Where to Camp in Great Sand Dunes National Park?
Great Sand Dunes National Park features the largest sand dunes in the whole of North America, making it a truly awe-inspiring place to hike, explore and camp.
Nothing beats hiking the dunes, knowing that nomadic hunter-gatherers explored the area thousands of years ago. Or lying back and enjoying the Milky Way as it dances above you in this certified International Dark Sky Park. Or listening to the sound of some unique wildlife as it wanders around your tent in the darkness. It’s utterly amazing.
When planning your hiking or camping trip, you’ll have an interesting blend of options at your fingertips. Although there’s only one official campground inside the park itself, there are many options for backcountry camping as well as numerous other campgrounds which are close enough to stay at if you’d prefer more choice.
We’ve gathered together our top pick of what’s available and kept it as varied and interesting as we could. Enjoy!
Campgrounds within the Great Sand Dunes National Park
Piñon Flats Campground
Located just a mile from the visitor center, Piñon Flats is the only campground in the national park itself and boasts 88 sites which are suitable for tents or RVs up to 35 feet. If you’re looking to get out onto the trails, splash in the creek and explore the sand dunes, this is your perfect camping spot.
As you’d expect, it’s a popular place which welcomes individuals, families, and groups between April and October each year. For this reason, it’s worth booking in advance, especially if you want to stay between May and September.
Facilities include restrooms with sinks, flush toilets, and water, fire grates, picnic tables, but there aren’t any hookups for RVs. There’s also plenty of shade available if you pick your camping site carefully. There’s even a campground store on site where you can buy drinks, snacks, camping supplies, and firewood.
Bear in mind that there is plenty of wildlife in the area and they aren’t afraid to come up to the camping ground. Make sure you lock your food away safely to deter bears and expect deer and mosquitos to come to visit so come prepared.
Campgrounds within 40 miles of the Great Sand Dunes National Park
Lying just outside of the national park entrance, this campground offers 90 sites and it’s open from April to October. It also offers full hookups, showers, laundry, a gift store, groceries, and even BB grills. Find out more here.
Zapata Falls Campground
At 9000 feet of elevation and located on a dirt access road in the Rio Grande National Forest, this campsite offers just 23 sites and is a great place to enjoy back to basics camping. Just 11 miles from the national park, you’ll enjoy breathtaking views of the dunes and surrounding areas. Facilities here are limited to toilets and there’s no running water. Find out more here.
Base Camp Family Campground and RV Park
Just 20 minutes’ drive from the national park lies the well-equipped and friendly Base Camp Family Campground and RV park. Boasting a ton of facilities including hookups, laundry, WIFI and close to the attractions and amenities in Alamosa town, this is where you stay to enjoy the dunes but keep some of your home comforts. Find out more here.
Alamosa Economy Campground
If you’re looking to combine a trip to the Great Sand Dunes National Park with plenty of hiking, plus a spot of golf, fishing, skiing or even go-kart riding, Alamosa Economy Campground is your place.
With 12 sites plus full hookups, showers, kitchen and even a TV room, it offers some great facilities plus it’s close to Alamosa town where you can stock up or have fun exploring. Pets are welcome. Find out more here.
Sand Dunes Swimming Pool and Campground
Located 32 miles from the national park, this small 27 site campsite deserves a mention for its geothermal swimming pool, organic produce plus many delicious foods on offer. Facilities include showers, laundry, fire pit and 50% off swimming. Find out more here.
UFO Watchtower and Campground
If you’re into UFOs and outdoor adventures, you might also like to stay at the fun and friendly UFO Watchtower and Campground. Although the facilities are very primitive and you need to put your camping fee in a box on the driveway, it’s just 32 miles from the national park and lots of fun. Find out more here.
Backcountry camping in Great Sand Dunes National Park
The Great Sand Dunes National Park is a great place to enjoy a spot of backcountry camping and there are plenty of awe-inspiring places for you to lay your head.
Make sure you pick up your free backcountry camping permit from the visitor center before you leave and ensure you’re aware of the Leave No Trace guidelines before you head out there.
Be aware that there are only limited sites available in the backcountry and they can fill up quickly, especially during peak seasons. Having said that, many of the camping areas in the national park are open to overnight backpacking, so you do have a wonderful range of options available to you.
Backcountry camping in the dune field
You can camp right there in the dune field if you have a permit and camp in designated area. (Check out this excellent map for ideas). There’s a limit of six people per group and you can stay as long as you like but you’re not allowed to build campfires.
It’s best to check the weather forecast before you plan your trip because high winds and thunderstorms can soon make your trip more uncomfortable and even dangerous. Like other backcountry camping sites here, spaces are limited and can fill quickly during the peak season.
When it comes to wildlife, camping in the dune field is a safer option as bears rarely visit and the coyotes, bobcats and kangaroo rats in the area usually don’t cause any problems. You’re not allowed to bring any pets here, however, so plan accordingly.
Backcountry camping in the foothills and mountains
If you’d prefer more shade and better protection from the weather, the foothills and mountains of Great Sand Dunes National Park can be fantastic. Have a look at this useful map for ideas.
As with camping in the sand dunes, you’ll need to obtain a backcountry permit before you stay which are available in person on a first-come, first-served basis. Again, there are no campfires allowed (apart from Sand Creek) and dogs aren’t allowed here.
With all the campground options available in and around the Great Sand Dunes National Park, there’s no excuse not to explore this memorable part of North America. So, start planning your trip today!
Learn more about 13 Best National Parks for Camping and Hiking.