Great Sand Dunes camping

Camping Near Great Sand Dunes

You’ll be pleased to know that there are many camping options near the Great Sand Dunes National Park. These range from rugged sites, accessible only by high-clearance vehicles, to family-friendly car campgrounds and full-service RV campsites. 

In this guide, I take a detailed look at each campsite and provide all the essential info regarding camping in and near the Great Sand Dunes National Park. 

Overview

Colorado’s most well-known landscape, the Great Sand Dunes, is among this state’s most visited natural areas. The combo of the stunning Sangre de Cristo mountain range and the magnificent 700 feet-tall dunes is a highlight of many road trips.

Permits & Reservations

Camping vehicle in Great Sand Dunes

Regarding reservations, you’ll definitely need to make one if you plan to stay at the Piñon Flats Campsite. Making a reservation for this place is particularly important if you’re planning to stay there in the summer – during the peak season, this campsite can get very crowded. 

Use the Recreation.gov website to make your reservation for the Piñon Flats Campsite. 

There’s no need to make a reservation for any other campsite in the Great Sand Dunes National Park. When it comes to backcountry campsites, on the other hand, outdoor enthusiasts need to obtain a free permit before heading to these places. The pass can be obtained at the Visitor Center. Getting there early is essential – the licenses are given to those who arrive first, there are no reservations. 

Camping next to the Medano Pass Primitive Road requires no permits of any kind. Still, the sites can’t be reserved in advance, so it’s crucial to arrive there early in the day to secure a good spot. 

What to Pack 

Choosing a campsite whose amenities and location fit your needs is just one part of planning a Great Sand Dunes adventure. Ensuring you have the right equipment is just as important, particularly if you want to spend a few days in this part of Colorado with your family. 

If you’ve ever camped before, you probably already have the essential gear (sleeping bags, a sturdy tent, etc.). Here are a few other pieces of equipment you’ll want to pack for your Great Sand Dunes camping trip: 

  • Great Sand Dunes guidebook – This guidebook will provide you with all the essential information on the go: topographic maps, difficulty ratings, accurate directions to trails, and more. It’s an absolute must-have item if you’re serious about exploring this majestic region. 
  • Great Sand Dunes map – A good map is just as important, and the National Geographic Society often makes the most informative ones. Combine it with one of the best camping apps to make the most of your adventure. 
  • Portable water containers – Do you want to save yourself from frequent trips to the campsite’s water access point? If so, make sure to pack a couple of portable water containers. 
  • Portable camping stove – This item is essential if you plan to go wild camping near the Great Sand Dunes. Deluxe campsite dinners are the best! 
  • Portable cooler – The weather in this area can get pretty hot, which makes packing a good portable cooler crucial. Yeti makes the best ones. 
  • Pop-up canopy – As I said above, those planning to come here can expect intense temperatures. A well-made, easy-to-set-up canopy will keep you and your fellow campers in the shade. 

Fires 

Big campfire

Building a campfire is permitted at the sites located along Medano Pass Primitive Road and on the grounds of the Piñon Flats Campsite. 

However, the same does not apply to most backcountry areas, including the dune field zone. The only designated backcountry campsite where outdoor enthusiasts are allowed to make a fire is the Sand Creek primitive campsite. 

If you decide to build a campfire – where doing such a thing is allowed – make sure to use locally-sourced firewood. It helps preserve the natural habitat of the Great Sand Dunes National Park by preventing the spread of dangerous diseases. 

Harvesting local firewood is forbidden anyway – those who try to do that risk a hefty fine. Before heading into the National Park’s backcountry, check for current campfire-related regulations by contacting the staff of the Visitor Center. 

Wildlife

Wildlife in Great Sand Dunes National Park

The Great Sand Dunes National Park is home to a variety of wildlife. The most common animals one can see here are elk and deer. However, there are also some mountain lions, dune-dwelling kangaroo mice, and black bears in this region.

If you’re planning to pitch a tent among the Great Sand Dunes, you’ll need to pay special attention to protecting your provisions from chipmunks, mice, and other rodents. Also, bears are well-known for visiting the campsites in this region, which is why you must store your food correctly. 

The campsites in the Piñon Flats and Medano Pass areas provide their visitors with storage lockers for provisions. However, camping in the Great Sand Dunes backcountry is a different story. Those staying there need to store their food properly – you can either hang your supplies in a tree or use one of those convenient bear canisters. 

Another essential thing to mention here is that this National Park is quite notorious for ticks. Check yourself and your loved ones after every hike (particularly after walking through tall grass). 

