High Dune Trail in Great Sand Dunes National Park


John Kowalski

The Great Sand Dunes during winter.

John Kowalski, Royal Banner Editor-In-Chief

The Great Sand Dunes are the tallest sand dunes in North America. Rising to a max height of 750 feet, the sand dunes are an incredible sight to see. Getting a chance to hike on them is an awesome experience, due to the scenic beauty found within and outside of the 30 square mile dunefield. This hike review will focus on the “trail” up high dune, one of the main dunes you can see from the visitor center. Although not the tallest, it is the most popular dune to hike, due to its proximity to the parking lot. 

The hike begins at the dunes parking lot, the main place where most visitors start their day. From the lot, you walk down to the flat basin where Medano Creek seasonally flows. Across the flat plain where the creek flows you can normally see people scaling up High Dune. From this perspective, they look like ants, inching their way up massive ant hills. 

Once across Medano Creek, you begin your arduous journey up the massive dune that is “High Dune”. There really isn’t a trail to guide you up these massive sand hills, although staying on the ridges and avoiding the big bowls found within the dunes typically helps. The hike itself is about two miles each way, depending on the route you take up the ridges, which can vary wildly. If deciding to hike up the middle of the great valleys found within the dunes, expect a quieter but at the same time more difficult experience. 

Finally, after two miles, the summit comes into view. The spectacular view from the top is unbeatable, and is well worth the effort of hiking up the sand. The dunefield seems to go on for miles, and the sheer scale of these massive hills comes into perspective. Off the summit ridge, a steep sand face goes down at least 300 feet. 

Once on top, you can opt to hike over to Star Dune, the tallest sand dune in North America, or head back. Either way, the journey up High Dune gives an appreciation for the beauty found within the Great Sand Dunes, and the massive scale of such an incredible place.

Final Thoughts

This hike is worth doing anytime of the year, although during the summer temperatures can be scorching. The beauty found within the sand dunes is spectacular and serene, and the High Dune hike is wonderful.