Trip Update: We had planned to travel across southern Colorado to Mesa Verde National Park and then to Canyonlands and Capitol Reef National Parks in Utah. That is, until we started doing some more research.
We were concerned about those triple-digit numbers in Utah, the competitive aspect of camping inside the parks at the end of peak season, and driving Ranger in that heat. Therefore, we adjusted our plans to drive north through Colorado along I-25 to Wyoming. This change will allow us and Ranger to remain cooler, and we will be in Wyoming prior to July 4th. We are saving the Utah parks for a future Spring/Fall trip, when we can better appreciate these places.
Therefore, we opted to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, in southern Colorado. We were surprised by this park. It is nothing like White Sands. The dunes are the largest in North America, with snow-capped peaks to the side. Water flows from the mountains and creates a small swimming beach area at the foot of the dunes. We have never been anywhere quite like it.
It was quite a workout to get near the base of the First Dune, and it is recommended that hikers begin in the morning due to the heat and thunderstorms. There is limited camping at Great Sand Dunes, so we headed up to Colorado Springs for the night.
We woke up the next day and headed over to Garden of the Gods. It has a visitor center with extensive information about the park’s history, flora, and fauna. If you were to visit, we would recommend parking in the main parking lot within the park first, hike around, and then go to the visitor center. By 10am, nearly all of the parking lots were full and we did a short hiking loop. It is a very scenic place to stop and take in the rolling fields and red rock.
We decided to move away from the crowds and leave the busy I-25 corridor in search of a shower, some laundry, and to get back to the mountains. We drove to Estes Park, which is at the foot of Rocky Mountain National Park. We found a nice campsite about 10 minutes away from Estes Park Visitor Center, where you can hop on a shuttle to the park’s hiking trails. This park is absolutely beautiful. It is nice and cool here, and Ranger is excited about minimal driving since we are taking the shuttle. We will be here through Friday morning before we head up to Wyoming.