Pets

Pets in great dunes national park

Pets are permitted at Medano Pass Primitive Road sites and the Piñon Flats Campsite. 

However, if you decide to bring a pet to any of these places, you’ll need to keep it on a leash. Another critical thing to mention here is that campers are expected to dispose of waste left behind by their pets properly. 

Things are a bit different regarding sites situated in the backcountry of the Great Sand Dunes National Park. There, outdoor enthusiasts are not allowed to bring their pets. If you’re planning to stay at any of those camping spots, you’ll have to leave your four-legged friend at home. 

As ticks are quite common in this region, so always check your animal(s) for ticks. 

Where to Get Provisions 

When camping near the Great Sand Dunes National Park, the best place to stock up on provisions is in Alamosa. 

This town is the commercial center of the San Luis Valley. It features major grocery stores – such as City Market and Safeway – and a few excellent outdoor stores. It is also only half an hour of driving away from the park. 

Here are a couple of Alamosa’s best places where campers can stock up on provisions before heading over to the Great Sand Dunes National Park: 

  • Discount Liquors (liquor store) – Alamosa, 151 Broadway Ave 
  • Kristi Mountain Sports (outdoor store) – Alamosa, 3223 Main Street 
  • Safeway (groceries store) – Alamosa, 1301 Main Street 

Camping Inside the Great Sand Dunes National Park 

Those planning to stay inside this otherworldly park have three options. 

The first is the popular Piñon Flats Campsite, which is located very close to the park’s entrance. The second option is to use one of the basic sites next to the Medano Pass Primitive Road. 

The final option is to go straight into the park’s backcountry, where you can camp in the wild or stay at one of the seven designated campsites. 

Piñon Flats Campsite 

Piñon flats
  • Capacity: Up to 2 vehicles, two tents, and eight people per site 
  • Number of Sites: 3 group sites (up to 40 people) and 88 individual sites (up to 8 people) 
  • Reservations: Recommended 
  • Fee: $20 per night for an individual site 
  • RVs: Allowed (maximum length – 25 feet) 

One of the region’s largest campgrounds, the Piñon Flats Campsite, can be found right at the National Park’s entrance (just past the Visitor Center). 

This place is an ideal destination for the Great Sand Dunes campers looking for lots of nearby services and quick & easy access. Moreover, the Piñon Flats Campsite is next to Medano Creek, a seasonal stream enjoyed by all ages. 

There are plenty of camping options here. In addition to three sprawling sites that easily accommodate up to 40 people at once, this campground also features 88 individual sites, each of which can accommodate eight people, two tents, and two vehicles. 

The Piñon Flats Campsite is laid out in three well-organized and well-maintained loops. While the easternmost loop serves the three group sites, the remaining two loops – located in the northern section of the campground – operate the 88 individual sites. 

In terms of amenities, you can expect trash services, recycling services, potable water, a small campground shop, and plenty of restrooms. During the summer, the Piñon Flats Campsite also provides visitors with a dump station. 

If you’re planning to stay at Piñon Flats with an RV, keep in mind that this campsite has a length limit for such vehicles. The campground cannot accommodate trailers and RVs whose length exceeds 25 feet.

One vital thing you should know about this place is that it’s very popular. The Piñon Flats Campsite gets especially crowded when the nearby Medano Creek flows, which takes place during spring and late summer. 

This is why all those planning to come to this campsite during the creek’s peak flow must make a reservation in advance.

A spot at the Piñon Flats Campsite can be reserved half a year in advance, and you must reserve your camping spot six months in advance if you’d like to stay here during the creek’s flowing season.

Medano Pass Primitive Road Sites 

Medano Pass
Photo by Ken Lund via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
  • Capacity: Not regulated 
  • Number of Sites: 21 designated sites 
  • Reservations: No
  • Fee: No charge 
  • RVs: No 

Medano Pass is a rugged road that connects State Highway 69 with the Great Sand Dunes National Park. As such, it can be traversed only by high-clearance, 4WD vehicles. 

Many outdoor enthusiasts who own AWD vehicles think they can easily tackle Medano Pass, and they usually regret their decision later. As they can lock rear and front driveshafts together, 4WD vehicles provide extra traction that is much-needed for rough roads such as Medano Pass. 

If you own a 4WD vehicle, you’ll be pleased to know that 21 excellent designated campsites are located along this road. They provide far more privacy and solitude than all camping spots at Piñon Flats Campsite. 

All of Medano’s 21 designated campsites are situated in the Preserve section of the Great Sand Dunes National Park. They begin after about 5 miles from the point where the pavement of the National Park’s main road ends. 

