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How to Plan a Thrilling Great Sand Dunes Camping Trip

Deep brown sand dunes below snow covered mountains is a standard view during a Great Sand Dunes camping trip

Unsplash/Vincent Ledvina

Camping in Great Sand Dunes National Park is one of the most popular ways to experience this amazing place. Camping in Great Sand Dunes National Park allows you great proximity to some of the park’s best attractions. However, it’s a little tricky to camp within park boundaries. This Great Sand Dunes camping guide will cover everything you need to know about camping in Great Sand Dunes National Park as well as camping near Great Sand Dunes.

Last updated August 9, 2021. This page may contain affiliate links.

Camping in Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Great Sand Dunes 

Piñon Flats Campground

The only developed campground within park boundaries is Piñon Flats Campground. Many of the sites have marvelous views of the sand dunes and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Some sites are shaded in the trees while others are in the open.

Many sites are also located near trails that lead to the dunes or to the backcountry. It’s the prime location for a Great Sand Dunes camping adventure.

While there are many amenities, as detailed below, there are no hook-ups or showers.

Cost: $20/night

Facilities: Sinks, flush toilets, dishwashing sinks, water spigots, trash and recycling (near the campground entrance), amphitheater, fire grates, picnic tables, camp store

Reservations Accepted?: Reservations are required can be made up to six months in advance. Reservations can be made online or by calling (877) 444-6777.

RVs?: Yes; up to 25 feet. There are no hook-ups available.

Season: April 1 to October 31

Sites: 88

Piñon Flats Campground Map

A black and white map of Piñon Flats Campground in Great Sand Dunes National Park

NPS Photo

Regulations at Piñon Flats Campground

  • There is a maximum of 8 people, 2 tents, and 2 vehicles per site. However, not all sites will accommodate 2 vehicles or 2 tents. Plan carefully when making your reservation.
  • Tents must fit on the tent pad. Vehicles must fit in the driveway.
  • You must check out by 1 p.m.
  • Campsites are typically reserved well in advance during the peak flow of Medano Creek. This is generally in late May or early June. Most campgrounds near Great Sand Dunes will also be full.
  • There are three group sites available at $80/night or $65/night for site C, which accommodates fewer people. Group sites are tent-only.
  • The use of hammocks is prohibited. 
  • Pets are permitted but must be attended at all times. They must remain leashed and under control. You must clean up all waste.
  • Black bears are frequent visitors. Store your food and all scented items properly and review our bear safety tips. Storage containers are available at each campsite. Never feed wild animals, including birds or squirrels. 
  • Quiet hours are 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and generators hours are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Please be courteous.  

Camping under the stars 

Camping on the Medano Pass Primitive Road

Those who would like to camp in more primitive conditions can visit the Medano Pass Primitive Road. However, use caution and read the information here carefully. This Great Sand Dunes camping experience isn’t for everyone. Absolutely do not drive this road without a high-clearance 4WD vehicle. 

Medano Pass Primitive Road View 5 

Check with park rangers for current conditions before driving the road. Hazardous conditions may be present at any time, especially higher up the pass. Also, the road crosses Medano Creek nine times. Check with park rangers or online for the latest creek levels before venturing out. Alternatively, you can speak to a park ranger by calling (7190 378-6395.

Map of Medano Pass Primitive Road

A black and white map of the primitive Medano Pass Road that traverse Great Sand Dunes National Preserve for the ultimate Great Sand Dunes camping experience.

NPS Photo

Medano Pass Primitive Road Precautions

The 22-mile road is very rough, so be prepared for a Great Sand Dunes camping adventure. This is the only way to access Great Sand Dunes National Preserve by car. It also reaches Medano Pass at an elevation of 10,040 feet, weather and conditions permitting. Watch for big horn sheep as you traverse the terrain. Plan the entire drive to take 2.5-3 hours.

Medano Pass Primitive Road, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado 

Reduce tire pressure to about 20 psi if the sand is dry and soft. In the warmer months, a free air station is available at the south entrance from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. If you reduce pressure, you will need to reinflate using your own air compressor before driving over rocks in Medano Canyon. Drive through creek crossings slowly to avoid drowning your engine.

Medano Pass Primitive Road Mileage Chart

Set your odometer to zero at the western entrance of the primitive road to follow along with this guide.

Credit: NPS

0.0 End of Paved Road: start of Medano Pass Primitive Road.

0.2 Garden Creek: flows until mid-summer

0.5 Buck Creek: intermittent stream

1.0 Sawmill Creek: flows until mid-summer.

1.1 Point of No Return: 4WD vehicles ONLY past this point. Sand Ramp Trail access.

1.4 Ponderosa Point Picnic Area: view of Mt. Herard (13,297’) and dunes.

1.8 Sand Pit: DEEP SAND! Reduce tire pressure to about 20 pounds if sand is soft

2.6 Castle Creek Picnic Area: picnic tables, vault toilet. Park only in designated areas.

3.3 Horse Canyon: views of eastern dunes and foothills.

4.5 1st Crossing of Medano Creek: spring runoff can be very deep! Use caution.

4.6 Old Fire Road: closed to vehicles. 1/2 mile walk to ridge with good views.

5.0 Sand Ramp Trail: trail crosses road. Overnight backpacking permit required.

5.2 Park/Preserve Boundary: roadside campsites begin, numbered by mileage from boundary. 8 campsites over next 0.3 mile.

5.6 2nd Crossing of Medano Creek

5.9 More Campsites: 2 campsites over next 0.5 mile.
Medano Pass Road
6.1 3rd Crossing of Medano Creek: look for bighorn sheep in meadows and cliffs.

