Activities For Dogs In Great Sand Dunes National Park

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Introduction

While many National Parks share a fair amount of overlap in terms of their features and offerings, Great Sand Dunes National Park offers two elements rare in most others: towering sand dunes and a whole lot of dog-friendliness. Outside of being able to explore the tallest sand dunes in North America, dogs and their owners can explore the forests, lakes and even grasslands that surround the park, many of which have their own activities. Of course, you'll have to watch out in summer since sand temperatures can reach 150 degrees mid-day, but otherwise, you'll have little to worry about besides having fun in this beautiful and unique natural setting.

Sand Sledding

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Sunny Day
Cheap
Normal
30 - 120 min
Items needed
Leash
Dog Bags
Sand Sled
Water
Sunscreen
Activity description
You can go for a hike in just about any national park, but you can't go sand sledding just anywhere. This aptly-titled activity is exactly how it sounds: you ride a wooden sled built for sand down one of the park's many sprawling sand dunes. It's best reserved for mornings or evenings in summer, but when the temperatures are more manageable throughout the day, sledding can follow suit as well. You'll still want to pack sunscreen and water, as there is no shade or other ways to hydrate, but otherwise, you just need a little sense of adventure to try this new and fun activity out.
Step
1
Gather supplies
Before you head out to the dunes, you'll first need to acquire a sand sled. You can either rent one or buy one from several nearby locations, including Kristi Mountain Sports, San Dunes Swimming Pool and Recreation and The Oasis Store, the latter being easiest as it's just outside the park. If you're just trying it out, we suggest renting, but if you've tried it yourself before, liked it and plan to continue, buying may be more cost-effective. You'll also want to make sure you have plenty of water and sunscreen as well as a collapsible bowl so you can share your water as well.
Step
2
Test it out
Once you've got your supplies, you'll need to pay your fees and head into the park. Fees are $20 each for passengers in non-commercial or non-oversized vehicles but an annual pass is only $40, making just two visits pay itself off. Once you get inside, you'll need to navigate to the southern dunes where dogs are allowed. Make sure to check the weather to ensure the sand won't get too hot while you're trying to sled or walk on it since your dog doesn't have the advantage of shoes to protect their paws. Find a nice open space away from other people, then find a small dune to start with. You may want to test it yourself first so you get a feel.
Step
3
Ramp it up
Once you get a feel for sledding, you can either have your dog join you (if they're small enough), or find a small enough hill to see if you can get them to sled themselves. Make sure they're not laying down head-first, as sand can easily spray up and into their faces. If they enjoy it, ramp it up and try a higher spot or steeper incline. Keep going until you've both had your fill of sandy sledding fun.
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Splash the Creek

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Sunny Day
Cheap
Easy
30 - 180 min
Items needed
Dog Bags
Leash
Sunscreen
Towels
Activity description
Unlike most other activities at the park, checking out Medano Creek takes quite a bit more planning if you're going to enjoy it as much as possible. There are busier times of the year, times when it's too hot, times when there are too many mosquitos, times when it's too cold and times when the creek disappears altogether. However, with that all said, when the water and temperature are just right, there's almost nowhere else in the United States to experience something like it, let alone with such a gorgeous backdrop. The only costs are park entrance fees and outside of a little research, it's a pretty easy activity with lots of possibilities for you and your dog.
Step
1
Research
Before anything else, you should definitely do a bit of research. The park's website has a very detailed guide of when the best times to visit the park are, although you can still muscle through others if your options are limited. Late April is usually the earliest you can even call Medano a creek, as it is usually only a few inches deep, but does make for good skim boarding. Late May is generally one of the best times to go since the temperatures are moderate (although it can still snow at those altitudes), the water is generally near peak height (great for tubing and swimming) and the insect counts are low. However, the transition from late May to early June brings the most visitors, so it's best to stick to weekdays if you want to avoid traffic and crowded areas. In July, the creek will start to taper off with the rains and by August and September it may be already gone. Check the creek's flow/height and the daily temperatures to make sure your visit will be appropriately timed for your intended activities.
Step
2
Gather supplies
Once you've found an appropriate day and time to visit, gather supplies appropriate to your trip. Most visitors will need drinking water, sunscreen and sporting items such as tubes, or skim boards as well as dog-specific items such as dog bags, a leash and most importantly, a toy to throw around in the water.
Step
3
Splash and paddle
Once you've got your supplies in order, you'll just need to pay your fees to get into the park (if you haven't already) and get to an appropriate spot to get in the water. Park rangers keep daily tabs on the water flow, so you can always ask for the best places to head and have them draw it out on a map. Once you've got a place to go and arrive, it's time to have fun! Splash about with your furry friend to your heart's content. Remember to drink lots of water (and share some too!) and stay fully equipped with sunscreen.
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Night Hike