Each of this road’s campsites has its number, which signifies how far it is from the National Preserve’s entrance. Similarly, each place is equipped with a bear box, allowing campers to store their provisions safely. However, only some campsites come with fire rings. 

As mentioned earlier in this guide, building a campfire at the sites along Medano Pass Primitive Road is permitted. Still, it’s never a bad idea to check with the people working at the Visitor Center for potential fire restrictions. 

Unfortunately, those wishing to camp along Medano Pass Primitive Road won’t have access to trash facilities or restrooms. When staying here, pack out all your garbage and always “answer the call of nature” far away from water sources. Also, don’t forget to bury your waste at least 6 inches deep. 

As for water, you’ll be able to draw some from the nearby Medano Creek. You will, however, have to treat it before using it. The best course of action would be to bring clean water in portable containers – bring as much as you’ll need for your camping adventure. 

The Backcountry Campsites 

Woman in Great Sand Dunes National Park
  • Capacity: 6 people + 2 vehicles per permit 
  • Number of Sites: 7 designated sites 
  • Reservations: No
  • Fee: No charge 
  • RVs: No 

Are you seeking a genuine backcountry experience? If so, forget about the Medano Pass Primitive Road and the Piñon Flats Campsite – head straight into the dune field! 

There, you’ll have 30 square miles of breathtaking landscape to explore. You’ll be able to set up camp pretty much anywhere, although most people here tend to use one of the area’s seven designated campsites. Up to six people, along with two vehicles, can stay at each of these places. 

To stay at these designated campsites – or set up camp somewhere in the dune field – you’ll need to obtain a free permit. As I mentioned earlier in the article, outdoor enthusiasts can get this permit at the park’s Visitor Center. 

Remember that the Visitor Center distributes the permits on a first-come, first-served basis. There can be no more than 20 groups of campers in the park’s backcountry at one time, so it’s essential to get there early if you want to secure a permit. This is doubly true for those wishing to camp there on the weekend. 

Backcountry Camping – The Dune Field 

Colorado Mountains from Great Sand Dunes National Park

As mentioned above, camping enthusiasts wishing to stay in the dune field have 30 square miles of an astonishing landscape at their disposal.

The National Park Service has separated the dune field into two distinct zones: the backcountry and day-use areas. The visitors can set up camps only in the former sector. You’ll have to hike for about 1.5 miles into the dune field before reaching the backcountry zone. 

Here are a few important considerations you’ll have to keep in mind while staying there: 

  • Practice the Leave No Trace principles during your stay. 
  • The National Park Service recommends using tent stakes explicitly made for sand. 
  • Bring a sturdy food storage product such as a bear canister to protect your provisions from wildlife. 
  • Avoid high winds and severe thunderstorms by closely monitoring the weather forecast. 
  • Building a campfire in the dune field is not permitted. You can, however, use a camping stove. 
  • There are no water sources here. Bring plenty of clean water in portable canisters. 
  • No pets are allowed in the dune field. 

Designated Campsites 

Besides setting up a camp in the dune field, outdoor enthusiasts can also stay at one of the area’s seven designated campsites. 

All of these are located along the most famous hiking trail in the San Luis Valley – the Sand Ramp Trail. If you’re not that interested in dispersed camping in the dune field, you’ll be pleased to know that these places offer more protection. 

These sites range in the distance from the Piñon Flats Campground mentioned above – from 0.5 to 11.5 miles. Backpackers planning to stay at one of these designated campsites should keep the following info in mind: 

  • Plan and prepare accordingly, be considerate of other campers, camp only on durable surfaces, respect wildlife, properly dispose of waste, minimize campfire impacts, and leave whatever you find. 
  • The only designated campsite in this area where visitors are allowed to build a campfire is the Sand Creek site. 
  • Pack a bear canister – you’ll want to protect your provisions from wild animals. 
  • Water can be scarce in this region. So, make sure to bring plenty of it with you. 
  • No pets are allowed at the designated campsites in the backcountry of the Great Sand Dunes National Park.

 If you are interested in similar camping adventures, see our guide to camping near Mount Rushmore.

Camping Near the Great Sand Dunes National Park

The Great Sand Dunes National Park is one of Colorado’s most popular outdoor destinations. Therefore, it is entirely possible to find all of its campsites full, especially if you come to camp there during the weekend. 

However, there is a simple solution to this issue – camping just outside the National Park. There are plenty of RV campgrounds, car campsites, and wild camping zones in the area, most of which provide quick and easy access to the National Park itself. 

