sandboarding the great sand dunes, Sandboarding The Great Sand Dunes: Review and Guide

Sandboarding The Great Sand Dunes: Review and Guide

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Want to add sandboarding at the Great Sand Dunes to your bucket list?

Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park is a mesmerizing landscape of rippling sand mountains, standing against the backdrop of the rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains. 

Here, adventure takes on a unique form, not in the form of skis or snowboards, but on a board ready to carve sand. 

Sandboarding and sand sledding offer a thrill that’s one part snowboarding, one part surfing, and all exhilaration. 

When I, a Colorado local and snowboarder, first decided to go, I knew that I wanted to try out sandboarding the Great Sand Dunes. However, I couldn’t find a lot of reviews of what it was really like to go “sandsurfing”. 

In this comprehensive guide, we explore what it’s like to go sandsurfing in Colorado and how you can make the most of this extraordinary experience. I am also going to lump this in with sand sledding, another popular activity in the Great Sand Dunes.

sandboarding the great sand dunes, Sandboarding The Great Sand Dunes: Review and Guide
Sandboarding the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado.
sandboarding the great sand dunes, Sandboarding The Great Sand Dunes: Review and Guide

Bucket List Review of Sandboarding The Great Sand Dunes

Who Should Add This to Their Bucket List?Nature enthusiasts who want a unique thrill.
Best Time to GoFall
Traveling DifficultyEasy
Physical DifficultyModerate
Popularity Rating6/10
Group Tour RequiredNo, but rental outside of park required.
Wheelchair AccessibleGreat Sand Dunes have special wheelchairs for sand.
Favorite Place to StayGreat Sand Dunes Lodge
Favorite Sandboard/Sled RentalGreat Sand Dunes Oasis
Traveler’s InsuranceGet Quote with VisitorsCoverage

If you need more information about the categories of this table, please check out the Bucket List Reviews guide.

The Great Sand Dunes: A Treasure of Colorado

Nestled in the heart of the San Luis Valley, the Great Sand Dunes are not only the tallest dunes in North America but also a place of vast biodiversity

The unique mosaics of grassland, wetland, alpine meadows, and forest habitats provide homes for diverse wildlife, from insects to deer, bears, and mountain lions. 

The Medano Creek and seasonal beaches further add to the ecological importance of this national park.

A Geography of Giants and Sand

With some dunes towering up to 750 feet, the landscape evokes magnificence and, dare I say it, a little bit of Mars on Earth. 

The crowning bucket list activity of the Great Sand Dunes is no doubt gliding along the sand via sand board or sand sled. In fact, it was the first thing that I wanted to do when I reached the Sand Dunes with my massive RV.

Well, that and roll around the sand in my iconic mermaid tail…

sandboarding the great sand dunes, Sandboarding The Great Sand Dunes: Review and Guide
The Bucket List Mermaid showing off her tail at the Great Sand Dunes National Park.

The Thrill of Sandboarding and Sand Sledding

What is it?

Sandboarding is the act of boarding down a sand dune. Think surfing and snowboarding, but the medium is sand! 

Sand sledding is the equivalent of taking a toboggan down the now but with a sled. You can use your imagination, but spoiler alert: it is a very unique and exhilarating activity!

No lift lines here, just wilderness and dunes as far as the eye can see.

Why Should Sandboarding and Sand Sledding be Added to Your Bucket List?

I wanted to add this to my bucket list because everytime I have boarded or sledded, it has been in the snow. It was fascinating to me to be able to sled down something without snowpants. 

When I finally did check this off of my bucket list, I realized that it was so much more than that! There was something about the sand on my feet, the sun on my face, and the adrenaline-pumping activities, all while enveloped in Colorado mountains

If you are venturing out and about in the Alamosa area of Colorado, this is must-do for your bucket list

sandboarding the great sand dunes, Sandboarding The Great Sand Dunes: Review and Guide
Holding up my sandboard proud and ready to start carving the sand (or fall).

Getting Equipped for the Dunes and Great Sand Dunes Rentals

The beauty of sandboarding and sand sledding lies in its simplicity.

All you need is a sandboard or sand sled—a specially designed piece of equiptment for sand, some wax, and determination.

I would caution you from using gear that is not designed for sand. Normal sleds might not get the smooth glide you are craving in the sand, and you can destory a snowboard. 

My advice would be to rent: it’s cheap, easy, catered for sand, and you won’t ruin your own gear in the process. 

Renting Sandboards and Sandsleds in Great Sand Dunes National Park

If you’re itching to experience the thrill of sand sledding and sandboarding the Great Sand Dunes but don’t own the gear, worry not. 

