This post is part 2 of a 5 part series of our road trip from Minnesota to Utah! Here’s a recap!
- Planning for the trip + what to pack
- Great Sand Dunes and Mesa Verde
- Arches and Canyonlands
- Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon
Our road trip from Minnesota to Utah actually started with 2 National Parks in Colorado along the way! Great Sand Dunes and Mesa Verde!
The Great Sand Dunes were so cool! The juxtaposition between the sand dunes and the big mountains in the background was so wild! We were there in Mid-May, and the temperature was chilly and it was so windy. They were actually advising people to wear long pants and shirts because the wind was so strong and the sand stings your skin in strong winds!
We parked in the main Great Sand Dunes parking lot. To get to the dunes, you have to pass over a very shallow stream on foot! Many people were just going for it barefooted- but with the chilly temps, I wore my waterproof hiking boots and walked through! I’m sure the depth of the water depends on the time of year, the deepest part I walked through was only 3 or 4 inches.
After we crossed the stream, the wind was so strong and the sand was everywhere, so we decided to turn around and put our dog, Chevy, back in the car before we explored any more! He was so excited to be out there, but since he can’t shield his eyes like we can, we didn’t want him to be in pain! 🙂 So he sat this one out!
Once you get on the sand dunes, you are just free to roam wherever! It was so beautiful!
We wanted to try out sand boarding, but with the high wind and cold temps, we decided it was a no-go. But if you wanted to rent sand boards, you can rent them from April to Mid-October, and the Oasis Store is the closest place to rent them which is about 4 miles away from the park entrance. Another minor detail- they will not sand boards when the sand is wet because it can damage the boards- so conditions have to be just right! 😉 Basically, when you’re in the dunes, you can sand board anywhere, but the highest peak of the dunes is about 650 feet tall and a 1.25 mile hike.
After we walked around the sand for a while, we hopped in the car and did the Medano Pass Primitive Road, which is a 22 mile 4WD road connecting the Great Sand Dunes with the Wet Mountain Valley and Co State HWY 69. The road is only open in the Summer months and is only accessible by only high clearance 4WD vehicles. If you drive the full 22 miles, there are 9 times where you have to drive through the Medano Creek but when we were there, it was closed after 4.5 miles in because of the high water level! It was actually our first time taking the Wrangler through water (something that we’d get used to on this trip- haha) and we had a blast! There are 21 primitive camp sites along this road and if you want to camp here, it is first come first serve and free!
We watched the sunset here and popped up the camper for a place to relax for a bit! Camping was not allowed in this location, so we didn’t stay for long. Just long enough to enjoy the sunset! We absolutely love our SkyCamp from iKamper! I’d recommend it to anyone. Not only is it so easy to pop up wherever, but it’s also so spacious on the inside. Big enough for us and our dog, Chevy, to sleep in comfortably at night. Since we were switching camp sites every night, we wanted something easy to set up and tear down quickly!
And then the sun came out and lit up the sky in the most glorious golden light! Perfect timing!
The park is relatively small, so between the actual sand dunes and the back road- we felt like we saw it all! We didn’t tackle any hikes on this park, but if you don’t have a high clearance 4WD vehicle, there is a hiking trail that runs parallel to the Medano pass road called the Sand Ramp Trail that has similar views!
From there, we drove to our campsite at Mesa Verde, Morefield Campground! There are showers and laundry 24/7 at the main building and the camp sites themselves were nice. On the date that we were there (Thursday, May 23) it wasn’t too busy because the nighttime temps are still pretty cold. They also have a small general store and a cafe for food too. Overall, a nice place to stay!
In the morning, we woke up and just drove around Mesa Verde Park for a while.
I’d recommend doing a tour of the Cliff Palace cave dwellings! It is the largest cliff dwelling in the park and probably the most popular attraction. We saw them from afar (pictured below), but we didn’t have time to actually go and explore them! That’s the only bummer thing about Mesa Verde is that you have to buy tour passes from the visitors center upon arrival if you want to see the structures up close and personal! Seeing them from afar was also really cool too, though! Sunrise and Sunset are probably the best times for photo opportunities and viewing the park with no people. I’d recommend spending a full day there and exploring a little more than we did! We just had places to be- and knew we would be back someday!
And that wraps up the first 2 parks of our road trip to Colorado and Utah! Up next: Canyonlands, Arches, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion!