camping at the great sand dunes, Camping at the Great Sand Dunes Guide

Camping at the Great Sand Dunes Guide

Amidst the ruggedly beautiful landscape of Southern Colorado lies an ethereal creation sculpted by wind and time – the Great Sand Dunes National Park. If you are a camper, outdoor enthusiast, or simply someone seeking awe-inspiring adventure, the splendor of these sandy peaks promises an unforgettable experience. Let’s talk about camping at Great Sand Dunes National Park.

This blog post is your compass to a remarkable camping trip at the Great Sand Dunes. We will be chatting about campsites, what to bring, the most asked questions, and more! 

What are the Great Sand Dunes and why do they need to be added to your bucket list?

The Great Sand Dunes National Park is home to the tallest dunes in North America, rising over 750 feet high against the rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains. 

The park covers a diverse landscape of grasslands, wetlands, and alpine forests, making it a paradise for nature lovers and adventurers. This means that it is a prime camping destination for your bucket list.

Imagine waking up to the sunrise casting a golden glow over the dunes, or falling asleep under a blanket of stars with the distant sound of sand shifting with the breeze. 

I am calling all nature enthusiasts, camping lovers, and bucket listers looking for a unique take on nature. 

Camping In Great Sand Dunes National Park

Although relatively limited, there are camping options for you within the Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Piñon Flats Campground

First, we have to talk about Piñon Flats. This is the official National Park Service Campground. It is only open from April to October and is filled to the brim most days of the summer. It is at an elevation of 8,175 feet and offers 88 campsites and RV spots


Since this is the most popular option, it is recommended to make your reservations 6 months in advance or 1 year for group sites. 

On weekends, it is a madhouse. Sometimes, the parking and campsites are full within 20 miles.


The individual sites are $20/night and you can have a maximum of 8 people and 2 vehicles on the site. If you are a senior, this price drops down to $10/night. 

They also offer group sites for school trips, family reunions, etc. These are tent-only and range from $65-80. They can accommodate 15-40 people (or more if you rent more than one group site). 

*These prices are just an estimate, please check the main website for up to date prices 😁


  • Flush toilets, sinks, a dishwater sink, and a water spigot are available in each loop.
  • A camp store (with limited hours) is located between Loop 1 and 2. 
  • Each site has a bear locker.
  • Each site is unique; some with more tree shade and others being more out in the open. 


Also, there are limited spaces (in the individual spots) that can fit RVs. Some can fit up to 35 feet, but the majority are 25 feet or smaller. Make sure to check the driveway length before making your reservation.

RV spots do not have hookups, but there is a fill and a dump station available. 

If you’re RV is longer than 35 feet (aka MINE) then you will not be able to turn corners in the park and will need to find someplace else.

Other Info

  • No firewood collection is permitted.
  • Check-in: 2 pm
  • Check-out: 1 pm. 
  • Quiet Hours: 10 pm to 6 am.
  • Generator times: 7 am to 8 pm
  • Your tent and gear must fit on the tent pad and not disturb nearby vegetation. 
  • No hammocks in the trees. 


Is basic camping too mainstream for you? Are you wanting to prove how much of an outdoor lover you truly are? Then backpacking is definitely for you! Permits are required and they cost $6.

There are 7 sites along Sand Ramp Trail and 20 non-designated sites in the backcountry.

Backpacking is a more intense outdoor activity. This is going to involve hiking to your campsite and more planning regarding parking, food, and route. It is also going to be more dangerous and involve more rules and regulations.

I would recommend this to anybody who is already comfortable with camping and enjoys a challenge in nature (aka the die-hard nature fans who don’t mind burying their own poop 6 inches in the ground).

4WD Camping on Medano Pass primitive Road

If you have the gear and are looking for something more adventurous, then you could try one of the 21 campsites available on Medano Pass

Medano Pass primitive Road

Medano Pass Primitive Road is a 22-mile adventure road that connects the Great Sand Dunes to Wet Mountain Valley and Colorado State Highway 69. It is only available late spring through fall as conditions permit. 

This was one of my favorite parts of the Great Sand Dunes! Talk about an adventure bucket list tick in itself. 

Note: You may need to reduce your tire pressure to 20 psi to cross the sand and then inflate them again yourself on Medano Canyon. Medano Pass is at 10,040 feet and it takes about 2.5 to 3 hours to drive the whole thing. Read the signs thoroughly and make sure you can handle this beast of a road!


Campsites are first-come, first-serve. These are only in the first 5.2 miles of the road by Piñon Flats. They are indicated by a brown post with a camping symbol.

These are normally filled on holiday weekends and during the summer, but you might get lucky!

