“A great, easy loop with a little bit of everything the Great Sand Dunes has to offer.”
— Kristen Arendt
This loop hike starts and ends at the Visitor Center. When combined with a hike up the dunes, this loop is a great way to see the most of the sights of the Sand Dunes in an easy morning or afternoon hike, and is a great option for those who only have a day or two to spend exploring the area.
Features: Views — Wildlife
Family Friendly: A short and relatively flat loop with easy access to the dunes or the visitor center.
Need to Know
The area can be quite windy especially in the spring. Bring an extra jacket and sunglasses to ward off the cold wind and the blowing sand along the dunes.
Start your hike from the visitor center parking lot on the Mosca Pass Trail
. After crossing 150, you'll parallel the road for a short distance before coming to the Mosca Creek Trailhead parking lot. Shortly after passing the backside of the parking lot and heading through a dense grove of aspen and cottonwood, take a left onto the Montville Nature Trail
This short trail crosses Mosca Creek on a small wooden bridge. From here you'll climb the hillside in a series of three switchbacks through a stand of short pinon pine. Be sure to stop and look back at the sand dunes through the breaks in the trees as the views are impressive even with this small elevation gain. After the switchbacks, you'll parallel Mosca Pass Trail
and Mosca Creek through stands of aspen and narrow-leaf cottonwood until the trail comes to a junction where you'll want to take a left onto the Wellington Ditch Trail
The Wellington Ditch Trail
is an easy, mostly level trail that connects to the southeastern end of the Pinyon Flats Campground. The trail skirts along the foothills of the Sangre de Cristos, weaving in and out of stands of scrubby pinon pine trees and rocky mountain juniper. The trail passes through a more sunny, arid climate so you'll see lots of prickly pear cactus and yucca along the trail. To the west, you'll have great views across the valley of the sand dunes and Medano Creek.
Once the trail ends at the campground, continue through the campground to pick up the Dunes Access from Campground Trail
which is a straightforward singletrack that cuts down to the sand dunes. Once you exit the pinon pine that populate the campground, you'll be hiking through rabbitbrush, yucca, and other sand sheet vegetation while heading toward the dunes.
About 2/3rds of the way down the trail look for the junction with the Dunes Parking Lot to Campground Connector Trail
. Take a left onto this trail and continue to hike parallel to the dunes and Medano Creek (when it is flowing which is typically October - July with peak flow being in May. The creek's depth and duration is dependent on snowpack so it will vary from year to year). This section of trail can be a bit sandy so be ready for slightly slower going along this stretch.
This trail will connect you to the main parking lot for the dunes. From here you can choose to take a break and venture out onto the dunes themselves or continue your hike by cutting through the parking lot to the southwestern corner where you'll pick up the Dunes Access from Visitor Center
singletrack trail. This is another easy to follow singletrack trail through the sand sheet vegetation between the dunes and the foothills of the Sangre de Cristos. Keep an eye open for pronghorn and deer along the way.
At the end of this trail, take a right onto the Sand Sheet Loop Trail
where you can enjoy a last short loop before heading back to the Visitor Center. The Sand Sheet Loop Trail
features a variety of interpretive signs and informational plaques so take your time to learn a bit about the park before finishing your hike.
Flora & Fauna
Pinon pine, aspen, narrow-leaf cottonwood, rocky mountain juniper, shrubs, and cacti such as rabbitbrush, prickly pear, and yucca. Depending on the time of year, you may see prairie sunflowers which are common in late summer in the park's grasslands, and also grow on the dunes themselves.
Elk, deer, pronghorn antelope, rabbits, coyotes, kangaroo rats, bullsnakes, short-horned lizards, and a variety of birds such as sparrows, hawks, jays, ravens, magpies, woodpeckers, robins, and pine siskins. Mountain lions, bobcats, and black bears also inhabit the higher altitudes of the Sangre de Cristos, and while you probably won't see them on your hike, be aware that they are active in the area.