Category: Great Sand Dunes National Park

The Complete Guide to Camping in Great Sand Dunes National Park

The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is one of Colorado’s most iconic landscapes. The stunning sand dunes, some up to 700 feet tall (!), are set against the…

The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is one of Colorado’s most iconic landscapes. The stunning sand dunes, some up to 700 feet tall (!), are set against the spectacular backdrop of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. We think the best way to experience the dunes is to spend a night or two under the stars in your tent. There are tons of options for camping in the Great Sand Dunes National Park from RV spots and family-friendly car camping sites to beautiful backcountry sites and rugged sites that can only be accessed via 4WD roads.

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about camping at the Great Sand Dunes!

 

In this post

Great Sand Dunes National Park Campgrounds

You’ll have several options available if you’re looking to camp inside the Great Sand Dunes National Park. There is the easily accessible Piñon Flats Campground for those looking to car camp or park their RV, camping for those with a well-equipped 4WD vehicle along Medano Pass Primitive Road, and hike-in backcountry sites in the dunes as well as the surrounding mountains.

Take a look at the map below to get a sense of where the different camping options are in the National Park and keep reading to learn more about each campground.

Map of campgrounds in Great Sand Dunes National Park

Car camping options in Great Sand Dunes National Park. Map courtesy of NPS.

 

Reservations & Permits

Reservations are required only for the Piñon Flats Campground located at the entrance to the park. If you’re thinking about camping here during peak summer season (or anytime Medano Creek is flowing) you’ll almost certainly need to have a reservation.

Reservations for Piñon Flats Campground can be made here via Recreation.gov

For all of the other camping options in the Great Sand Dunes you do not need to (and cannot) make a reservation. For backcountry/backpacking campsites you’ll need to obtain a free permit from the Visitor Center before setting out.  Note that all permits are made available on a first-come, first-served basis, so be sure to get there early!

There is no permit required for camping along Medano Pass Primitive Road, but all of the sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

 

Car camping sites

There are two options for those looking to car camp in Great Sand Dunes National Park: Piñon Flats Campground and the more basic sites along Medano Pass Primitive Road.

Piñon Flats Campground

Number of Sites: 88 individual (up to eight people) and 3 group (15-40 people)
Fee: $20/night (more for group sites)
Capacity: Up to eight people, two tents, and two vehicles at the individual sites
RVs: Yes, maximum length of 25′
More Information
Click Here to Reserve

Piñon Flats Campground in Great Sand Dunes National Park

Piñon Flats Campground. Photo credit NPS/Patrick Myers.

 

The Piñon Flats Campground is a large, sprawling campground located just past the visitor center when you first enter the National Park. The site sits adjacent to Medano Creek and makes a perfect option for those looking for easy access and plenty of nearby services.

Piñon Flats has a total of 88 campsites for small groups & RVs as well as three larger group sites that can accommodate between 15-40 people. The campground is well organized with two loops serving the 88 individual sites and another loop serving the three group sites.

The campground has plenty of restrooms, a small campground shop, potable water,  and trash and recycling services. There is also an RV dump station nearby in the summer months.

For those arriving in an RV, keep in mind that the Piñon Flats Campground can only accommodate RVs and trailers that are less than 25′ long. If yours is longer, you will be better off staying at one of the many nearby campgrounds that can accommodate larger RVs.

The Piñon Flats Campground is extremely popular during spring and early summer when Medano Creek is flowing, so reservations are essential. As with all National Park campgrounds, you’ll need to make a reservation through the Recreation.gov website well in advance.

The campground can be reserved up to six months in advance (which is recommended for popular times) and remember that Recreation.gov opens availability at 10 am Eastern Time six months out – so be sure you’re ready!

Piñon Flats Campground Great Sand Dunes National Park

Piñon Flats Campground in Great Sand Dunes National Park. Photo credit NPS/Patrick Myers.