6.2 Herard family’s 1870s homestead site (only foundation remains).

6.4 4th Crossing of Medano Creek

6.8 5th crossing of Medano Creek: 4 campsites over next 0.9 mile.

6.9 Tight squeeze: narrow roadway, boulders on roadsides. Use caution!

7.2 6th crossing of Medano Creek

7.7 Crossing of a Tributary Creek

7.8 Two alternatives: left side usually best.

7.9 7th Crossing of Medano Creek: road steeper ahead.

8.4 More campsites: 1 campsite within next 0.3 mile.

8.6 Creek Crossing of a Tributary Creek.

8.8 Beaver Dams: long meadows, marsh, and beaver dams.

9.0 Three Cabins: burned in 2010 wildfire.

9.5 More Campsites: 6 campsites over next 1.5 miles.

9.6 8th Crossing of Medano Creek

10.6 Creek crossing of a Tributary Creek.

10.7 Medano Lake Trailhead: trailhead at end of short spur road.

11.0 Irrigation ditch: steep section ahead.

11.2 Medano Pass: elevation 10,040’ above sea level.

Regulations for the Medano Pass Road Campsites

An aerial view of two hikers walking along the sand dunes

Unsplash/Lionello Delpiccolo

  • 4WD vehicles are required. This does not include AWD vehicles or vehicles with low clearance. You will get stuck.
  • ATVs and UTVs are not permitted. No off-road driving.
  • Motorcyclists wishing to drive the road must register their bikes as OHVs.
  • The road will close in November for the winter season. It typically reopens in mid-to-late May, weather depending. Opening and closing dates vary each year. 
  • Great Sand Dunes camping is permitted in the 21 designated sites only. Sites are marked with brown posts and camping symbols. Roadside or car camping is only permitted at designated sites in Great Sand Dunes National Preserve, not Great Sand Dunes National Park.
  • Bear boxes are located at each site for your scented items and food. Tents should be no more than 40 feet from the boxes.
  • Pets must be leashed or restrained at all times.
  • Fires are only permitted in the fire rings provided.
  • All trash must be packed out.
Read about more of the national parks in Colorado.

Great Sand Dunes Camping in the Backcountry

Milky Camp - Great Sand Dunes NP, Colorado 

If all of the campgrounds in Great Sand Dunes National Park are full, why not give backcountry camping a try? The experience can be daunting and potentially dangerous, especially with those who aren’t experienced in backcountry wilderness travel. Notwithstanding, it can also be a rewarding experience if it’s planned well and executed carefully.

There are a few things to keep in mind when backcountry camping in Great Sand Dunes National Park:

  • Fees: Great Sand Dunes camping fees are $6 for backcountry permits. This is non-refundable.
  • Permits: Permits are required and must be reserved in advance online or by phone at (877) 444-6777. Permits are available year-round.
  • Campsites: You have a choice between 7 designated campsites on the Sand Ramp Trail or 20 non-designated sites in the Dunes backcountry. Learn more on the official website.
  • Navigation: If you go off-trail, make sure that you have an idea of your intended destination and the route you will take. Be comfortable navigating with a map and compass. Do not rely on your GPS or cell phone.
  • Packing: It will be important to have the proper gear for your trip as well, so make sure you are prepared. This includes clothing, sleeping bags and pads, water purification tablets, cookware, and other essentials that you may need while camping in Great Sand Dunes National Park.
  • Wildlife: Be aware of one’s surroundings at all times and keep a close eye on children. As always, store your food properly and don’t leave any trash behind. Store anything with a scent, including things like toiletries and sunscreen, in bear-resistant containers. 

What to Pack for Camping in Great Sand Dunes National Park

A hiker sits on a sand dune

Unsplash/Julian Armstrong

Camping in Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is a great experience. With so much to do and see, it’s easy to get overwhelmed while planning your trip. So here we have some useful tips on what to pack for your Great Sand Dunes camping trip.

An image of a blue tent below a sky filled with stars. The text on the image is encouraging you to download a backcountry camping gear packing list by signing up for e-mail notifications.

Camping Near Great Sand Dunes

A hiker climbs a sand dune while carrying a bright green sand board

Unsplash/Balazs Busznyak

If your Great Sand Dunes camping options are full, I would recommend the following campgrounds near Great Sand Dunes:

  • Oasis Campground is the closest campground to the park located just outside the boundary. I stayed in one of their cabins during my first visit to the park.
  • Zapata Falls Campground on BLM land nearby. Accessed by a bumpy dirt road. 

For a complete list of campgrounds near Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, click here.

Lodging Near Great Sand Dunes

For lodging options near Great Sand Dunes, here are a few of my picks:

More options include the nearby town of Alamosa, about 35 miles from the park. This quaint little city has great food and amenities if you don’t want a rustic Great Sand Dunes camping experience.

A woman watches the sunset over the mountains during a Great Sand Dunes camping trip

Unsplash/Jewad Alnabi

Pin My Great Sand Dunes National Park Camping Guide 

Camping in Great Sand Dunes National Park can be a rewarding experience for those who are looking to get close to nature and explore one of America’s most beautiful national parks

We hope the information provided here has helped you plan the perfect Great Sand Dunes camping trip!

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