You are going to have to have the right gear to camp here and when I say that you have the necessary gear, I am the right car for the drive! 

To do this, you will need a high-clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle to drive over soft sand, rocks, uneven roads, and even streams. 

camping at the great sand dunes, Camping at the Great Sand Dunes Guide
Driving on Medano Pass Primitive Road.

Best Camping Near Great Sand Dunes

Great Sand Dunes Oasis

The Oasis is my #1 campground near the Great Sand Dunes. Why?

It is a great alternative if you can’t manage to get a reservation or don’t want to stay directly in the park. 

When I first visited the Great Sand Dunes, I parked my massive 40-foot RV there and it was stunning! I had a view of the entire dunes and we were only about 15 minutes from the Great Sand Dunes!

At the Oasis, there are 90 sites total, including tent sites, camping cabins, and RV pull-through sites with full hookups. In other words, there is something for every type of camper. 

They have showers, laundry, a restaurant, and a store. 

Also, they rent sandboards and sand sleds. If you have already read my Great Sand Dunes Bucket List, you know that the National Park does not rent these and you might have to make a trip to the Oasis anyway!

camping at the great sand dunes, Camping at the Great Sand Dunes Guide
Looking over the Great Sand Dunes from my RV spot at the Great Sand Dunes Oasis.

Zapata Falls Campground

Zapata Falls Campground is regulated by the Bureau of Land Management and is 11 miles away from the Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Good news! They are open all year round. This one is perfect for those looking for a more nature-driven camping experience as they have no water and only pit toilets. They do have a fire ring at most sites and it costs $11/night.

Rustic Rook Resort

If you aren’t a camper but still want that camping experience to check off of your bucket list, then that is OKAY! 

Welcome to Rustic Rook Resort! This is a “glamping” option near the Great Sand Dunes National Park, about 19 miles west of the Great Sand Dunes. It is open from mid-May to September.

This luxurious option provides bedding, battery packs, adventure planning, campfire and s’mores, bath products, free hot breakfasts, on-site dining, and picnic areas. 

This is going to bump up the price tag to $145-350/night.

San Luis Lakes State Wildlife Area

The San Luis Lakes State Wildlife Area is just 15 miles away from the Great Sand Dunes. This one is not my favorite but might be your only option during those busy summer months. Plus, you might get lucky and see some wildlife

It is important to note that you need the $43 annual Colorado Wildlife annual access pass and it cannot be purchased there. You need to get this in advance. 

Other than that, it offers first-come-first-serve. You need to bring your own water.

Ramble at the Great Sand Dunes

Although Ramble option is a little further away from the Great Sand Dunes (25 miles), it’s just so cute. 

They are a privately owned camping facility for tents and RVs and have an incredible list of amenities. This includes but is not limited to private open-air hot water shower stalls, fire circles, outdoor kitchens, and more. 

It is their mission to provide well-thought-out and sustainable camping adventures for all who want to get closer to nature.

Other Options Further Away for Camping at the Great Sand Dunes

camping at the great sand dunes, Camping at the Great Sand Dunes Guide
Traveling with my mermaid tail to the dune field.

Preparation and Essentials for Your Camping at the Great Sand Dunes

Must-Have Camping Gear

Every camper has different needs and desires. However, below are the camping basics that you will need when camping in the Great Sand Dunes.

  • A good-quality tent or shelter
  • Steaks or weights
  • Warm sleeping bag
  • Sleeping cot, blow-up mattress, or sleeping pad
  • Reliable stove for cooking
  • Sufficient water and food
  • Lantern
  • First-aid kit
  • Flashlight
  • Map of the Great Sand Dunes

Tips for Success

Effective planning is the key to a successful camping trip. Although this is an incredible once-in-a-lifetime camping trip, make sure that you stay safe while in nature.

  • Check weather conditions in advance and pack accordingly. 
  • Don’t go on the dunes when there is lightning or thunder. 
  • Understand park regulations.
  • No wood fires or firewood collecting.
  • Wear closed-toes shoes as the sand and ground can get very hot in the summer.
  • Be aware of and respect wildlife.
  • Respect the ‘Leave No Trace’ principles.
  • Inform a friend or family member of your itinerary for safety.
camping at the great sand dunes, Camping at the Great Sand Dunes Guide
Spotting wildlife on the roads at the Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Best Time to go Camping in the Great Sand Dunes

It is important to note that the internal campsites in the Great Sand Dunes National Park are only open from April to October. 

Although it is technically open during this time, you need to plan accordingly due to the weather.

One thing that stood out to me was the drastic change in temperatures from day to night. Keep this in mind when you are packing for your Great Sand Dunes camping adventure!