 

Medano Pass Primitive Road 4WD campsites

Number of Sites: 21 campsites – please camp at designed sites only!
Fee: Free
Capacity: Not regulated
RVs: No
Reservations: First come, first served
More Information

Medano Pass connects the Great Sand Dunes National Park with State Highway 69. The road is only passable by well-equipped 4WD vehicles. It is important to note that AWD vehicles will not do well on this road! For those who have a properly equipped vehicle, Medano Pass Primitive Road offers some excellent campsites that provide more solitude than what you’ll find at Piñon Flats Campground.

Medan Pass Primitive Road Camping

Medano Pass Primitive Road opens yours options for camping in the National Park. Photo credit: NPS/Patrick Myers.

 

The 21 designated campsite along Medano Pass are all contained within the Great Sand Dunes National Preserve (as opposed to the National Park) and begin approximately 5.2 miles from where the pavement ends along the main road through the Park. Each campground is numbered according to how many miles it is from the entrance to the National Preserve.

Each of the campsites along Medano Pass road includes a bear box to store your food and many have fire rings. Fires are generally allowed, but be sure to check-in at the visitor center as fire bans can be in place at any time. There are no restrooms or trash facilities along Medano Pass, so always be sure to bury your waste (at least 100′ from the nearest water source!) and pack out all of your trash. Water can occasionally be drawn from Medano Creek, but must be treated. We recommend bringing all of the water you’ll need for your stay with you.

Medano Pass Primitive Road Camping - Great Sand Dunes National Park

Medano Pass Primitive Road Campsites. Map courtesy of the National Park Service.

 

Backcountry campsites

Number of Sites: 7 campsites + dunefield
Fee: Free
Capacity: 6 people per permit/group / 2 vehicles per group
RVs: No
Reservations: First come, first served – permit required
More Information

For those in search of a true wilderness experience, backpacking in Great Sand Dunes National Park is the way to go! The National Park has seven designated backcountry campsites and also allows camping anywhere in the 30 square mile dunefield for a maximum of 20 groups, with no more than six people per group.

Dunefield camping - Great Sand Dunes

Camping in the dunefield at Great Sand Dunes National Park is sure to be an unforgettable experience.

 

For both the dunefiled camping as well as the designated backcountry sites you’ll need to get a free permit from the Visitor Center upon arrival, beginning at 9am. Backcountry camping permits in Great Sand Dunes National Park are first-come, first-served so you’ll want to be sure you’re there early, especially on busy weekends.

Great Sand Dunes National Park Dunefield Backcountry Camping:

For those interested in backpacking in the Dunefield, you’ll have nearly 30 square miles to explore and camp. The dunefield is split into two zones by the National Park Service: Day-use areas and the backcountry zone. The map below gives you a sense of the different areas, and you’ll be able to camp in the backcountry zone only. The Park Service estimates it is an approximate 1.5 mile minimum hike into the dunefield. Some other important considerations:

  • Pets are not allowed
  • You’ll need to carry in all of your own water
  • No fires are allowed (except camping stoves)
  • Keep a close eye on the weather as you’ll want to avoid severe thunderstorms and high winds
  • Bring a bear canister or other food storage to protect your food from wildlife
  • The NPS recommends sand specific tent stakes.
  • Always practice Leave No Trace principles
Great Sand Dunes National Park Backpacking

Backcountry dunefield zone in Great Sand Dunes National Park. Map courtesy of NPS.

 

Great Sand Dunes National Park Backcountry Camping – Mountains:

In addition the dunefield, you’ll also have the ability to camp at one of seven designated backcountry camping sites in Great Sand Dunes National Park. These seven campsites are all located along the Sand Ramp Trail and offer a more protected camping option for those who aren’t interested in the dunefield. The seven campsites range in distance from 0.5 miles to 11.5 miles from the Piñon Flats Campground and the start of the Sand Ramp Trail.

