Great Sand Dunes National Park Elopement guide

When most people think of Colorado, they picture the majestic Rocky Mountains, miles of pine forests, alpine lakes and streams, wildflower meadows… but Colorado has another natural hidden gem that is totally unique from its other amazing landscapes: Great Sand Dunes National Park (or as I affectionally call it- Colorado’s Sandbox).

These massive, rolling sand dunes, tucked between pines and aspens, with snow-capped mountains looming in the background, are a totally unique and surreal environment with so many opportunities to adventure and take stunning, once-in-a-lifetime photos.

If you’re seeking a location for your elopement unlike any other on Earth, don’t pass up Great Sand Dunes National Park! In this guide, I’ll walk you through where—and how—to elope in this natural wonder, and all the best ways to explore the dunes.

How to Elope in Great Sand Dunes National Park

In order to have a wedding ceremony inside of the park, you have to acquire a permit from the National Park Service. The permit allows you to have a ceremony at one of their two wedding sites. You can apply for the elopement permit starting on January 1st of the year you wish to elope (and no later than 7 days before your elopement day). Permits are granted on a first-come, first-serve basis. To apply, you’ll need to fill out an application and mail it, along with a $200 fee, to the address listed on the National Park Service website.

Great Sand Dunes Elopement Locations

Great Sand Dunes National Park has two options for wedding ceremonies: the dunefield and the amphitheater.

Both locations are friendly to (leashed) dogs, which makes Great Sand Dunes National Park a perfect option for a Colorado elopement with your four-legged friend! (Dogs are also allowed on many of the trails and in campgrounds; see more here.)

The Dunefield

The dunefield only allows ceremonies with up to 15 total people (including the couple and vendors). This is perfect for an elopement with no (or very few) guests, and will get us the closest to the stunning beauty of the Great Sand Dunes.

The Amphitheater

For larger ceremonies, the amphitheater offers bench seating and a covered stage—but you’ll lose the open background of dunes and mountains.

The South Ramada picnic area can be reserved in advance for a small reception or post-ceremony meal. For more information and instructions for reserving this site, see the National Park Service website.

And then after your ceremony, we are free to roam the park to go take some epic photos!

Rules for Great Sand Dunes Weddings

Here are some other rules to keep in mind for your Great Sand Dunes National Park elopement:

  1. Ceremony locations are open to the public, and a permit does not grant you exclusive use of that area.
  2. Ceremonies are limited to two hours.
  3. Tables, chairs, carpets, tents, floral displays, generators, banners, streamers, and hanging objects are all prohibited. Arches are allowed only at the amphitheater.
  4. Music may not exceed 60 decibels, and vocal communication must be at a normal speaking volume.
  5. You may not throw or scatter petals, rice, birdseed, or other objects.
  6. Parking is allowed in designated areas only, and can be limited, so carpooling is encouraged.
  7. Dogs are allowed, but must remain on-leash.
  8. The ceremony permit does not include entry fee for guests. Each car will require its own entrance pass.
  9. Drones are prohibited.

Making Things Legal

Another important note is that you will have to get a marriage license if you want your marriage to be legally recognized! You’ll want to get your marriage license in Colorado, but you can get it from any county clerk and recorder. The closest one to the Sand Dunes is in Alamosa. For more information, visit Alamosa County’s website.

One of my favorite things about Colorado is that your dog can be your witness! You technically don’t need an officiant or witness here, so pup prints are allowed.

When to Elope in Great Sand Dunes National Park


Weather is a huge concern in Great Sand Dunes National Park, with highs and lows fluctuating from the single digits to the high 80s, and good weather drawing bigger crowds of visitors.

My recommendation for a Great Sand Dunes elopement is to plan for spring or fall! These seasons have the best temperatures, with highs in the 60s and 70s, and make great camping weather. Fall brings some of the best weather, less crowds, and the turning of aspen groves to a beautiful golden. But spring brings back Medano Creek!

By July and August, temperatures are rising and can become unbearably hot on the dunes, where there’s no shade or water. The dunes themselves can reach a temperature of 150 degrees during midday! I wouldn’t recommend a summer elopement in the park unless you’re seeking a sunrise or sunset ceremony (and love hot weather).

Winter can be very cold in the dunes, with daytime highs sometimes never reaching the 20s. Trails and roads can become impassable, and most campgrounds and hot springs in the area close for the season.

For more information about average weather conditions in the park, see the National Park Service website.

Consider Weekdays, Mornings, and Evenings

Timing isn’t just about the season! Because elopements are a little less structured than traditional weddings, and often have less (or no) guests, we have more flexibility for the time of day, and day of the week.

