Great Sand Dunes National Park

I recently shared my Colorado Summer Bucket List, and one of my goals was to visit at least one new national park in Colorado. This past weekend, my husband, dog and I hit the road and crossed off that bucket list item by visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park for the first time! We had so much fun exploring the area and the dunes were an amazing sight to see.

Great Sand Dunes National Park is located in the southern portion of Colorado, about 4 hours from Denver. The park is actually home to the tallest sand dunes in North America! We left Colorado Springs super early and arrived a little after 9:00 AM. I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as crowds considering we visited on Easter, but there were only a few other groups in the parking lot when we arrived.

We parked at the Dunes Parking Lot, located just past the Visitor Center, and set off to explore. One of the coolest things about Great Sand Dunes National Park is dogs are actually allowed on a number of trails, as long as they’re on a leash! We saw lots of other pups while we were there, and ours loved exploring the dunes with us.

There aren’t many well-defined trails on the actual dunes, so you can kind of choose your own adventure and wander around. We started heading for the tallest dune we could see, and it was quite a strenuous effort. Even though we only ended up hiking for about 2 miles roundtrip with about 500′ of elevation gain, the sand made it a very challenging hike. We both wore hiking boots which ended up working out just fine, as our pants helped prevent sand from getting in our shoes. Some people were walking barefoot, but I think wearing boots helped prevent our feet from getting super sore.
The weather was also perfect, hovering around the low 50’s with a nice breeze. Over the summer, the sand can get as hot as 150 degrees Fahrenheit, so make sure you plan accordingly!

We really took our time hiking up the dunes and took plenty of water breaks. To reach the top of Star Dune, the tallest dune in the park and North America, you have to hike about 3 miles round trip, with over 700′ in elevation gain. We weren’t feeling up that on this visit, but it would be cool to go back and explore some more!

Aside from hiking, sand boarding is another really popular activity at Great Sand Dunes National Park. We tried to make a DIY sand board from an old skateboard we had lying around, but it was not very effective. You can rent sand boarding gear outside of the park before your visit if you want to give it a try!

All in all, we had a ton of fun at Great Sand Dunes National Park, and I’m so glad we were able to check off one of our summer bucket list items so early in the season. We still have Mesa Verde National Park and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park to explore, so hopefully we can find the time to visit in the coming weeks!

Have you ever been to Great Sand Dunes National Park before? What’s your favorite national park in Colorado? Let me know in the comments!

Colorado Summer Bucket List

The weather is finally starting to warm and the snow is beginning to thaw which means spring is almost here. Before you know it, it’ll be summer and we all know the warm weather never stays as long as we hope! I really want to take advantage of the warmth this season, so I’ve put together a Colorado Summer Bucket List as motivation to try some fun new summertime activities. Colorado is full of activities year-round, but I think the state truly shines in the summer. So here are some goals I have for this summer in Colorado, and some activities I’d love to experience for the first time!

  1. Whitewater rafting – I’ve whitewater rafted a number of times before in the Southeast, and I’ve loved every experience. Colorado is known for having some great whitewater rafting, and there are tons of companies that offer trips ranging from beginner-friendly to advanced. Since I haven’t been whitewater rafting in a few years, I’ll probably aim for an intermediate trip, but I can’t wait to escape the heat by hitting the river this summer!
  2. Go on an overnight backpacking trip – I did a good amount of hikes last year, but due to my husband getting shoulder surgery at the beginning of the summer, we weren’t able to go camping or backpacking at all. This year, I’m determined to go on at least one overnight backpacking trip! I’d love to do one in May at a lower elevation spot, and then work up to a really epic and challenging overnight trip later in the season. Let me know in the comments what your favorite beginner/intermediate Colorado backpacking trip is!
  3. Take a scenic train ride – there are a bunch of scenic train rides throughout the state of Colorado, and I’d love to experience the state’s natural beauty this way. I haven’t been on a train ride in several years, but I always love sitting and watching the changing scenery go by.
  4. Spend a weekend in New Mexico – I’ve never been to New Mexico, and Santa Fe is only about a 5-hour drive from Colorado Springs! I figure this may be one of the only times in our life we’re living near the Southwest, so I want to take advantage by spending a weekend in a new state. My husband and I also haven’t had the chance to travel somewhere new to both of us in a few years, so I think it would be a really fun time.
  5. Visit another national park – like I mentioned in by Top 5 Things to Do in Colorado post, the state is home to not one, but four national parks! I’ve only been to Rocky Mountain so far, but I’d love to visit at least one, if not all, of the other three (Mesa Verde, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and Great Sand Dunes). Great Sand Dunes is only about a 3-hour drive from us, so I’d love to spend a day exploring it sometime over the summer!

And there you have it folks! What’s on your Summer Bucket List for 2022? What are your favorite Colorado Summer activities? Let me know in the comments!

Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Dream Lake, located in Rocky Mountain National Park, is a great day hike, perfect for those with limited time to explore the park. At 2 miles roundtrip, the hike to Dream Lake is relatively easy and great for hikers of all experience levels.