Great Sand Dunes National Park backpacking

Backpacking is an incredible way to experience Great Sand Dunes National Park.

 

Here are some things to keep in mind when planning to stay at any of these backpacking sites in Great Sand Dunes National Park:

  • Plan to bring a bear canister or other secure food storage
  • Pets are not allowed
  • No campfires (with the exception of the Sand Creek site)
  • Water can be scarce, plan to carry in what you need
  • Always practice Leave No Trace principles
Great Sand Dunes National Park backpacking map

Map of backcountry campsites in Great Sand Dunes National Park. Map courtesy of NPS.

 

Great Sand Dunes National Park Camping Must-Know

The following sections contain all the basic information you need to ensure you have a great time camping in Great Sand Dunes National Park!

Fires

Fires are allowed at the Piñon Flats Campground as well as the sites along Medano Pass Primitive Road. Campfires are not allowed in the backcountry dunefield area or at the designed backcountry campsites with the exception of the Sand Creek backcountry site.

Campfire at Great Sand Dunes.

Campfires are generally permitted in the car camping sites in Great Sand Dunes National Park.

 

If you do decide to have a fire it is important to always use firewood that is sourced locally. This helps prevent the spread of disease and preserves the natural habitat of the National Park. Harvesting of firewood is not allowed in any National Park, Great Sand Dunes included.

Before having a fire, always be sure to check-in with the staff at the Visitor Center for current regulations.

Wildlife

A variety of wildlife calls the Great Sand Dunes National Park home. This includes commonly seen deer and elk as well as the more rare black bears, mountain lions, and the dune-dwelling kangaroo mouse. For those camping, you’ll primarily need to be concerned with protecting your food from small rodents such as mice and chipmunks. However, bears do visit the campgrounds occasionally, so it is imperative that you’ve properly stored your food.

The campsites along Medano Pass Primitive Road and at Pinon Flats all provide food storage lockers. Those camping in the backcountry will need to bring a bear canister or be prepared to properly hang your food in a tree.

It is also important to note that ticks are frequently found in Great Sand Dunes National Park. Be sure to always check yourself and pets after any time spent hiking, especially if you’ve been in tall grasses.

Elk herd in Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Elk frequent Great Sand Dunes National Park. Photo credit: NPS/Patrick Myers

 

Pets

Pets are allowed at both the Piñon Flats Campground as well as the sites along Medano Pass Primitive Road. You’ll need to have control over them at all times and we recommend that you keep them on a leash to avoid any issues. Also, be sure to pick up after them and properly dispose of their waste.

Pets are not allowed at any of the backcountry sites in Great Sand Dunes National Park, so you’ll want to leave them at home if you’re venturing into the backcountry.

As noted above, always be sure to check your pets for ticks as they are common in the Sand Dunes.

Where to get supplies

The best place to stock up on camping supplies near Great Sand Dunes National Park is in nearby Alamosa. This small town of around 11,000 people is approximately 30 minutes southwest from the National Park. There you’ll find major grocery stores such as Safeway and City Market as well as a few good outdoor stores. Here are your best options for where to stock up before your camping trip in Great Sand Dunes National Park:

 

Camping near Great Sand Dunes National Park

Given the popularity of Great Sand Dunes National Park, it is always possible that you won’t be able to find a campsite within the National Park. However, that doesn’t mean your trip is doomed! There are plentiful camping options just outside of the Great Sand Dunes that still provide easy access to the National Park. We’ve shared the best options below.

You’ll have easy access to Great Sand Dunes National Park from any of the camping options below.