I ran across several people lamenting their woes about how they came here to sandboard but then arrived to find no rental facilities.

With that being said, the area surrounding the dunes boasts several rental shops where you can find all the necessary equipment to make your adventure as enjoyable and hassle-free as possible. 

  1. Oasis Store – near the park entrance on CO150. It is right on the way to the entrance. It is, unfortunately, only open seasonally.
  2. Spin Drift Sandboard Rentals – this is a little further away (25 miles) from the Great Sand Dunes on CO 160. It is only open seasonally.
  3. Sand Dunes Swimming Pool – 32 miles from the Great Sand Dunes National Park on CO 17. It is open year-round.
  4. Kristi Mountain Sports – 35 miles away in Alamosa on US160, but is massive and open year round.

These locally owned establishments are well-stocked with everything you might need, ensuring your sand-surfing experience is nothing short of exceptional.

Oasis Store Great Sand Dunes Store Review

When I visited the Great Sand Dunes, I parked my beast of an RV here. I also rented a sandboard and my traveling companions rented sand sleds from the Oasis store

Not to mention they are about 10 minutes from the entrance to the Great Sand Dunes and the next available rental store was about 25 miles away.

I would highly recommend checking them out if you are interested in sandboarding the Great Sand Dunes. Or, if you want to camp/RV and the Great Sand Dunes National Park campsites are full, this is a great alternative.

sandboarding the great sand dunes, Sandboarding The Great Sand Dunes: Review and Guide
View of the Great Sand Dunes and Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

How to Sandboard or “Surf the Sand”

Just like snowboarding, the first timers will need to find their balance. 

Leaning into turns and gliding on the sand feels different but not as hard as it looks—there’s no need to be a pro to enjoy the ride.

I personally noticed that the sand was a bit more “dense” than the snow with snowboarding and the weight distribution was different.

Fortunately, after about an hour, I had it down. 

Plus, I did not see any professional sandboarders there (is that a thing?). Everyone was having fun falling in the sand. You will fall, get sand everywhere, and will laugh doing it. It won’t hurt as bad as you think and it’s all in the name of adventure. 

So, don’t take yourself so seriously, and just go for it! 

P.S. If you want to learn how to snowboard, I would highly recommend checking out my guide for learning to snowboard as an adult.

Sandboarding Basics

  1. Climb up the dune you want to sandboard down (this is going to be a workout!)
  2. Make sure all your equipment is good to go.
  3. Wax the board. The rental man told me it was like scribbling a crayon on the bottom of the board. 
  4. With the nose of the board pointing down the dune, lead with your dominant foot.
  5. Lean back and bend your back knee. Always look where you want to go.
  6. Apply pressure on your heels and toes to turn.
  7. You can maintain some balance by holding your arms out.
  8. If you start to feel unstable, bend your knees and try to carve for as long as you can. Then fall to your back.

Sand Sledding Basics

This one is substantially easier than sandboarding. 

The only thing that I thought was a little daunting about sand sledding is that there are no breaks. You quite literally just fall to one side in the sand to stop yourself. 

I actually found myself wiping out harder because I would get up to greater speeds on the sled than when I was sandboarding. 

Fortunately, I never felt any pain and had fun all day long on both a sand sled and on a sandboard.

sandboarding the great sand dunes, Sandboarding The Great Sand Dunes: Review and Guide
Sand sledding and wiping out on sand sleds!

My Experience and Review of the Great Sand Dunes

Underneath the Colorado sun, the dunes transform into a playground. The openness of the terrain and the purity of the adventure left an indelible mark, making it a day well spent.

As I mentioned before, I rented a sandboard and my friends all rented sleds. This was the perfect opportunity for me to try out both. 

Coming from the Great Sand Dunes Oasis in my RV, we paid for a pass into the park (it was cheap; about $25 for one vehicle for a week) and headed to the main parking lot. 

The “hike” out to the dune field was longer than I expected, taking about 20 minutes while carrying all of our gear. 

I ended up taking off my shoes since it was October and the sand wasn’t scorching hot. I would NOT recommend doing this in the summer

My First Moments on a Sandboard

The first moments on the sandboard were anti-climactic to say the least. I would go around 5 feet and then fall…and then go another 5 feet and fall. 

I would then climb the dune again (this is not easy), wax the board, and try again. 

With some hard word and after about 30 minutes, I started to get the hang of it. After a while, I was able to make it all the way down the dune without falling.

With the sand beneath my board, the soft wind blowing across the dunes, and the view of the mountains, I was in bucket list heaven!