Here’s everything you need to know about these places: 

RV Campgrounds Near Great Sand Dunes 

If you often go on camping trips with your recreational vehicle, you’ll be happy to know that many excellent campgrounds accommodate RVs and trailers near the Great Sand Dunes National Park. 

These places are your best option if you find the Piñon Flats Campsite full. We should also remember that Piñon Flats has an RV length limit of 25 feet, which turns these RV campgrounds into an excellent alternative for folks with larger rigs. 

KOA Alamosa Campsite 

Alamosa Colorado
  • Capacity: Not stated 
  • Number of Sites: Not stated, but plenty 
  • Reservations: Recommended 
  • Fee: $25 – $75 per night 
  • RVs: Yes 
  • Pets: Permitted 

Situated on the east end of the town of Alamosa, this particular RV campsite is just half an hour’s drive from the National Park. 

It easily accommodates larger rigs, and the fee you’ll have to pay for a night’s stay will depend on the size of your rig. Staying here will cost you more than staying at the other RV campground – Great Sand Dunes Oasis, but this place is close to many nearby amenities and has excellent user reviews. 

Regarding on-site facilities, visitors can expect free Wi-Fi, a small shop, a dog park, a playground, a basketball court, a laundromat, and a pool. 

Great Sand Dunes Oasis 

  • Capacity: 10 people per smaller site, more for larger ones 
  • Number of Sites: 20 RV sites, some additional tent sites 
  • Reservations: Recommended 
  • Fee: $25 – $38 
  • RVs: Yes
  • Pets: Permitted 

If you can’t camp inside the Great Sand Dunes National Park but want to stay as close to it as possible, this RV campground is your best option. It’s only a 3-minute drive from the park entrance, right next to State Highway 150. 

The Great Sand Dunes Oasis is a large, sprawling campground serving three meals daily at its on-site restaurant. The cost of staying here will depend on your camping style: the price for tent sites is $25 per night and $38 per night for the RV sites. 

Other amenities worth noting are the motel rooms and cabins for rent, a gas station, a gift store, and a small shop where you can buy basic groceries. I should also point out that this place is only half an hour away from hot mineral springs. 

Car Campsites Near Great Sand Dunes 

Those planning to come here by car will also have plenty of options. However, just like in the case of RV campgrounds, I’ll take a look at only two car campsites near the Great Sand Dunes – they’re the best of the bunch. 

Rustic Rook Resort 

This particular place is entirely different from all the other campsites mentioned in this guide. It provides its visitors with a full-fledged glamping experience, which is precisely why staying here costs quite a bit more – the prices start at a whopping $150 per night. 

You won’t have to sleep in your car or a tent here. Every visitor is provided with a luxurious glamping tent, each of which can accommodate up to 4 people. 

The Rustic Rook Resort is about 20 miles from the National Park and includes on-site dining, picnic & grill areas, communal campfires, and much more.

Zapata Falls Campsite 

Zapata Falls

Like the campground described above, the Zapata Falls Campsite is about half an hour’s drive from the National Park’s entrance, close to State Highway 150. 

It features 24 sites in total – 1 group (15 people) + 23 individual (6 people) sites – and is first-come, first-served. Staying at one of the individual sites will cost you only $11 per night, and you’ll be allowed to bring your pet. 

Don’t expect much when it comes to amenities, though – the only facility at the Zapata Falls Campsite is a single vault toilet. It is, however, very close to a few outstanding hiking trails.

Dispersed Camping Near Great Sand Dunes 

Area near Great Sand Dunes

Your final option for camping in this spectacular region is pitching a tent on adjacent BLM land. The “BLM” stands for Bureau of Land Management – a federal agency that oversees eight of the country’s total landmass (247.3 million acres) and generally allows wild camping on its properties. 

If you’d like to engage in dispersed camping in this region, contact the Conejos Peak Ranger District (phone number: (719) 480-9892) first. The people working there will tell you everything about the current dispersed camping conditions. 

BLM Sites at Sacred White Shell Mountain/Lake Como Road 

This is the best of all dispersed camping areas in the vicinity of the Great Sand Dunes National Park. It’s only half an hour of driving away from the park’s entrance, east of State Highway 150. 

There are no facilities here, meaning you’ll have to properly deal with your waste and bring plenty of clean water. Outdoor enthusiasts can camp in this area for up to two weeks in a 28-day period. 

The Takeaway 

That’s it! Now you know everything about camping in and near the Great Sand Dunes National Park, and you can start planning your adventure. 

Hopefully, this guide has helped you choose a place you’ll use as a base for exploration during your stay in this sensational region. Have a great time! 

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