One of my biggest pieces of advice to all eloping couples is to consider a weekday! There are always less visitors to the park midweek, which will offer you more privacy and flexibility for your ceremony, photos, and activities—and as an added bonus, hotel and AirBnbB prices are often cheaper on weekdays.

I also recommend morning and evening ceremonies, and this is especially key in Great Sand Dunes National Park, where the sun can make the sand unbearably hot. We can catch the sun rising or setting over the dunes, get that gorgeous golden hour light, avoid midday crowds, and leave plenty of time to adventure during the day if we time your ceremony strategically.

Finally, consider what activities you’d like to do. Some of my favorites, like star gazing and Medano Creek are seasonally variable! When you hire me as your Great Sand Dunes elopement photographer, I’ll plan a custom itinerary for your whole elopement day that takes all these factors into consideration.

Adventuring Before and After Your Great Sand Dunes Elopement

Great Sand Dunes National Park has so many unique and fun options to explore the landscape with your new spouse, many of which would make for some incredibly cool portraits.

Sandboarding and Sledding

Sandboards and sand sleds are special equipment, like snowboards and sleds, made specially to slide down sand dunes—and they’re SO much fun! I’d highly recommend renting a few for your Great Sand Dunes elopement!

Since most people don’t own a sandboard (and regular snowboards won’t slide well on the sand), the best option is to rent one from one of several nearby businesses:

Oasis Store

4 miles from visitor center

Open spring through early fall


Spin Drift Sandboard Rentals

25 miles from visitor center

Open spring through early fall


Sand Dunes Swimming Pool and Recreation

32 miles from visitor center

Open year-round (closed on Thursdays)


Kristi Mountain Sports

40 miles from visitor center

Open year-round (closed on Wednesdays)


For more information on sandboarding and sledding safety and regulations, check out the National Park Service website.


The Medano Pass Primitive Road is a four-wheel drive trail through Great Sand Dunes National Park, with 21 first-come, first-serve primitive campsites along the path. Four-wheel drive vehicles are required to traverse the road, which runs 11.2 miles from the visitor center to the top of Medano Pass, 10,000 feet above sea level.

If you don’t own a Jeep or other four-wheel drive vehicle, Mountain Master Off-Road Tours offers Jeep tours of the road, and Great Sand Dunes Lodge offers Jeep rentals.

Medano Pass Primitive Road experiences frequent closures due to weather and unsafe conditions, but you can find the current operating status on the National Park Service website.


There are several ways to explore Great Sand Dunes National Park on foot, both on and off the trail.

Dunes Exploration

If you want to get up-close and personal with the sand dunes, you can explore the 30-mile dunefield—which does not have any established trails—in any direction you wish! I highly recommend going further into the dunes during your elopement, to really experience them. Some of the neatest dunes to hike to include:

  • High Dune on First Ridge, 693 ft high and 2.5 miles of hiking, which provides a view of the entire dunefield
  • Hidden Dune, 742 ft high and 7 miles of hiking, which is tied as one of the two tallest dunes in North America
  • Star Dune, 741 ft high and 6 miles of hiking, the other tallest dune in North America
  • Eastern Dune Ridge, a tall steep dune face accessible from Castle Creek Picnic Area

Forested Nature Trails

If you’re looking to follow a more established path, there are also several nature trails through the forested areas of the park:


Great Sand Dunes National Park offers two ways to backpack in the dunes: at one of seven designated sites along the Sand Ramp Trail, or in 20 non-designated sites throughout the dunefield backcountry.

Dunes Backcountry

This is the most popular option for backpacking in Great Sand Dunes National Park! Starting from the Dunes Parking Lot, you can hike 1.5 miles past the dunes’ first ridge, which marks the end of the day-use area, and camp anywhere in the sprawling dunefield. Camping in the dunefield under the stars, a tiny speck in the miles of sand hills, is completely surreal and would be such a remarkable way to spend your elopement night!

Designated Sites

The other backpacking sites in Great Sand Dunes National Park are marked along established trails. There are sites for all levels of backpacking experience—and I’m happy to help you choose the perfect one for your elopement night.

  • Buck Creek (1 mile from Amphitheater Parking Lot)
  • Escape Dunes (2.8 miles from Horse Parking Lot)
  • Indian Grove (4.2 miles from Horse Parking Lot)
  • Little Medano (5 miles from Horse Parking Lot)
  • Aspen (7 miles from Horse Parking Lot)
  • Cold Creek (10.1 miles from Horse Parking Lot)
  • Sand Creek (11.6 miles from Horse Parking Lot)

(Keep in mind that the Cold Creek and Sand Creek sites are described as very difficult, grueling hikes by the National Parks Service, and may be best for very experienced backpackers.)