Late Spring to Summer

Therefore, the best time to go camping at the Great Sand Dunes National Park is during the spring and early summer months, from late May through early July. 

Additionally, it’s during these months that Medano Creek, a seasonal stream fed by snowmelt from the surrounding mountains, flows beside the dune field. The creek provides not only a refreshing oasis in the dry landscape but also a unique natural playground for families and individuals alike.

If you want to stargaze and see the Milky Way, I would opt for going later in the summer.

However, it’s important to note that while the temperatures are more pleasant during these months, they also represent the park’s peak season

Therefore, it’s wise to plan and book your camping spot early. You also have to be careful of hot sand during this time because the temperature can get up to 150°F. 


I do think that you could go towards the shoulder season to avoid crowds (near April or October), but you need to have appropriate gear! The nights are going to be chilly, but the fall foliage might make up for your shivering!

My favorite time to go to the Great Sand Dunes is late September to October. However, I was in an RV and I think I would have been a little chilly tent-camping. 

camping at the great sand dunes, Camping at the Great Sand Dunes Guide
Driving through Great Sand Dunes in October.

Things to Do in the Great Sand Dunes While You Are Camping

Sandboarding and Sand Sledding

For the adrenaline-seeker, sandboarding down the dunes is an unparalleled rush. 

Rentals are available at various shops near the park, and the perfect mixture of a slope and packed sand awaits those ready for a new kind of boarding challenge.

Hiking the Great Sand Dunes

The dunes offer hiking for all levels, from serene strolls near the entrance to rugged treks into the heart of the sands. 

Conquer high points like Star Dune or just revel in the vast openness of the dune field. 

Remember, the sand can get very hot, so the morning or evening hours are the best times for more challenging hikes.


Great Sand Dunes National Park has been recognized as a certified International Dark Sky Park, offering one of the best stargazing experiences in North America. 

The absence of light pollution allows for an unobstructed view of the cosmos, making it an ideal activity for campers. Lying on the cool sand under a canopy of stars, you connect with the universe in its purest form. 

The good news is that the Milky Way is bright in the sky and clearest in late summer, so you will be sleeping underneath the Milky Way and a sky full of stars on this bucket list adventure! 

camping at the great sand dunes, Camping at the Great Sand Dunes Guide
Sandboarding at the Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Immerse in Local Colorado Camping Culture

Connecting with Fellow Campers

Camping is not just about nature; it’s about community. Sharing stories under the stars with fellow travelers is an unforgettable experience. 

Bonding over the day’s adventures or exchanging tips for sandboarding techniques is the camaraderie that makes camping special here. 

Ranger Programs

The Great Sand Dunes are a natural phenomenon – and the rangers here know it! That is why they have a wide program of rangers programs right at your fingertips when you camp here. 

This is extremely relevant if you are camping with little tator tots. They have junior ranger programs, passport stamps, and more. 

Camping at the Great Sand Dunes FAQ

Let’s answer some of the most asked questions about camping in Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Camping fees at the Great Sand Dunes National Park vary depending on the chosen campground and the type of camping experience you’re after. 

For those wishing to stay at the park’s developed campground, the cost is generally around $20 per night, offering basic amenities such as potable water and restroom facilities. 

Outside of the Park

For adventurers looking outside of the park, the camping options range from free up to luxurious “glamping” options for up to $350/night. 

These options cater to a range of preferences, ensuring every visitor finds a suitable and affordable way to immerse in the natural beauty of the dunes.

Yes, a permit is required for backcountry camping in the Great Sand Dunes National Park. 

There is a $6 non-refundable fee and it must be obtained online up to 3 months in advance to the day of your trek. This permit ensures that all campers are accounted for and helps in maintaining the delicate ecological balance of the area. 

It’s a small step that contributes to preserving the natural beauty of the dunes for future generations to enjoy.

The Piñon Flats Campground is widely regarded as the best place to camp in the Great Sand Dunes National Park. 

Nestled within walking distance of the majestic dunes, this campground offers spectacular views, particularly at sunrise and sunset. 

Visitors have access to well-maintained facilities, including restrooms and water sources, enhancing the camping experience. Its location not only provides easy access to the dune field but also serves as a convenient base for exploring other attractions within the park. 

Whether you’re looking to enjoy the serene beauty of the dunes under the starlit sky or eager to start your day with an adventurous hike, Piñon Flats Campground is an ideal choice.

Other Options

If it is filled up or you want to mix it up, I enjoyed staying in the Great Sand Dune Oasis with my RV.

Reservations in advance are highly recommended for those planning to camp at the Piñon Flats Campground in the Great Sand Dunes National Park, especially during the peak season, from late spring to early fall. 