 

RV campgrounds

Those camping in an RV will have plenty of options just outside the Great Sand Dunes National Park. These campgrounds will be your best bet when Pinon Flats is full, or if your RV/trailer is longer than 25′. Here are our recommended options for RV camping outside of Great Sand Dunes National Park:

Great Sand Dunes Oasis

Number of Sites: 20 RV sites, plenty of basic tent camping sites
Fee: RV sites ($38/night for two people) // tent sites ($25/night for two people)
Capacity: Up to 10 per site /  more for group sites
RVs: Yes
Reservations: Recommended for RV spots, not required for tent sites.
Pets: Allowed.
More Information

Great Sand Dunes Oasis is the closest campground to Great Sand Dunes National Park that is not actually located within the park. This large campground is located along State Highway 150 as you approach the National Park, and is only about a 3-minute drive from the park entrance.

It features an on-site restaurant, small shop carrying basic groceries, gas station, as well as cabins and motel rooms for rent.

KOA Alamosa Campground

Number of Sites: Plenty!
Fee: $25 – $75/night depending on RV size
Capacity: No stated limit
RVs: Yes
Reservations: Recommended
Pets: Allowed, but must be on a leash at all times.
More Information

The KOA Alamosa campground is located on the east end of Alamosa and about a 25-minute drive from the entrance to the Great Sand Dunes. This campground can accommodate large RVs and also provides guests with access to a pool, free WiFi, a dog park, and a small on-site shop.

The KOA is more expensive than Great Sand Dunes Oasis, but it has excellent reviews and plenty of nearby amenities.

Car camping sites

If you’re looking for car camping sites near the Great Sand Dunes National Park you’ll have a few good options to choose from. Some are more basic than others and you’ll even have the option for some full-on glamping! Keep reading below to see what your best bets are for car camping near the Sand Dunes.

Car camping

 

Zapata Falls Campground

Number of Sites: 23 individual  and 1 group site
Fee: $11/night for individual sites and $25/night for group sites
Capacity: Up to 6 people per individual site and up to 15 people for the group site.
RVs: No
Reservations: First come, first served
Pets: Allowed
More Information

The Zapata Falls Campground is located east of State Highway 150 as it approaches the Great Sand Dunes National Park. The campground is around 30 minutes from the entrance to the National Park. The campground has a vault toilet and has access to several excellent trailheads. Keep in mind that there is no water at Zapata Falls, so you’ll need to bring your own water.

Rustic Rook Resort

The Rustic Rook Resort is unlike any of the other campgrounds included in this guide – it is a full-fledged glamping experience! The resort is located approximately 30 minutes from the entrance to the National Park. You won’t need your own tent here as you’ll instead be sleeping in your very own glamping tent with space for 2 – 4 people. Prices start at $150/night so this is definitely not for budget-minded travelers!

More Information

 

Dispersed campsites near the Great Sand Dunes

Your final option for camping near the Great Sand Dunes National Park is to find a free, dispersed campsite on the adjacent Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. The BLM manages hundreds of thousands of acres of land throughout the country and generally allows for ‘dispersed camping’ on it. You can find more information on dispersed camping on BLM land here.

Dispersed camping near Great Sand Dunes

 

Before heading out with a plan to look for dispersed camping near the Great Sand Dunes National Park we recommend reaching out to the Conejos Peak Ranger District to confirm current camping regulations. They can be reached at (719) 480-9892.

Lake Como Road/Sacred White Shell Mountain – BLM sites

The Lake Como Road/Sacred White Shell Mountain dispersed camping area is located east of State Highway 150 as you approach the Sand Dunes. The campsite is located approximately 25 minutes from the entrance to the National Park. You’ll need to bring all of your own water and also be prepared to properly deal with your waste at this site, as there are no facilities. BLM regulations on dispersed camping allow you to camp for up to 14 days in a 28 day period, so be sure to observe that limit at this site.

It is especially important to practice Leave No Trace principles when dispersed camping.

Have a great trip!

That’s it! We hope you’ve found all of the information on camping in Great Sand Dunes National Park in this post helpful and we know you’ll find the perfect campsite for your upcoming adventure! Be sure to let us know in the comments below if you have any questions or had a great time out camping!

Piñon Flats Campground Great Sand Dunes National Park

Photo credit NPS/Patrick Myers.

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