Hiking and Sledding on the Great Sand Dunes

After about an hour, I decided to try the sand sled! I hiked up a couple of the smaller dunes, flew down on the sled, and then wiped out so hard that I found sand a month later in my clothes. 

I then decided to take a spontaneous hike to the tallest dune. *palm hits forehead*

Spoiler alert: this was NOT a quick hike like I anticipated. It may look like a short distance, but sand is way more difficult and physically demanding to hike in.

So there I was: no shoes, no water, no plan…hiking one of the tallest dunes in North America with a sand sled. Hey, I may have gone to med school, but that doesn’t mean I’m smart. Don’t be like me. Learn from me

Anyway, once I sufficiently regretted my life choices, it all seemed to melt away when I grabbed that sled and screamed “TALLY-HO!”.

Should you Sandboard or Sand Sled in the Great Sand Dunes?

I personally liked sandboarding over sand sledding. While both offer a memorable experience, the sandboard, in my opinion, offers a bit more control and variety. 

I am, however, an avid snowboarder, so take my view with a grain of salt. 

In addition, I did also get stuck in some places on the sled, especially when coming down that massive dune. I had the wax with me, but sometimes I just couldn’t get going. Other times I couldn’t stop. 

However, for the younger bucketlisters and those who don’t think it is fun to potentially slam their face into sand, the sand sled can give an excellent taste of the rush down the sandy slopes.

All of my friends who rented the sand sleds loved it. They stated that they were happy with their decision to sand sled instead of sand board.

sandboarding the great sand dunes, Sandboarding The Great Sand Dunes: Review and Guide
Holding up my sandboard with pride! The sand sled is to my right.

The Complete Guide to Savoring the Sandboarding Experience

For those planning to hit the dunes, a little preparation can ensure a smoother ride and a safer adventure.

Getting to Great Sand Dunes National Park from Denver

Traveling from Denver to the Great Sand Dunes National Park presents a scenic and enjoyable road trip, offering a glimpse into Colorado’s varied landscapes.

The drive spans approximately 4 hours and covers around 245 miles.

Starting from Denver, you’ll take I-25 S towards Walsenburg, then merge onto US-160 W towards Alamosa.

From Alamosa, the route takes you north on CO-150 N, leading directly to the entrance of the park.

This journey not only offers straightforward navigation but also rewards travelers with captivating views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Remember to check road conditions and park alerts before departing. Colorado weather can be unpredictable, especially in the winter months.

Best Times to Visit the Great Sand Dunes

The Great Sand Dunes offers a variety of conditions depending on the time of day and year!

I go into detail on this in my Great Sand Dunes Guide, but here are my favorites:

Best Time of Year

  • Go in October for incredible weather, less crowds, and acceptable sand temperatures. This is also when the fall foliage surrounds the dunes. It is some of the prettiest fall colors I’ve seen in Colorado! This is my favorite time to go!
  • Go in late May/early June to see the peak water levels of Medano Creek. This is a very popular time to go and the sand can be hot! Try to avoid holidays and weekends. 
  • Go in late summer for a view of the Milky Way high and clear in the sky!

Best Time of Day

  • Because of thunderstorms and heat, it is recommended to always plan your dune adventures in the morning. 
  • The Great Sand Dunes is a certified International Dark Park. This means that the stars are out of this world (see what I did there?). If you are staying overnight or camping, a stargazing session is a non-negotiable to your bucket list. 

Essential Safety Measures for Sandboarding at the Great Sand Dunes

The dunes, like any natural formation, require respect and caution. 

You need to know your limits and understand the current weather conditions. A dose of preparedness can make your sandboarding trip a worry-free adventure.

For sandboarding, the main safety concerns are storms and sand temperature. This is going to be especially an issue during the summer. 

Colorado often gets thunderstorms in the afternoon, and the sand dunes are no exception. That is why the park advises you to plan your sandboarding adventure in the morning to avoid fatal lightning strikes. 

Another thing to keep in mind is the sand temperature. Sand temperature can reach 60°F higher than the air temperature. This means that the sand can reach temperatures of up to 150°F! 

Make sure that if you are visiting in the late spring to early autumn that you are wearing sturdy closed toed shoes to protect your feet. This also extends to your pet’s paws, too!

When I went in October, I was walking around with no shoes and didn’t have a problem. 

You can ready more safety tips that the National Park recommends in my Great Sand Dunes Ultimate Guide

Other Activities in the Area

For those who might not want to spend all day on the sands, you may want to extend your adventure. The Great Sand Dunes National Park and the surrounding San Luis Valley offer myriad attractions, including hiking, birdwatching, and photography.

sandboarding the great sand dunes, Sandboarding The Great Sand Dunes: Review and Guide
A view of the Preserve and the San Luis Valley.

