The Ultimate Road Trip From Denver to the Great Sand Dunes

This one-day road trip from Denver to the Great Sand Dunes promises relaxed, cultural experiences before you test out your limits in America’s epic sandbox.
Written by Jennifer Yirinec
Reviewed by Carrie Adkins
Your car is your gateway to nature’s otherworldly wonders in this one-day road trip from Denver to the Great Sand Dunes.
From Denver to Pueblo to the Great Sand Dunes, this 240-mile
road trip offers the chance to experience an urban waterfront before visiting America’s epic sandbox. Historic landmarks, culinary delights, and vibrant entertainment will satisfy both the nature enthusiast and the culture lover.
Before you set out for Colorado’s sandy mountains, make sure you have the
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Key trip details

Denver to Great Sand Dunes National Park
Distance: 236 miles
Driving time: 3 hours and 50 minutes
Suggested length of trip: 1 to 2 days


  • Denver, CO
  • Pueblo, CO
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park

Denver to Pueblo

114 miles, 1 hour 47 minutes
Established in 1842 as Fort Pueblo, this
city is famous for its river views, camping spots, and cultural events. What once was a rustic mining town inhabited by roughnecks like Wild Bill Hickok and Buffalo Bill Cody is now a vibrant artistic and cultural center with waterfront dining, shopping, and live entertainment.
Hop onto I-25 S to get to Pueblo.

What to do in Pueblo

Pueblo, Colorado
  • Steelworks Center of the West
    : Rated one of the top five industrial museums in the country, the Steelworks Center of the West exhibits collections on the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company (CF&I), a coal and steel company integral to the development of the American West. Learn the "Story of Steel" as you explore historic buildings, interactive displays, and restored artifacts, including a medical dispensary that gives tourists a window into early industrial medicine.
  • Historic Arkansas Riverwalk
    : The cultural and entertainment hub of Pueblo is the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk, a 32-acre riverfront plaza with restaurants and cafes, stores, sculptures, bike trails, a nature center, and an outdoor amphitheater. A community treasure, the Riverwalk revitalized Pueblo by returning the Arkansas River to its original downtown location after it was diverted following a devastating 1921 flood.
  • Riverwalk by boat
    : If you have time, explore the Riverwalk by boat, with options for excursion boats, gondolas, and pedal boats. Children especially will love the swan and duck-shaped pedal boats that you can rent for 30-minute sessions!

Where to eat in Pueblo

  • Brues Alehouse Brewing Co.
    ($$): While you’re on the Riverwalk, grab lunch at Brues Alehouse Brewing Co., a music-inspired brewpub housed in a revitalized police building and jail. Everything is prepared from scratch, so regardless of the pub fare you choose, you will be well satisfied. There are even mouth-watering vegan and vegetarian options, such as the Chipotle Vegan Burger!

Pueblo to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

121 miles, 1 hour 55 minutes
From Pueblo’s relaxed urban vibe you’ll progress into the more remote portions of
as you make your way to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, located in Mosca, CO. This dune field spans 30 square miles and features the tallest sand mountains in North America.
To reach your destination, take I-25 S and then US-160 W.

What to do at Great Sand Dunes

Great Sand Dunes Park and Preserve, Colorado
  • Medano Pass Primitive Road
    : If you have a four-wheel-drive vehicle, take a scenic drive on Medano Pass Primitive Road. When weather conditions permit, you can travel the 22-mile-road connecting Great Sand Dunes with the Wet Mountain Valley and Colorado State Highway 69 in the comfort of your own 4WD vehicle, encountering areas of deep sand, the Medano Creek, and bighorn sheep along the way.
  • Hike the trails
    : Hike the dunes by day or by night, charting your own course—the sandy dune field lacks trails. Most travelers enjoy trekking to the high dune on the first ridge, which, although not the tallest dune, offers an excellent view of the entire dune field. Although most travelers can hike this dune round trip in about two and a half hours, unpredictable sand conditions and altitude adjustments mean you should dedicate four hours to your hiking trip.

Where to eat at Great Sand Dunes

  • Red Rock General Store
    : With few options for lodging and dining close to the Great Sand Dunes, you’ll want to plan ahead. Bring food to picnic at the park or eat at the Red Rock General Store for food with old-world charm.

Where to stay in Great Sand Dunes

  • Great Sand Dunes Lodge
    : If you’re not going to camp, secure a room here. Nestled at the foot of the Sangre De Cristo mountain range, the Great Sand Dunes Lodge offers views of 13,000-foot peaks and the breathtaking San Luis Valley. Cost per night: from $150
Pro tip Bring a tire gauge and air compressor in case you need to adjust the air pressure in your tires to accommodate the fickle sandy terrain.

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