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The dune field encompasses 78 square kilometers, and the tallest dune is nearly 230 meters high. Explore by foot, or go sandboarding or sandsledding year-round (specially made sand equipment is available for rent from vendors outside the park). Between the views and the ride, it’s a thrill you’re not likely to experience many other places. Be aware of changing weather conditions, especially wind and sun. It’s best to hike and play on the dunes early in the morning or in the evening.

While the dunes are the major attraction here, the rest of the landscape – a diverse mix of grasslands, wetlands, conifer and aspen forests, alpine lakes and tundra – is no less a nature lover’s playground. After a morning spent on the sand, find a trail to hike in the shady forest. Montville Nature Trail is a particular favorite for its tree coverage and encompassing views of the mountains, dunes and valley. From April through June, take a refreshing soak in Medano Creek and keep an eye out for the mysterious “surge flow” (waves created by changes in the sand dunes).

Discover a hidden gem in Zapata Falls. It requires a little wading to get there, but the refreshing mist and views of the sand dunes and mountains are well worth it. Book a Jeep tour to get off-road on the scenic Medano Pass Road, especially in late September and early October for the best fall colors. And don’t forget the late-night: At nearly 2,500 meters, you’re closer to the sky here, so stay after dark to watch as the stars of the Milky Way come to life, or go for a dune hike under the full moon.

Hot Air Balloon over Asheville, North Carolina
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