There is some beauty in the symbiotic relationship between writing and outdoor activities. For example, I’m not sure this trip would’ve ever happened had I not pitched the idea to an editor! But that’s how it goes: I wanted my editor at Gore-Tex to accept my story so I thought of the most bizarre backpacking trip in Colorado. Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve easily makes that list. Once the story idea was accepted, the trip had to happen!
**For the whole Great Sand Dunes National Park adventure: You can now read the story over on the Experience More website.**
PC: Will Rochfort
If you want to go:
- Deliberately pack before your trip. Consider the fact that every.single.crevice of all of your gear will be filled with sand. This includes zippers, pockets, and earlobes!
- Consider your footwear. I had a few people recommend snowshoes and skis to me before we left, and I seriously considered throwing in a pair of snowshoes. In the end, I grabbed both hiking shoes and Teva sandals. I wore the Tevas exclusively since it was easy to kick out the sand *but* I will say that the bottom of my feet got a serious exfoliation. I’m not sure everyone could handle that kind of abrasion while hiking.
- Carry plenty of water! We only slept in the dunes for one evening, but we easily brought 4-5 liters per person. It is hot and dry out there; dehydration could be deadly.
- Be aware that anyone sleeping in the dunes needs a backpacking permit. The park issues 20 per day and the backpacking office does not open until 9 am. We arrived at 8:30 so we had a good spot in line, but not everyone was as lucky. I don’t know for sure, but it was likely that some people got turned away since they ran out of permits. Plan accordingly.
- Your schedule will be the opposite of typical backpacking trips. Although you receive your permit in the morning, the park rangers suggest waiting until 6 pm before hiking into the dunes in order to avoid the heat. They also suggest hiking back out by 10 am the following morning. We spent the day lounging in some shade by the river before hiking in during the evening, and it really made a difference. The ranger told us the sand gets as up to 160-degrees Fahrenheit!
- No dogs allowed for backpacking trips. They are allowed in the day use area and across the way at Mosca Pass, but not for backpacking trips into Great Sand Dunes National Park. The park says they did this for safety reasons; too many people were packing their dogs out there and returning in warmer temps, burning the poor pups’ paws on the sand.
- Bring snow stakes. Regular tent stakes will slide right out of the sand, leaving your tent to bounce around the dunes! We brought our snow stakes and they remained in the ground through a burly wind storm; highly recommended.
- Don’t forget your shovel for backcountry bathroom stops. A lot of places online say that the park prefers you to do your business on top of the sand since the hot sun breaks it down more quickly. However, the ranger we spoke with said the opposite: dig a cat hole just like every other backcountry camping locale.
- Pack insulation. Just because it’s a thousand degrees during the day doesn’t mean those nights aren’t chilly!