to 20% lower accommodation costs.

Are you in search of gorgeous hikes? Sand sledding? Horseback riding? Great Sand Dunes National Park has it all. The best time of year to go depends on what exactly you are looking for in a vacation.

For example, if you want to try out aquatic sports or splash in the stream, avoid visiting in the winter. If you are concerned about crowds, May and June are some of the most heavily trafficked months.

What is the Worst Time to Visit Great Sand Dunes National Park?

The worst time to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park is in the winter months from December through March. Colder temperatures can make some trails and roads inaccessible. Snow on the sand dunes can also make them impossible to climb up.

If you’re hoping to see the San Juan Mountain trails, keep in mind that most close in the winter. Especially ones at high altitudes.

What is the Cheapest Time to Visit Great Sand Dunes National Park?

The cheapest time to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park is in the winter months from December through March.

The cost of accommodation drops with the temperatures at this time. Expect a below-freezing wind chill and a 20% drop in the price of a room per night.

What Time of Year Does Great Sand Dunes National Park Have the Best Weather?

Great Sand Dunes National Park has the best weather in the summer months from May through September. This is when the weather remains a pleasant 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit and the average rainfall is minimal.

When hiking in the sand dunes, be sure to go in the early morning or evening. Although the outside temperature is pleasant, the sand itself can get scalding. Be mindful of this and wear the correct footgear if hiking mid-day.

The summer is also the best time to access the trails in the San Juan Mountains. Great Sand Dunes National Park is far more than dunes. It also encompasses this historic mountain range and has plenty of wooded trails to check out.

Summer is the perfect time to take a swim. From streams to lakes, Great Sand Dunes National Park has excellent watering holes to cool down at.

Related Read: 25 Best Colorado Springs Hiking Trails

Great Sand Dunes National Park for Outdoor Recreation: Monthly Breakdown

January: Alamo Rio Frio Ice Fest

Credit: Alamosa County Chamber of Commerce

January is the coldest month to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park. The park’s town of Alamosa embraces the cold by hosting the Rio Frio Ice Fest. Every January, the festival celebrates the park and community.

Some of the biggest events to look forward to at Rio Frio Ice Fest include an ice carving contest, a bonfire, a polar plunge, and a carnival.

Aside from the weekend-long events, expect unique attractions every day. Friday’s event is a cross-country skiing tournament. Amateurs and pros can gather on the manicured snow near Alamosa and hit the trails.

On Saturday, festival-goers can participate in one of the region’s most unique 5ks. The race covers the entirely frozen Rio Grande River. Sunday’s event is a fat tire bike race over the snowy tundra.

While visiting Alamosa, check out the town. It is home to plenty of great dining, lodging, and attractions. It is also a great place to stay overnight when visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park.

  • The best time to explore Alamosa
  • The best time for ice skating in town

February: The Best time to Explore the History and Heritage of the Valley

Credit: Alamosa, Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park is located in the San Luis Valley of Colorado. This region is rich in culture and heritage. Take advantage of the cold and check out some indoor activities dedicated to history and heritage.

The San Luis History Museum is the perfect educational destination when visiting the park. The museum has numerous displays featuring centuries of heritage. Clothing from American Indians and other artifacts help tell the story of the people indigenous to the land.

Another interesting exhibit in the museum visualizes the journey of pioneers. Railroad memorabilia is also a popular aspect of the museum. The museum features an exhibit that pays homage to World War I & II Veterans from the area as well.

Can’t visit the museum in person? Check out their online collections database to learn the history from the comforts of your own home.

  • Creede Cabin Fever Daze
  • The best time to check out local restaurants

March: Alamosa Restaurant Week

The cuisine of the San Luis Valley and the Rio Grande is some of the most unique in America. Alamosa Restaurant Week is a great time to try it out for yourself.

Restaurant week entails some of the town’s best restaurants offering prix fixe menus. Most are also only $10-$25!

Farming and agriculture are staples in the San Luis Valley. Restaurant week features some of the locally grown produce from the region. Expect plenty of locally sourced grains, vegetables, and meats featured on the menus.