The trail to Dream Lake starts at the Bear Lake Trailhead, just about 20 minutes from the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station. At the first fork bear left and follow the signs to Dream Lake. You’ll gradually gain elevation as you make your way through the woods. After about a half mile, you’ll arrive at Nymph Lake.

Continue pushing on and you’ll soon arrive at Dream Lake. Dream Lake is an expansive lake that offers beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. During the winter, the lake will freeze over, giving you the chance to walk across its surface. Depending on weather conditions, microspikes may be helpful for navigating the snow and ice.

Have you made the hike to Dream Lake yet? What are some of your favorite hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park?

Travel Guide: One Day in Yellowstone

In summer 2020 my husband and I found ourselves in Wyoming – we were driving from Georgia to Washington and were trying to see as many sights as we could without going too far off route. We decided to take a little detour and explore Yellowstone National Park, a spot we’d both been wanting to visit, but hadn’t yet gotten the opportunity to. The only catch was that we had a single day to explore the park which boasts a whopping 2.2 million acres of land. It took a good bit of planning and some clever scheduling to make it happen, but we managed to see almost all the major sights Yellowstone has to offer in just one day of exploring. If you find yourself in a similar situation and want to know exactly how to tackle the park, this travel guide is perfect for you!

Image courtesy of YellowstonePark.com

6:00am – breakfast offsite in Teton Village
We stayed outside of the park because most of the lodging options inside were either booked up or a bit more expensive than we were wanting to spend. Instead, we stayed in Teton Village, a town about an hour and a half south of Yellowstone. It definitely wasn’t ideal to be this far from the park, but it made the most sense for our particular situation. As a bonus, we got to explore Grand Teton National Park the day before as well (stay tuned for that travel guide)!

7:30-8:00am – arrive at Yellowstone
We tried to make it to the park fairly early in the morning to beat some of the crowds and ended up entering through the South Entrance a little before 8:00am. Starting early also meant we had cooler temperatures to walk around and explore, which made it a lot more enjoyable.

9:00am – Old Faithful
Our first stop was Old Faithful, probably one of the most iconic features in the park. We kept a close eye on the National Park Service website to see when the next predicted eruption would be, and in the meantime walked along the boardwalks of the Upper Geyser Basin. Seeing Old Faithful erupt was absolutely spectacular, and well worth the crowds. As soon as the show ended, we made our way back to the car to head on before there was a massive rush of people trying to leave.

10:30am – Grand Prismatic Spring
Another icon of Yellowstone, Grand Prismatic Spring is located just about 15 minutes up the road from Old Faithful. Unfortunately, we got a little lost while hiking around the area which meant there were some serious crowds once we actually made it to Grand Prismatic. Despite this, Grand Prismatic was absolutely worth the stop, and it was one of the most gorgeous sights we saw the whole day.

1:00pm – Mammoth Hot Springs
We were a little hesitant to visit Mammoth Hot Springs considering it is at the very northwestern point of the park, but we were so glad we ended up making the drive. I didn’t expect to be super wowed by this area considering how dramatic Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic were, but I was pleasantly impressed by how beautiful the Mammoth Hot Springs area was and how different it looked from the southern part of the park. The crowds were also a little better which made strolling through more enjoyable.

3:00pm – Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Unfortunately, the road connecting Mammoth Hot Springs to the Tower-Roosevelt portion of the park was closed, so we instead opted to head south and then east to explore the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. We checked out both Artist Point and Inspiration Point, and this was one of my favorite areas in the whole park. The Yellowstone River is absolutely stunning, and the waterfalls were some of the biggest I’ve ever seen.

4:30pm – Hayden Valley
We opted to take the long way out of the park by heading south from Canyon Village so we could drive through Hayden Valley and past Yellowstone Lake. Hayden Valley did not disappoint as we encountered a massive herd of buffalo. I’ve seen buffalo before in other states, but it never ceases to be an amazing experience. We pulled off the road and watched the herd for quite some time before continuing on past the lake. We didn’t make any stops in this area, but it was a beautiful drive as the sun slowly began to set. We passed by the South Entrance we originally came in, as well as Old Faithful, before exiting through the West Entrance and even seeing some elk on our way out.

7:00pm – dinner in West Yellowstone
Once exiting Yellowstone, we got some dinner and spent the night in West Yellowstone, a Montana town not far outside the park. This town is a great option if you want to be close to the park but not actually stay within park boundaries. It was the perfect spot to rest up and enjoy some bison chili after a full day of adventuring!
I would definitely recommend eating meals outside of the park if possible, because food inside Yellowstone tends to be overpriced and a bit limited – we snacked on PB&J sandwiches and other snacks which saved us both time and money!

And there you have it folks! Yellowstone has so much to offer that I would definitely recommend taking more than just one day to explore it, but it can be done if you’re willing to do a good bit of driving! I’m so glad we made the detour to check out the park and I can’t wait for our next visit.