In Colorado around this time of the year the temperature drops and the leaves change to beautiful shades of gold and red. The trails slowly begin to become sloppy and it’s time to head to lower elevations, because you just aren’t ready to put your bike away for the season yet.  This is usually around the time that the fat bike fever sets in. With winter being on the horizon in many high elevation areas of the state, we experienced a dire need to get on those chubby tire bikes and get out of dodge. In an impromptu fashion, we packed our bike bags, threw the fatties in the back of the Outback, and were off to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in search of a sandy roads and floaty descents. We knew that the ability to bike in the National Park would be limited, but wanted to explore just what we were able to do without breaking the rules. We arrived at the visitors center at around 1:30pm on a Tuesday. We wanted to play by the rules, so we went inside to see a map of where we could ride. The first two park staff we talked to made the regulations seem like a wash – however the third park employee who we spoke with was very firm on the issue. Mechanized travel was to be limited to Medano Pass – and anything that was 75 feet on either side of the road is where you are allowed with your bicycles.  Medano Pass starts about a mile and a half from the visitors center, and eventually puts you into the preserve. Outside of the preserve is all wilderness area, thus, bicycles are not allowed. IMG_4967 Although we had wished to ride directly on the dunes, Medano Pass turned out to be a fun sandy 4×4 road with plenty of creek crossings. The road takes you through three of the many different ecosystems that are accessible in the park and preserve. You start on a sandy, exposed road which takes you near the wetlands and Medano Creek for a couple of miles, past the tallest sand dunes in North America. If you have not been here, this is truly a site to see. After the wetlands section, you continue to head up the pass into the alpine landscape where the road is still sand, and you are sure to encounter a lot of wildlife. The road has ups and downs, and eventually, if ridden all the way to the top, you end near treeline in beautiful alpine tundra.  There are plenty of water sources near the route, but if you plan on drinking it, be sure to bring a filter or tablets to purify it prior to drinking. IMG_4979 Once you enter the preserve, you will find that there are multiple designated camp sites. Each camp site has a fire ring and a heavy duty bear box – we recommend using it! For our quick overnight trip, we didn’t go too far. We biked for just under 10 miles before stopping at a campsite for the night. Just before we finished pedaling, a small black bear cub darted out from some tall grass about a foot in front of my front tire as I was descending – it saw me and began sprinting down the road in the direction we were traveling. Of course, worried about where the mama was, we too sprinted down the road on our bikes. After we ate, drank a flask of whiskey and went to sleep, we were awoke by a hungry bear one campsite down at around 2am. He was pounding, maybe standing on and stomping on the bear box. We stayed up for about an hour with our headlamps on chatting, trying to let the bear know not to come visit us. The bear boxes at the campsites were large, and positioned right in the middle of the site, so no matter where you chose to lay your bivy or hang your hammock, the box was within 20 feet of your head. To give you a taste of the other wildlife we experienced while we were out there – there were deer laying in the road EVERYWHERE, as well as stalking our campsite all night. Fat packing at the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is an excellent out and back trip for someone looking for a quick overnighter, or if you are new to Bikepacking. Although biking in sand can be strenuous, the amount of technical riding, mileage, and vertical gain is low. If you are planning an overnight, be sure to check in at the visitors center to receive your backcountry permit, as well as parking permit to use their overnight parking lots. Watch the video to see more of the terrain!

2 Comments

  1. How much snow falls in this area during fall/winter? Being near Blanca Peak and the others around it, I’d think it was considerable. Thanks.

  2. Such an awesome place, I had a blast there on our visit, glad you got to enjoy it!

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