The dunes seem so small and bleak from far away, but the closer you get to them, the more towering and impressive they become. People appear as tiny ants climbing up and down the sandy hills.
Before the entrance to the park, there is a short drive up through a pine forest to Zapata Falls. The waterfall itself is not worth the drive on the unpaved road, but we were surprised to see a ton of people on the way there just parked on the side of the road gathering pine nuts. I tried picking a few, they were delicious but such a hassle. Definitely need gloves to protect from the sticky sap.
1. Hike up to the High dune. It’s only about a mile long, but it’s not easy! Hiking at high altitude in sand is challenging but the view from the top is rewarding. Star dune, which is about another mile away from High dune, is actually higher by a few feet, but I’m pretty sure the view will be the same from there.
About halfway into it, I decided to ditch the shoes. The sand will get into the most surprising places, especially if you do the next activity.
2. Sledding or ‘sandboarding’. You’ll see people with their snowboards and sleds going up and down the dunes. Some were more successful than others.
I think the key is a good waxing. We met some friendly people on top of High dune and they let us try their sleds. So much fun!!
3. Hike the Montville nature trail for a view of the dunes from the distance. In the fall you walk up through a tunnel of yellow aspens. It was a short and easy half a mile walk and we met a couple of deer on the trail.
Only a small portion of the park is available to the traveler with a compact car, so it’s easy to cover it in one day. There is an 11 miles road along the dunes, which most likely takes you to a less crowded side, but a 4WD car and lower tire pressure is required. There are also a lot of long hikes in the nearby mountains with alpine nature, but we decided we’ve had enough of that lately, so we focused on the dunes.