After our breakfast on Monday, we stopped through Basalt to walk around the downtown area and we got coffee at Two Rivers Cafe. This is a really cute mountain town with a friendly feel. We took the opportunity to make sandwiches and snack bags for the road and got back in the car around 1:30 to head to the Great Sand Dunes.
The views were back to those of snowy mountains and bright blue skies. There are a few places you could stop for gas or food, such as Buena Vista or Leadville, but after Buena Vista you are looking at about an hour and a half drive of open fields and not much else…so be sure to make a stop if you need to!
From afar, we weren’t quite sure what to think of the dunes, but when we got closer, we were amazed at just how tall they stood. We could see little dots we identified as people who were out exploring the dunes and it really put things in perspective.
When we got into Great Sand Dunes National Park, it was close to 6 PM so we decided to get a campsite and then head out for a hike, with plans to check out the dunes in the morning. We found a spot on Loop 2 at Piñon Flats Campground within the park (Loop 1 was also open). We were surprised how many people were there, although it still wasn’t crowded by any means. There were 3 bathroom facilities, all with flush toilets. Camping for the night was $20 and there is a picnic table and fire pit with grate at each site.
We headed to Zapata Falls, just a few miles outside the park. It’s very easy to find as there are signs to guide you…I think from the park entrance it’s 3 miles down the road. Any review of Zapata Falls will tell you that the road to get there is terrible, and it’s true, as it’s composed of rocks and potholes. It’s about 3 miles one way but our van made it just fine! It took us 12 (we clocked it!) minutes to get up the road. From the trailhead, the falls are about half a mile. We went in mid-April around 7 PM. It was nice and cool out and it took us 15 minutes to walk there. The path is mostly rocks/gravel and we did have to walk through water but it didn’t come up as far as the laces on our boots. We also had to walk on some frozen areas which were a little slick.
The falls were partially frozen which was really neat! I enjoyed this hike, it was short and sweet, and I bet in the summer it’s even better. Just know you will definitely be walking through water and know the road is bad…if you can accept those two things you’ll be fine!
The next morning we woke up and headed to the Oasis General Store to rent a sand sleigh. The store is open 9-5 and you have to return your rental by 4 PM but it’s really the only place to rent a board unless you want to go to the next town. Boards are $20 and we got there right when they opened so there wasn’t a line.
We walked out into the dunes in just our socks, which was mostly fine…we did encounter some gravel but even walking through that was okay. The walk to the dunes was about half a mile from the parking lot. It was cool and very windy but we wanted to give it a try! I’ll be really honest…we spent about an hour going up and down the dunes. The wind was blowing the sand like crazy and going up the dunes is quite a work out! You have to wax and buff the board between each use, and the Oasis will provide the wax for you. Even with the wind and sand, it was still fun to experience the dunes. We had sand all over us but tried to clean up the best we could and then headed to check out the visitors center.
On our way out of town we stopped at K’s Dairy Delite in Buena Vista, CO for burgers and shakes. It was one of the best burgers we have had on this trip (trust me, there’s been a lot of burgers) and the prices were great. They also had super friendly staff and a “Dot Your Spot” map where you could put a sticker on their map showing where you were from!
Tomorrow is the last day of our trip and I am glad for everyone who has traveled along with us! Check back later for another update!
Days at the Great Sand Dunes: April 23-24
Sand Dunes Weather: Low 39 High 61