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Tallest Dunes Out-and-Back

  4.6 ( 8 ) Favorite


15.3 mile 24.6 kilometer loop


Ascent: 1,810' 552 m
Descent: -1,810' -552 m
High: 8,705' 2,653 m
Low: 8,047' 2,453 m


Avg Grade: 4% (3°)
Max Grade: 10% (6°)


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Trail shared by Isaac Bozeman

A route through the most rigorous and beautiful parts of the Sand Dunes.

Isaac Bozeman

Features River/Creek · Swimming · Views · Wildlife · Commonly Backpacked

Standard NPS regulations. Pets are permitted up to the top of the first tall ridge of dunes, between High Dune and Castle Creek Picnic Area.


A route that will take you from the main parking lot to High Dune, Star Dune, and Highest Dune.

Need to Know

Bring lots of water, sunscreen, and potentially an umbrella. Don't bring your pets.


Start in the parking lot. Once you cross the creek, you'll need to look for the tallest dune you can see. It should be right in front of you. Work your way up to the top of High Dune. It is best to zig zag, or switchback so you do not get overly exhausted. Now remember that there is no real trail, it is all sand, so don't get lost.

Once on top of High Dune, follow the ridge down to the SW, and after a little ways you'll need to do some switchbacks down into a little valley. After that, you'll start a the climb up to Star Dune. This climb is also steeper, so use switchbacks.

Once on top of Star Dune, you can follow its northern arm out, and then branch off to the east. Just follow the sand field to the NE, and try to stay on flatter ground. After a ways (6.2 miles), you'll come between two dunes, after this is your ascent of Highest Dune. Switchback your way up this one also. Highest Dune is much higher then Star Dune, or High Dune. This is only because it sits at a much higher elevation (2,650+ feet), but the actual sand portion is smaller.

To return, just head back the way you came.

Flora & Fauna

Sand. Sand. Sand.

History & Background

The Great Sand Dunes have formed over thousands of years, that is the speculation at least. No one is quite sure because there is no good way to date sand.

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Family Friendly, ADA Accessible

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Sep 8, 2019
Scott S
Hiked to just short of high dune. Saw bobcat tracks? And chipmunk tracks. Had the opportunity to sled one of the lower dunes as well! 5mi — 10h 30m
Jun 21, 2019
Aaron Fagerwick
1.2mi — 0h 48m
May 24, 2019
Jes Karpen
We made it to high dune and came back! So much better to zig zag along the ridges. We did a straight shot for the first tall peak and OMG it was rough 2mi — 9h 00m
May 19, 2019
Erik Rodriguez
Mar 27, 2019
Dennis Chan
No defined trail, climbing the high dunes is rough and very steep on the final stretch 4mi — 2h 00m
Feb 27, 2019
Lucia Moore
Dec 26, 2018
Adnaan Soorma
Aug 1, 2017
Isaac Bozeman

Trail Ratings

  4.6 from 8 votes


  4.6 from 8 votes
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in Colorado


35 Views Last Month
1,027 Since Sep 5, 2018



Group of hikers heading to Star Dune
Sep 6, 2018 near Crestone, CO
The view from High Dune. No footprints out there!
Feb 23, 2016 near Crestone, CO
View back toward the Sangre de Cristos and the Visitor Center from High Dune.
Feb 17, 2016 near Crestone, CO
Sallie hiking into the desert!
Dec 28, 2015 near Crestone, CO
Digging for buried treasure at the Great Sand Dunes.
Mar 3, 2016 near Crestone, CO
Some say that the Sand Dunes are most scenic at sunset.
Mar 3, 2016 near Crestone, CO


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