The campground fills up quickly due to its popularity and limited number of sites. Obtaining a reservation ensures you have a spot secured upon your arrival, allowing you to fully immerse in the natural splendor of the dunes without the worry of finding accommodation. 

Backpacking Permits

For backcountry camping, while reservations are not required, obtaining a permit is necessary.

Camping in the Great Sand Dunes is indeed a fantastic experience for families looking to bond and make lasting memories. 

The park offers a unique landscape for children and adults alike to explore, from the thrill of sledding down the sand dunes to the joy of discovering local wildlife on a scenic hike. 

Facilities and Activities

With facilities and activities tailored to accommodate families of all sizes, it’s an ideal setting for introducing children to the wonders of nature

The shared experiences of camping, whether gathering around a campfire or gazing at the unsurpassed night sky, foster a sense of adventure and togetherness that can strengthen family bonds.

Yes, the Great Sand Dunes National Park offers group camping options, catering especially to larger parties seeking to experience the park’s natural beauty together. 

The group sites are designed to accommodate educational groups, family reunions, and other large gatherings, providing ample space and facilities to ensure comfort for everyone. 

These designated areas allow for greater interaction and engagement amongst group members, making it an excellent choice for those looking to connect with nature and each other on a deeper level. 

Group Sites Prices

These sites are tent-only and must be reserved at least 4 days in advance.

Here are the Group Sites that you can rent at the Great Sand Dunes:

  • Group Site A: 20-40 people, $80/night, 10 vehicles
  • Group Site B: 20-40 people, $80/night, 10 vehicles
  • Group Site C: 15-30 people, $65/night, 7 vehicles

Bringing your pets along for a camping adventure in the Great Sand Dunes National Park can enhance this bucket list experience, making it even more memorable. 

The park welcomes pets in designated areas, allowing them to enjoy the vast landscapes alongside their owners. 

Great Sand Dunes Pet Policies

However, it’s crucial to keep them on a leash at all times and follow specific guidelines to ensure their safety and the preservation of wildlife. 

These policies make it possible for pet owners to share the joy of exploring nature’s marvels with their furry companions, fostering a shared sense of discovery and enjoyment.

One of the most important rule is to make sure that your pet’s feet aren’t being burned by the sand! Make sure to use pet booties and keep your furry friend safe on the hot sand.

Absolutely! The Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado is more than worth visiting for a multitude of reasons. 

This unique natural wonder presents an otherworldly landscape that captivates all who see it. 

A unique adventure for your bucket list!

I personally have never seen a giant sandbox in the middle of the Colorado mountains! 

The park boasts the tallest dunes in North America, providing a dramatic backdrop for a wide range of outdoor activities, from sand sledding and hiking to star gazing under one of the clearest night skies. 

Its diverse ecosystem also supports a variety of wildlife and offers numerous photographic opportunities. 

The Great Sand Dunes offers a distinct and memorable experience, making it a must-visit destination for adventurers, nature lovers, and families alike.

camping at the great sand dunes, Camping at the Great Sand Dunes Guide
The Bucket List Mermaid showing off her blue and orange tail at the Great Sand Dunes.

Conclusion: Your Great Sand Dunes Camping Adventure Awaits

The Great Sand Dunes National Park is a place where nature reigns supreme, and the human spirit is humbled and inspired. This blog post is just the beginning of the odyssey that awaits those who choose to camp among these majestic dunes.

Pack your spirit of adventure and readiness for nature’s grandeur and head to Great Sand Dunes for what promises to be a bucket list camping experience. 

This sea of sand is a perfect place to reconnect with nature and cross camping off of your bucket list!

Adventure Bucket List Resources

I am here to help your travel adventures go as smoothly as possible! That way you can check off that bucket list with minimal complications and spending!

AIRFARE – It is no surprise that like many travelers, I have found that Hopper is one of the best resources to use when finding cheap flights. 

ACCOMMODATION – My two favorites are Booking.Com for hotels and VRBO for rentals. 

GUIDED TOURS –  If you are looking for quick and easy tours, check out GetYourGuide and Viator

MULTI-DAY TOURS –  For more in-depth tours that span several days, TourHub has many great options with reputable travel companies. Use my code (ALEXANDRA1GURU) for up to 5% off your next bucket list adventure. 

TRANSPORTATION –  You can either rent a car yourself with Discover Cars or do a guided bus tours like Big Bus Tours

CREDIT CARD –  I always use my Chase Freedom Unlimited card for all of my purchases. There is no annual fee and you get 1.5% cash back and 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel. 

SIM CARDS –  Avoid expensive roaming charges with an eSim card with Airalo.

TRAVELER’S INSURANCE –  Check out VisitorsCoverage for affordable insurance plans.

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