Great Sand Dunes National Park is located 27 miles (~ 1 hour) northeast of Alamosa, Colorado and off of US-160. Primary activities include hiking with kids, hiking with leashed dogs, and horseback riding but mountain bikes are not allowed. The Montville Nature trail is very close to both the park entrance and the trail head for hiking the sand dunes. In addition, the Montville Nature trail head is also the starting point for the Mosca Pass trail which allows backcountry camping. A week long pass is required for entry into the park. Restrooms and water were not present at the trail head. Cell phone service was weak while in the park.
Montville Nature trail is a 0.5 loop with changes in elevation less than 100 feet; from 8,200 feet to 8,300 feet. The trail includes a free interpretative brochure with 16 interpretative stations. However, the brochure box was empty so we do not know the significance of the stations. Its proximity to the park entrance, short length, and lower demand make it ideal for families seeking an easy nature hike and with less crowds than the sand dunes.
Montville Nature trail crosses Mosca Creek twice and, for the most part, was easy for our two year old to manage.
As opposed to the open air sand dunes, Montville Nature trail includes enough forest canopy to provide some shade on hot, sunny days. Notably, the trail head warns that bears frequent the area so check out Tips for Bear Encounters.
The following picture peers south and shows a view of Mosca Pass.
We hiked the loop counter clockwise and on the second half of the loop were presented with views of the nearby dune field and Sangre De Cristo mountains. Further, the second half of the loop is a little rocky with some moderate decline but still easy to hike.
The subsequent panoramic picture attempts to illustrate the diverse landscape, wildlife, and vegetation that the Great Sand Dunes National Park contains:
- Alpine tundra – Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep
- Subalpine forest – Elk, Gray Jay and Colorado Black Bears
- Montane forest – Rocky Mountain Juniper and Albert’s squirrels
- Dunefield – Indian rice grass, Ord’s kangaroo rats, and Great Sand Dunes tiger beetle
- Sand sheet and grassland – Plains Prickly Pear Cactus, Rubber Rabbitbrush, and Great Plains Yucca
- Sabkha – Sandhill crane, American avocet, and American white pelicans
- Riparian and wetlands – Black and white magpies, American beaver, and Rocky Mountain iris
In sum, the Montville Nature Trail is a very short hike that is ideal for kids and anyone looking to enjoy the Great Sand Dunes National Park without engaging large crowds of people.