Tips for a Memorable Sandboarding Adventure

It’s the little details that can turn an enjoyable day into an unforgettable experience. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

What to Wear for Sandboarding

Sandboarding at the Great Sand Dunes is an exhilarating experience that combines the thrill of surfing with the unique landscape of the dunes. 

To make the most of this adventure, it’s crucial to dress appropriately for the conditions. The right attire will not only enhance your comfort but also protect you against the elements and ensure a more enjoyable experience. 

Here’s a list of essential gear for your sandboarding trip:

  • Lightweight, Long-Sleeved Shirt and Pants: To protect your skin from the sun and sand. Sometimes when the wind picks up, you can get sandblasted and having protective clothing helps!
  • Sunscreen: A high SPF to shield your skin from intense sun exposure. I burn no matter what I do…oh, well. 
  • Sunglasses or Goggles: With UV protection to protect your eyes. This is also important to not get sand in your eyes.
  • Closed Shoes: Consider old sneakers or boots that you don’t mind getting filled with sand.
  • Gloves: Optional, but can be helpful for protection when climbing up the dunes.
  • Hat: A wide-brimmed hat to cover your face and neck from the sun.
  • Water: Staying hydrated is key, so bring plenty of water.

Staying Hydrated and Protected from the Elements

Elaborating more on the some more important things…proper hydration and sun protection are key.

Just ask my extremely fair skin what it looked like after my day sandboarding!

Equipping yourself with the right sunscreen, a hat, and plenty of water can make the difference in your day.

In addition, this is essential if you want to hike the dunes during your sandboarding adventure. Don’t let them fool you! Hiking the dunes is HARD, but worth it! This is why sun protection and water are essential. 

I found that it was actually easier to hike with a board or sand sled. I would dig the board in uphill and then use it to propel myself up. This would be even easier with hiking poles.

Needless to say it was easily one of the most unique hikes I’ve ever done. And to sweeten the pot, you get to sandboard/sand sled down!

Observing Etiquette on the Dunes

Preserving the natural integrity of the dunes ensures that future generations can also partake in their splendor.

The Great Sand Dunes is not just sand, it’s a vast ecosystem. Please be a sustainable traveler: don’t disturb wildlife/vegitation, leave no trace, and respect others.

Adhering to guidelines and understanding the park’s rules can enhance not just your experience but others’ as well.

sandboarding the great sand dunes, Sandboarding The Great Sand Dunes: Review and Guide
A unique view of the Great Sand Dunes and the mountains surrounding it.

Sandboarding and Sand Sledding FAQ

All of your sandboarding and sandsledding questions answered!

Absolutely, sandboarding is one of the most thrilling activities you can engage in at the Great Sand Dunes

This unique recreational sport, similar to snowboarding, takes advantage of the park’s vast, open dunes, transforming them into natural slides. 

Getting Gear for Sandboarding the Great Sand Dunes

Visitors are welcome to bring their own sandboards or sand sleds, as traditional snowboards or household items like cardboard do not work well on the dry sand. 

For those without equipment, rentals are available nearby, providing everyone the chance to experience the exhilarating descent against the backdrop of majestic landscapes. 

It’s a must-try adventure for thrill-seekers and nature lovers alike, promising an unforgettable experience amidst the serene beauty of the dunes.

Absolutely, adding the Great Sand Dunes to your bucket list is highly recommended. 

This natural wonder not only offers a unique sandboarding experience but also an opportunity to immerse yourself in an extraordinary landscape. 

The Great Sand Dunes are for Everyone!

Whether you’re interested in adventure sports, hiking, camping, or simply soaking in the tranquil beauty of nature, the Great Sand Dunes provide something for everyone

The park’s vast expanse of shifting sands set against the dramatic backdrop of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains offers breathtaking views that are truly unmatched. 

Visiting the Great Sand Dunes is a chance to connect with nature, challenge your spirit of adventure, and create memories that will last a lifetime.

The ideal time to visit the Great Sand Dunes is undoubtedly in October. During this month, the temperature is moderate, making it comfortable for visitors to explore the vast landscape without the burden of the summer heat. 

Additionally, the sand isn’t blistering, allowing for barefoot adventures without the discomfort of hot sand that can be experienced in the peak summer months. 

Visitors in October often find that they can avoid the larger crowds typical of the summer, resulting in a more intimate and serene experience. 