Southwest Colorado is a major component of the farm-to-table movement. Many restaurants in town follow this methodology and support the rich agricultural farms in the Valley.

Try out a variety of restaurants. Alamosa is known for mom-and-pop eateries, breweries, pop-ups, and gourmet treats.

  • Monte Vista Crane Festival
  • Alamosa St. Paddy’s Day Festival

Related Read: 10 Best Campgrounds in Rocky Mountain National Park

April: The Best Time for Flying Kites

The weather in Great Sand Dunes National Park begins to turn toward spring weather in April. Expect temperatures in the mid-50s and plenty of sunshine. April is the perfect time to finally get outdoors and participate in some of the activities unique to the National Park.

Great Sand Dunes National Park is one of the best places in the Western United States to fly kites. The high dunes and sometimes windy conditions are perfect to take to the skies.

Flying a kite is one of the top-rated things to do in the park. Some even say it is the most gorgeous place they have ever flown one. Try it out for yourself. Bring along a kite, climb up a dune, and experience the views of flying colors in the sky.

  • Great Sand Dunes Fee Free Day
  • Spring in the Valley Rodeo Series

May: The Best Time to Chase Waterfalls

Zapata Falls is one of the many gems located within Great Sand Dunes National Park. With warmer weather in May, there is no better time to check it out.

The Falls were formed by snow melting from the San Juan Mountain range. Zapata Falls allows this snowmelt to go from the mountains to the Rio Grande River. The 25-foot waterfall is a welcome oasis during the hot Colorado summers.

You do have to hike a bit to reach Zapata Falls. But once you’re there it is well worth the strain. Zapata Falls is a gorgeous cascade of water with a natural rock backdrop.

If you decide to visit the waterfall in the winter instead, you may see ice. The Falls completely freeze sometimes. It is a great place to go ice climbing.

  • The best time to see the Milky Way
  • Crestone’s Dark Sky Street Fest
  • Alamosa Art Gala
  • Taste of Creede

June: The Best Time to Go Backcountry Camping

Great Sand Dunes National Park is a stunning place to camp for clear views of the Milky Way. It can get cold at night, but June has pleasantly warm nighttime temperatures. It is an excellent time to go camping.

There are several campgrounds throughout the park. The most visited is the Pinon Flats Campground. For $20 per night, you can camp on one of their safe and secure plots.

Pinon Flats allows visitors to sleep among the dunes with some modern comforts like flush toilets and a camp store. Beyond the dunes, this campground has remarkable views of wildlife and some shade from tree cover.

Be sure to stay up at night to see an outstanding view of the stars.

  • The best time to see the sunset and go on a sunset hike
  • Summerfest on the Rio
  • Carnival by the Rio

July: The Best Time for Watersports

July in Great Sand Dunes National Park can get hot. Cool down by taking advantage of one of the aquatic activities. The nearby Rio Grande offers some amazing watersports.

The closest access point to the Rio Grande is in nearby Alamosa. By the time the river reaches town, it slows to a comfortable, leisurely pace that is perfect for a float. Grab an inner tube and enjoy a relaxing time on the river.

The slow pace of the river in Alamosa is also great for beginners interested in river sports. They can try out kayaking, rafting, canoeing, and boating. Strong currents are hardly an issue in this part of the river.

Beyond the Rio Grande, Great Sand Dunes National Park also has a “beach.” Medano Park stream is an excellent place for people of all ages to splash around in the water. Bonus points for the stunning view of sand dunes behind the water.

  • The best time to visit the “beach”
  • Manassa Pioneer Days

Related Read: 75 BEST Things To Do in New Mexico

August: Great Sand Dunes Dark Sky Celebration

Something you’ll never find in Great Sand Dunes National Park is outdoor lights illuminating the dunes. With virtually no light pollution, the park is an excellent place to see the Milky Way. August is the best time of year to get an evening view of the galaxy.

The Dark Sky Celebration is an event honoring the designated dark sky areas of Colorado. One of these is Great Sand Dunes National Park.

