Great Sand Dunes National Park
Distance: 110 miles/177 km (each way)
Driving Time: 2 hours 15 minutes directly to Great Sand Dunes. (Allow a full day for the trip.)
Route: Drive north on US64 which turns into NM522. Continue north into Colorado on CO159. Turn west on CO160 and go 10 miles; turn north on CO150 and continue for 20 miles to Great Sand Dunes.
Enjoy a day trip to the Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado, and explore northern New Mexico and southern Colorado as you go.
As you travel north from Taos, you enter the lush Hondo Valley. Watch for the sign to the D.H. Lawrence Memorial. The English author spent much of his time from 1922 to 1925 writing in the solitude of a ranch on this property. After his death, Lawrence’s ashes were brought here and placed in a chapel built by his widow, Frieda.
Continuing north, stop at the Red River Fish Hatchery which has free self-guiding tours of a show pond and several trout raceways. Children especially enjoy the show pool of the large rainbow trout, but fishermen downstream benefit from the harvest too!
Your travel north then takes you through the quaint villages of Questa and Costilla, and on into Colorado. As you enter Colorado, watch for wild horses - there are large herds in the mountains to your east.
In Fort Garland, stop for a tour of the fort and its museum. Up to 100 soldiers were stationed here from 1858 to 1883 to protect the early settlers of the San Luis Valley. Kit Carson commanded the fort in 1866, followed by the famous Buffalo Soldiers of Texas. Take a walk of the plaza grounds and the original adobe buildings, and enjoy a tour of the museum.
Continue your travels through the San Luis Valley, the world’s largest alpine valley, to the Great Sand Dunes.
The Great Sand Dunes National Park is a wonderland of various terrains, from 30 square miles of sand dunes to aspen forest trails to wetlands and beaches. This is a fun destination for families with children, nature lovers of all ages, and photographers!
When you arrive, stop by the visitor center for information, then head out into the dunes. You can hike a short distance or all day. There are no designated trails as the dunes are always shifting. As you reach the top of each dune, the 360 degree views are inspirational. Enjoy sliding down the dunes, explore them in a dunes wheelchair (free at the visitor center), or hike across them to your heart’s content. Sunset is especially beautiful with the changing colors washing over the dunes.
There are numerous nature trails into the mountains and beautiful hikes along creeks and through the aspens. Trails through the grasslands and the wetlands offer a unique view of the area’s diverse wildlife, terrain, and wildflowers – all essential to the health of the dunes.
Open year-round, admission is $3 per adult; children are free. Camping and backcountry permits are available at the visitor centers. For more information, visit www.nps.gov/grsa
Return to Taos by the same route or continue west on CO160 to Alamosa, then south on US285. You will travel through Antonito (gateway to the Cumbres Toltec Scenic Railroad), then back into New Mexico. Train rides are a full-day excursion, but the depot has self-guided tours of the railyard and historic buildings.
At Tres Piedras, turn east on Hwy. 64 which will lead you back to Taos. On this leg of the road, you will pass the Greater World Earthship Community, a settlement of houses that consists entirely of earth-bermed passive solar homes that are built off-the-grid. Visit the demonstration home for an explanation of all the systems that function within the house and the ergonomics and earth-friendly effects of this type of home. About 10 miles before you turn to come into Taos, you will pass over the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, 650 feet above the Rio Grande winding through the rough rock gorge on each side. The bridge was built in the cantilever truss style and is the second highest bridge of its construction in the country. Stretch your legs and take a walk over the bridge for an incredible view of the river below, and a fine example of what vertigo is!
Drive to the intersection of Hwy 64 and 522 and turn right (south) to return to Taos.
Above: Great Sand Dunes by Janet Burns