Thing to Do

Experience the Night

The Milky Way over a shallow stream flowing across sand at night
The Milky Way is visible on moonless nights in summer and fall.

NPS/Patrick Myers

Half the park is after dark! Night at Great Sand Dunes can include dunes exploration under a bright full moon, viewing thousands of stars on a clear moonless night, listening for owls along the foothills, or observing migrating amphibians on a wet night. Watch a video about experiencing the night at Great Sand Dunes and a video about Jicarilla Apache Star Stories on our YouTube Channel.

With a combination of dry air, little light pollution, and high elevation, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is an excellent and easily accessible dark sky viewing location! In 2019, Great Sand Dunes was certified as an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association.

Planning to Experience the Night

  • To see the most stars, plan your visit for moonless nights, or nights with a late moonrise. View a moon calendar for the month you plan to visit.
  • Plan your visit on the full moon for a surreal walk on the dunes with no need for a flashlight.
  • The Milky Way is highest and clearest in the evening sky during late summer and fall.
  • Watch the weather forecast to time your visit for nights with little chance of rain. If it is rainy, watch for frogs, toads and salamanders along Medano Creek or in the dunes! Rainy weather is safe for exploration unless it is accompanied by lightning.
  • When exploring the dunes on dark nights, make sure to plan in advance how you will find your vehicle after you return, because the parking lot/trail access is not obvious in the dark. When hiking back toward the Dunes Parking Lot, aim toward the left end of the long line of trees along Medano Creek. The parking area is located about 100 yards (100 meters) to the right of the end of the trees.
  • Minimize your use of lights. Shining a bright flashlight will diminish your night vision for up to 30 minutes, limiting your view of the night sky and wildlife, and harming other visitors' experience. Use only a red light if needed.
  • Keep an eye out for the night-life of the dunes, including camel crickets, kangaroo rats, toads, salamanders, coyotes, bobcats, and owls. Never touch wildlife, and remember that their nocturnal eyes are highly sensitive to light. Use only a red light if needed.
  • Don't just depend on your eyes to experience the night. Feel the soft night breezes. Listen for the call of owls, the howling of distant coyotes, the calls of frogs and toads, the rustle of creatures in the forest, and the drum of kangaroo rats thumping warnings to each other. And smell the fresh scents of piñon pine, juniper, and seasonal flowers. You may notice that your senses grow sharper as you spend more time in dark and quiet locations.
 

Night Programs

Summer night programs are a good way to experience and understand the night sky and nocturnal ecology. Check the program schedule during summer months to see what evening programs are scheduled during your visit.

Details
Take at least a half hour to allow your eyes to adjust to the dark, and for all traces of dusk light to fade into darkness. There is no limit on how long you can enjoy the night sky on the dunes, but if you plan to camp on the dunes all night long, you must obtain a backpacking permit.  
Plan your visit on a clear moonless night, or after the moon sets, to see the most stars. To enjoy the dunes at night without the need for artificial lights, visit on a bright full moon.  
Pets are permitted in the main day use area of the dunes, but not beyond the first high ridge. Please keep them leashed and clean up after them.
Entrance fees may apply, see Fees & Passes information.
The easiest way to access open night skies is from the main Dunes Parking Lot. Walk out across the creek or dry creek bed away from the parking area.
Experiencing the night is available year round, but be prepared for frigid conditions in winter months. The Milky Way is highest and most visible in the sky in late summer and early fall. Any moonlight will make the Milky Way difficult to see, so time your visit for a moonless evening.
Accessibility Information
The back porch of the visitor center and the amphitheater below Pinon Flats Campground are accessible to wheelchairs, and provide open views of the night sky.

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

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Duration:
2 minutes, 19 seconds

Half the park is after dark! In this 2-minute video, discover the diverse sights and sounds of the night at Great Sand Dunes.

Also available to watch on YouTube:

Last updated: February 25, 2021