No Surf, No Snow, No Problem: Sandboarding in the Colorado Dunes

By Kat Smith

Ever heard of sandboarding? I hadn’t either until visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado. It’s easy to get the idea though. 

Replace surf or snow with sand and there you have it (although maneuvering in the sand rivals how you’d maneuver a surfboard through the water). Trust me, if you enjoy boardsports or even think you will, this is a wildly unique sport you need to try.

There are a handful of places in the U.S. where you can sandboard, but with the highest sand dunes in North America, Great Sand Dunes National Park is an excellent place to start. The park is fantastic for longer runs, powdery sand and incredible views. 

Located about halfway between Denver and Santa Fe, this park never closes and requires no reservations. Enjoy it during the day for sandboarding, hiking and splashing around in the seasonal river (Medano Creek), or head there at night for some stargazing.

Upon arrival at Great Sand Dunes, it wasn’t what I expected. I was ready for sand dunes, sure, but I wasn’t expecting the landscape around them. The surrounding area wasn’t like a desert as I had expected, but instead a beautiful mix of grasslands, mountains and dense forests. It felt as if the sand has been purposely dumped there, not something that was created naturally. 

In reality though, for the last thousands of years, sand has eroded from the surrounding mountains and been brought to the valley by rain and wind, slowly creating the dunes we see today.

Though a snowboard or surfboard may seem like a good way to do the dunes, it’s not. So first, buy or rent a sandboard. Although they look similar to snowboards, they’re built out of wood and have simple footholds instead of bindings and boots. They also make sand sleds. 

You won’t be able to get a board at the park, so you’ll need to plan ahead. There are plenty of retailers in the area – just be sure to grab some wax before you head out. You’ll definitely want it to gain some speed on the sand.

I went to Great Sand Dunes with my husband and since we had our dog in tow, we decided to only rent one board. While it was a practical decision so one of us could keep an eye on our pup while the other boarded, I greatly appreciated the break; it’s a harder workout than I anticipated.

Going down the slopes is where the thrill is, but the sport gets its revenge going back up. No chair lifts here! It’s seriously fun gliding down the sand but even the longer runs at the park finish within a minute at most. 

Interestingly, there is no designated boarding area in the park. You can go down any dune you’d like. Have fun, get creative and try out a few different spots before settling on the most exciting slope – just be sure you don’t take down any hikers in the process.

To ensure you have a great time, come to the park prepared. The surrounding area is remote and the towns we did pass by were tiny. Come ready with the food, water and clothing you’ll need for the day.

The clothing you wear will make a huge difference. The weather in the park is really extreme so be sure to pack smart. In the summer, the sand can reach up to 150 degrees; in the winter, it’s not unusual for temps to hit below 0. Be sure to visit the Great Sand Dunes weather page on to plan your visit. 

To really enjoy the sport, wear long pants, a long-sleeve shirt and high socks regardless of the time of the year. Even if you’re an experienced snowboarder or surfer, I’ll bet you take a fall at least once while getting used to the sand. You’ll be thankful for the extra coverage when you’re rolling down the dune. Even with the right clothing, expect to find sand everywhere for a day or two after your trip. Just think of it as little reminders of all the fun you had!