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Cold Day
Cheap
Easy
45 - 180 min
Items needed
Dog Bags
Leash
Map
Red Light
Warm Clothes
Activity description
You can hike in the woods in almost every national park in the country but Great Sand Dunes National Park offers something that very few others can: open-space night hikes. Because of the park's elevation, dry air and limited light pollution, you'll get an unhindered view of the night sky quite a few days out of the year. The park has numerous kinds of nocturnal wildlife, a completely different view of the stars and sky at night, a clear shot of the moon when present and a mystical glow off the light-colored sands. It's as cheap as park fees and as easy as taking a hike during the day. Plus, it the hotter months of the year, it's a great way to explore the dunes without getting your and your dog's feet scorched by 150 degree sand!
Step
1
Pick your night
While there are quite a few nights out of the year you can go, there are certainly some that are better than others. Hardier adventurers will be able to take advantage year-round while others may be turned off by the cold or rainy weather, both of which can provide even more options in terms of views of the environment. Choose a night that will be comfortable and features something you want to see, if there's anything specific. The fuller the moon and the less the clouds, the more you'll see the stars and the glow of the sands beneath your feet, but you can also plan to go during the rain to see more frogs or certain times of year to see the elk.
Step
2
Supplies
While you may not need much out of the ordinary for this trip, you'll definitely want the basics of water and dog-specifics like bags and a leash, along with temperature appropriate clothing, and that includes your dog if you happen to go when it's particularly chilly. Otherwise, it's also best to procure a red light over a standard flashlight. Not only will bright white lights potentially ruin others' enjoyment of the nighttime dunes, but it can blind both you and other wildlife, compromising safety and enjoyment for both parties.
Step
3
Been there, dune that
Once you've got your night picked and supplies ready, just pay your fees, ask a ranger the best places to go and head out from there. There are even night time programs during the summer to help you experience the wildlife and sky to the fullest extent, though some may be restrictive to your furry friend, so check ahead before making any plans. Other than all else, enjoy! There are few places in the country that offer this kind of opportunity, so make sure you take full advantage.
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More Fun Ideas...

Hike It

It's impossible to leave this off the list of any park. When all else fails or you just want to explore, go for a hike! There are numerous environments to hike through, so as long as you have a map and good weather, you and your dog can explore for hours on foot and paw.

Photography Trip

Outside of the normal park activities, Great Sand Dunes National Park offers some of the best photo locations in the region. They encourage it so much there's even a brochure on the best days, times and locations to shoot, so make a plan and grab your dog for some pho-tastic adventures.

Ranger Programs

Like the night hike, there are numerous Ranger Programs offered at the park. Check the schedule and call ahead to see which guided tours are dog-friendly so you can learn as you explore.

Conclusion

Great Sand Dunes National Park is an absolute mecca for outdoor explorers and their dogs. With a wide array of different ecological systems spread throughout the park, tons of activities and just as much space to roam, plus the freedom to do so (even with your canine companion), this park is easily one of the best and most dog-friendly parks in the country.