Furthermore, the fall foliage surrounding the Great Sand Dunes adds an extra layer of beauty to the visit, with vibrant colors that enrich the already stunning backdrop of the dunes and mountains.

More From the Fall Bucket List

If you want more travel ideas to do during Autumn, check out the epic Fall Bucket List.

For an exhilarating sliding experience down the Great Sand Dunes, the best equipment to use is a specially designed sandboard or sand sled

Unlike conventional snow sleds or cardboard, these are crafted with the unique nature of sand in mind, featuring a slick bottom that ensures a smooth glide over the sandy terrain. 

Can I use my own Gear?

It’s important to note that regular snow sleds or makeshift boards often don’t work well on sand due to friction differences

Sandboards and sand sleds can typically be rented from nearby shops, where they are specially waxed and prepared for the dunes. This not only offers a thrilling descent but also protects the natural structure of the sand dunes themselves.

Sandboarding in Great Sand Dunes National Park is an unparalleled adventure that combines the thrill of surfing with the breathtaking beauty of the Colorado landscape.

I didn’t go as fast as I normally would go with snowboarding, but the adrenaline rush is still present.

Honestly, sandboarding isn’t just about flying down a dune, it’s the whole package and vibe.

The Vibe of Sandboarding

The descent feels wild and free while all around you, the panoramic views of untouched dunes stretching to the Rockies on the horizon are awe-inspiring.

It’s a unique blend of exhilaration and tranquility, offering both a physical challenge and a moment of deep connection with nature.

Plus, it’s just so much fun!

Hiking up a sand dune requires a combination of endurance and technique. 

Sand Dune Hiking Techniques

The best approach is to wear lightweight, closed-toed shoes to protect your feet from the hot sand and provide better traction. 

It’s often more effective to ascend using a zigzag pattern rather than a straight line, as this reduces the incline and conserves energy. 

Taking small, steady steps can also prevent backsliding, which is common on the loose sand. 

Additionally, using trekking poles can provide extra stability and support, especially on steeper dunes. I just used my sandboard for stability, but I think poles might have been better.

Remember, climbing sand dunes can be physically demanding, so it’s important to pace yourself and stay hydrated throughout the hike.

Absolutely, sandboarding is a blast for beginners

Initially, the concept of sliding down a massive dune might seem daunting, but it’s actually quite accessible and enjoyable from the very start. 

Being a Beginner Sandboarder

Beginners will find that sandboarding doesn’t require the same level of skill or balance as snowboarding or surfing, making it easier to get the hang of. 

Plus, the softer sand provides a more forgiving landing for those inevitable falls, which are all part of the learning process. 

If you are worried, you could look up some instructional videos online that offer newcomers the techniques and confidence needed to enjoy this unique sport fully. 

Whether you’re cautiously sliding down your first dune or boldly carving turns, sandboarding offers an exhilarating experience that’s hard to beat.

Sandboarding, snowboarding, and surfing offer unique experiences primarily distinguished by the terrain and conditions in which they are practiced. 

Snowboarding, which involves descending snow-covered slopes, demands specific techniques to manage the slick, cold terrain, along with specialized gear for warmth and safety. 

Surfing, on the other hand, challenges athletes to master the unpredictable nature of waves and water, requiring balance, timing, and an understanding of ocean dynamics. 

Meanwhile, sandboarding provides an alternative for thrill-seekers in warmer climates, utilizing sand dunes as the venue. The friction and texture of sand create a different riding experience, with softer falls but often more effort required to ascend the dunes. 

Each sport, while sharing the fundamental concept of gliding over a surface, caters to diverse skills, preferences, and environments, offering adventurers a range of exhilarating experiences.

sandboarding the great sand dunes, Sandboarding The Great Sand Dunes: Review and Guide
Getting my tail forever sandy once I was done sandboarding.

In Conclusion: Sandboarding is More Than Just a Ride on the Great Sand Dunes

Sandboarding and sand sledding at the Great Sand Dunes is an adventure that transcends the typical vacation experience. 

Encouragement for the Next Adventure Seeker

To those wavering on the precipice of trying sandboarding, take the leap. Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast looking for new thrills or a traveler ticking off bucket-list items, the dunes beckon. 

With the sound of the sand under your board, and the expanse of the desert all around you, the Great Sand Dunes promise a day of adventure you won’t soon forget.

In the vast expanses of sand, there’s an endless potential for fun—it’s only limited by the imagination and spirit of those who dare to ride. 

Tick “Sandboard at Great Sand Dunes” off your bucket list— you won’t be disappointed.

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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