There are many nighttime events hosted by the park. Junior Ranger Night Explorer is especially popular for kids interested in exploration after dark. A handful of Free Ranger Programs are also available for people of all ages.

Aside from guided programs, you are welcome to walk the park without a guide at night. Be wary of safety. With no illumination, it can be hard to see. Be mindful of the weather, have an emergency flashlight or red light, and be prepared for a temperature drop.

  • Japanese Heritage of the San Louis Valley Celebration
  • Junior Ranger Day

September: The Best Time to Take a Hike

September has some of the best weather to take a hike in Great Sand Dunes National Park. The Park has a range of trails from ones that cross sand dunes to wooded paths touching the San Juan Mountains.

On average, a hike in the National Park takes about two and a half hours. Be sure to bring a snack and plenty of water.

Visitors are also welcome to explore the dunes freely. All of the dunes have mesmerizing views of the sands and dramatic, snow-peaked mountain range behind.

Great Sand Dunes National Park covers a range of topographies. Beyond the Dunes, you can hike to the stunning Sand Creek Lakes. The Sand Creek Lakes are in a valley and obtain their water from the snowy mountain range above them.

  • The best time to hike high dunes trail
  • The best time to hike Montille Nature Trail
  • The best time to hike the sand dunes loop trail
  • Early Iron Festival

October: The Best Time to Try Sand Sledding

One of the most unique things to do in Great Sand Dunes National Park is sand sledding. Sand sledding takes the popular snow activity and makes it possible year-round.

October in Great Sand Dunes National Park has few rainy days and temperatures around 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The warm skies and minimal precipitation make for the best sand sledding conditions.

A few locations outside the park offer rentals of boards and sleds. Be sure to pick up your gear ahead of time. Some shops will also show you the best methods to get down the hill.

Sand sledding is allowed anywhere on the dune field so long as there is no risk of running into vegetation. Climb up to the tallest peak and enjoy the exciting ride back down.

  • Halloween in Alamosa
  • Adams State University Homecoming

November: The Best time to Visit Creede

November starts the slow season in Great Sand Dunes National Park. The colder weather means fewer tourists and suboptimal conditions for enjoying the outdoors. Take this opportunity to check out the nearby town of Creede, Colorado.

Creede is a tiny place. In 2020, the town population only hit 257. However, it is a historic town with rich history and stunning mountain views.

Walking through Creede is a step back in history. Most of the buildings were constructed before the 20th century.

Stroll past colonial storefronts and experience the arts and culture in town. The town attracts a welcome amount of tourists in November due to their chocolate festival. You won’t have to worry about any shops and restaurants being closed a this time.

  • Creede Chocolate Festival
  • The best time to participate in a ranger program

Related Read: 12 Best Camping Spots In New Mexico

December: The Best Time to Visit a Spa

Credit: Joyful Journey Hot Springs Spa / Facebook

December is a great time to get cozy in the winter chill of Colorado. Visiting one of the nearby spas is a great way to do that. One of the best is fueled by the hot springs in the San Juan Mountains.

The Joyful Journey Hotsprings Spa is a warm oasis with stunning views of the mountains and valley. The spa has plenty of amenities. There are pools, jacuzzis, dry saunas, and massage services.

The spa is especially peaceful when there is fresh snowfall in the valley. It is an inviting, indoor location in the freezing winter.

  • The best time to see the park by car
  • Christmas lights parade

What is the Best Time to Avoid Crowds in Great Sand Dunes National Park?

The best time of year to avoid crowds in Great Sand Dunes National Park is in the winter months from December through March.

Although you can still climb up the dunes at times, the mountain paths are inaccessible. Some roads are as well because of snowfall. Be mindful of the closures if you visit in the winter.

One major tip for visiting in the tourist high season of summer is to simply walk a little farther. Great Sand Dunes National Park is always most crowded around the entrance. The first few dunes also see some crowds.

If you want to get away from the thick of people, just keep walking. Most get through the first few dunes before turning around.

If you keep hiking back into the park you will find a more secluded and peaceful place. The views also get even more stunning the closer you are to the mountain range.

Article updated:
January 5, 2024

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