We recently visited the Colorado Sand Dunes this May- it's been on our list for a while and this was the year it came together. While the sand dunes are accessible well into the fall, there are a few reasons to visit in late May. For one, the weather is still a little cooler. The main reason is that the Medano Creek is flowing which is an incredible sight to see. The water is snowmelt and pretty chilly but it's fun to splash before or after hiking the dunes.
Because we decided on this trip a little late, we ended up staying in Alamosa (about 45 min away) instead of the nearby Sand Dunes Lodge. For us, it actually ended up being a good option because 1 day was plenty of time for us to do the dunes and the falls. We stayed at the Hampton Inn Alamosa. We loved having a pool (indoor) to swim in the evening. They also offered a pretty decent complimentary breakfast.
To really experience the dunes, it's fun to rent a sand sled or board- regular snow sleds don't really work well on the sand. You can find them for rent several places but the simplest option is to rent from the Oasis which is just a couple of miles from the National Park Entrance. Rentals are $20/day and include a bar of wax to help you get going a little faster. Go early- we arrived right at 9am on a Saturday and there was hardly a line but by the time we were leaving 15 minutes later, the line had doubled. Same goes for the park itself- at 9:25 we drove right in without a wait and grabbed one of the last nearby parking spots. When we left the park around 11:30, people were parking down the road and the line to enter the park seemed infinite! I really don't know if this is typical but we were very happy with our timing.
The Dunes themselves were incredible to see, just as you would imagine. You can see them from several miles away as you drive towards them. They just seem to pop up out of nowhere! The weather was windier than we expected and if we went again, we would definitely pack some pants and a hoodie. (We pretty much dressed for summer!) When the wind really picked up, it was a little like being sandblasted. We made the best of it- hiking to the top of some of the nearby dunes and then trying out the sand board (like a snowboard) and the sled. It was pretty fun!
We splashed in the creek for a bit but again because of the wind, our plans for sitting and enjoying the "beach" didn't really pan out. Again, it may be a little different later in the day or different times of the year.
After leaving the park, we stopped back at the Oasis to turn in our sand boards and grab some lunch- they had counter service only but the food was surprisingly delicious! Grilled chicken salad, good burgers and great fries. We filled up and then headed back down the road to hike Zapata Falls.