Required Backpacking Camping Permits
During October, free backcountry permits must obtained at the back of the visitor center, in the doorway closest to the mountains. Backcountry desk hours are 9:00 am - 12:00 pm and 2:00 - 4:00 pm. No permits are issued after 4:00 pm. Permits are first-come, first-served, and may fill on weekends. Group size in the national park is limited to 6 people, and 2 vehicles per group.
Please have the following information ready to obtain a permit:
Backpacking Guidelines Video
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This short captioned video gives regulations as well as helpful tips for backpackers at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.
Backpacking in the National Park
Backpacking in the Foothills and Mountains
Designated backcountry backpacking camping sites in the National Park are located along the Sand Ramp Trail, in the transition area between the dunefield and the mountains. Slightly more sheltered from wind and lightning than the open dunefield, these sites tend to have excellent views and some shade, some sites can be more than 1 mile from a source of water. Plan to pack-in drinking water.
Descriptions of each backpacking campsite are below. Click on the title of the site for a photo.
BUCK CREEK: 0.5 miles north of Loop 2 in the Piñon Flats Campground. This site is for families with children who want a short backpacking hike into the backcountry.
ESCAPE DUNES: 2.4 miles north from the Piñon Flats Campground, in an open grove of ponderosa pines. The site is near small "escape dunes", that have left the main dunefield and buried and smothered trees, leaving ghostly skeletons behind (a "Ghost Forest"). The vast majority of the pines in this grove are tall, alive, and healthy.
INDIAN GROVE: 3.9 miles north from the Piñon Flats Campground. Explore the area and look for several ponderosa pines with large scars where American Indians peeled their bark for food and other uses in times past. The Scarred Trees Grove is on the National Register of Historic Sites. This is the most popular backpacking site because it is close to the main dunefield and close to Medano Creek, but it is in a sheltered grove of trees. It is the only site with a solar-composting toilet.
LITTLE MEDANO: 4.9 miles north from the Piñon Flats Campground, or 0.7 miles from Sand Ramp TH (high-clearance 4WD parking only). This site is situated in montane woodlands below Mount Herard. Little Medano Creek provides an good water source in most years, but may be dry in drought years.
ASPEN: 6.7 miles north from the Piñon Flats Campground, or 2.3 miles from Sand Ramp TH (high-clearance 4WD parking only). Aspen Camp offers incredible views of the entire dunefield from a foothills aspen grove. At 9,240 feet elevation, it is the highest designated backcountry site in the park (backcountry camping is also allowed off-trail in the national preserve; see below).
COLD CREEK: 9.9 miles from the Piñon Flats Campground, or 5.5 miles from from Sand Ramp TH (high-clearance 4WD parking only). A destination for the more adventurous backpacker, Cold Creek Camp lies in a rugged valley filled with ponderosa pines. Wildlife abounds in this area including elk, deer, bears, and mountain lions.
SAND CREEK: 11.5 miles from the Piñon Flats Campground, or 7 miles from the Sand Ramp TH (high clearance 4WD parking only). The campsite lies in a beautiful grove of cottonwood trees on the edge of the main dunefield. This is the only backcountry site where campfires are permitted. Collect dead and down wood only, and build your fires in the grate. Be absolutely certain the fire is out before you leave the site.
Backpacking Trip Planning To Do List
Three Weeks Ahead
One to Two Weeks Ahead
Day of Trip
Backpacking in the National Preserve
For hiking trail information, please visit the Hiking page.
Vehicle Camping in the Backcountry
Camping in or beside your vehicle is available only in the National Preserve in designated campsites along the Medano Pass Primitive Road. This does not require a backcountry camping permit. Roads to these remote areas require High Clearance 4WD vehicles. AWD vehicles are not advised.
Questions About Backpacking?
Call the Visitor Center at 719-378-6395 during Backcountry Office hours,
Guided Backpacking Trips
For a current list of commercial hiking/backpacking guides authorized to lead trips into the national park and preserve, please contact the Chief Ranger at 719-378-6321.
Last updated: October 1, 2020