pano of great sand dunes national park

The Wrong Way to Explore Great Sand Dunes National Park

This post may contain affiliate links. See our affiliate disclaimer here.

If a picture is worth a thousand words then this clip of Heath falling down the Great Sand Dunes is worth a thousand laughs:


Exploring Great Sand Dunes National Park

As Heath and I continue toward our goal of visiting all 59 national parks, we made a slight detour to Great Sand Dunes National Park with Heath’s family during our vacation last month.

I’ll be the first to say that hiking with friends and family creates so many more fun moments and memories than hiking with just Heath. There’s no way I would’ve let him run and leap off the top of the dunes if it were just us, but now I have a hilarious slo-mo video to watch and giggle at for days to come. (Don’t worry, Heath got up just fine!)

We only had a few hours to explore Great Sand Dunes, so we asked the ranger for the highlights.

Hiking to the Top of the Dunes

We didn’t make it anywhere near the top of the dunes, as you can see in the video above. With a 700+ ft. elevation gain and the fact that it was windy and below 40 degrees, there was no chance we could make it to the top and back down in our limited time. The pamphlets all said the hike took only 2 hours, but we gave up around the one hour mark and we were no where near the peak.

Between the fact that you’re at 9,000 foot elevation and you’re walking in sand, it will definitely take some time and patience to reach the top. Plus, when you’re bundled up and walking in the wind, it’s that much harder.

However, since you have panoramic views regardless of where you stand, I don’t think summiting the dunes is a requirement for visit. The most fun is had sliding down the sand! Or in Heath’s case, tumbling down the mountain and getting sand in your pants.

We missed out on renting sand boards due to the season, but that obviously didn’t keep us from enjoying tumbling and sliding down the hill.

Side note: Sprinting up the sand dunes is the most intense work out of your life. I didn’t make it. Great way to warm up during a winter visit, though!

Hiking Zapata Falls

Heath’s mom and I share the same philosophy that if there’s a waterfall nearby, we’re going to find it.

The road to Zapata Falls is, well, treacherous. There’s a campground at the top, but I do not recommend taking your rig unless you drive a van or a truck camper. The steep winding road is incredible rocky and uneven. Even driving in Heath’s parent’s car was nauseating from the constant rocking motion of the road.

The three mile drive took us 15-20 minutes and if you have a tow car, I 100% recommend taking it. The waterfall is just that gorgeous.

We visited in March, so there was plenty of snow on the ground, which made this hike a little tricky. The temp warmed up 45 or so, but the ground was slick and the short hike was fairly steep.

It only took us about 15 minutes to hike from the parking lot to the falls.

The national park newspaper said that you’ll hike through water in the spring and summer, but during our visit, 95% of the waterfall and creek were frozen over.

This was my first time to see a frozen waterfall and I must say, it was breathtaking.

If you listen carefully in the video, you can hear the static rushing water sound from beneath the ice–which is totally terrifying. I expected the waterfall to crack open and spray us with water at any given moment.

And while the ice never did crack, it did cause a lot of people to slip and fall on their butts.

Subscribe to our Youtube channel for more videos of our adventures as we travel full-time in our Winnebago! 🙂

Filmed entirely on the iPhone.

Music via SoundCloud.

Texas Techno by Audionautix is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (

Royalty Free Music from Bensound