Any backpacking in Great Sand Dunes National Park requires a backpacking permit; you can reserve one three months prior to the start of your backpacking trip at

Star Gazing

Great Sand Dunes National Park is certified as an International Dark Sky Park. The park has very little light pollution, which makes it perfect for observing the stars—and photographing them!

Astrophotography is an amazing addition to your Great Sand Dunes elopement timeline, and I can help you plan the perfect location and timing for star photos. We can coordinate your elopement for a night when the Milky Way is on full display and the moon is dark, for the most stunning elopement portraits with a celestial backdrop that looks too amazing to be real.

You can find more information on nighttime in Great Sand Dunes National Park on the National Park Service website.

Hot Springs

If you’re willing to venture a little outside of the park, Great Sand Dunes is nearby several beautiful and relaxing hot springs! What better way to unwind from the stress of your wedding day than by soaking in a natural spring-fed hot tub?

There are three hot springs spas throughout the nearby San Luis Valley:

  • Joyful Journey Hot Springs, 54 miles from the park, offers multiple pools at different temperatures heated by the springs, a full menu of spa services, and on-site accommodations including hotel rooms, yurts, and campsites.
  • Sand Dunes Recreation, 28 miles from park, has several large heated pools, an adults-only area, restaurants and bars, and rentable cabins and campsites.
  • Valley View Hot Springs, 62 miles from the park, is an off-the-grid, clothing-optional resort with spring-fed pools, spas, and saunas.

Medano Creek

In the spring, snowmelt fills the creekbed of Medano Creek, which runs through the dunes of Great Sand Dunes National Park. When the creek is full, visitors can swim, splash, and even skimboard and float down stream!

We could plan some amazing, unique elopement portraits as you wade into the creek in your wedding attire, or float down side-by-side in tubes.
Medano Creek’s flow is highest in late May, but you can check up-to-the-minute conditions on the National Park Service website.

Where to Stay For Your Great Sand Dunes Elopement

Great Sand Dunes National Park is a bit out of the way of major cities, so you’ll probably want to plan a multi-day trip to experience the park to the fullest, and relax and unwind before and after your wedding day. Whether you want to be out in nature or enjoying creature comforts, there are several options for where to stay during your trip.


The area around Great Sand Dunes National Park has lots of rentals available on AirBnb and VRBO, including some very fun and quirky houses—but be careful! Lots of rentals advertise being near the park, but are actually miles from the entrance. Make sure you note the distance between the rental and the park’s visitor center before you book.

That being said, I always recommend AirBnBs for eloping couples if you’re looking for ultimate privacy, comfort, and a beautiful place to get ready for your elopement day!


In the nearby town of Alamosa and the surrounding area, there are many hotels and resorts if you prefer to relax in ultimate comfort on your elopement night. Here are some of my recommendations:

Several of the hot spring spas recommended above also offer cabin or hotel room rentals!


In addition to the backpacking sites mentioned above, there are a few other ways to camp in Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Pinon Flats Campground

Piñon Flats Campground is open April through October and located 1 mile from the park’s visitor center, and can accommodate tents and small RVs. The campground does not have hookups, but there are restrooms with sinks and flush toilets, as well as potable water spigots, throughout the campground.

The National Park Service recommends reserving campsites well in advance, especially during the peak flow of Medano Creek in late spring and early summer. Individual campsites (which can hold up to 8 people, 2 tents, and 2 vehicles) can be reserved up to 6 months in advance, and group sites (for 15 to 40 people) can be reserved up to a year in advance, through
For more information about the Piñon Flats Campground, check out the National Park Service website.

Area Campgrounds

If you prefer to camp slightly outside of the park, there are several other campgrounds within 25 miles of Great Sand Dunes National Park:

  • Oasis Campground, just outside the park entrance, is open April through October and has 90 sites, including RV sites with full hookups, and cabins.
  • Zapata Falls Campground, 11 miles from the visitor center, is a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) primitive campground with views of the entire dunefield.
  • Rustic Rook Resort, 19 miles from the visitor center, is a glamping resort with fully furnished canvas tents and is open mid-May through September.
  • Ramble at Great Sand Dunes, 25 miles from the visitor center, is a private tent and RV campground with amenities including bathrooms, bike rentals, a general store, and access to BLM trails.

Medano Pass Primitive Road Camping

Medano Pass Primitive Road, described above under “Off-Roading,” has 21 first-come, first-serve primitive campsites marked along the road, the first one located 5.2 miles from the beginning of the road near Piñon Flats Campground. The sites are free but fill up quickly during peak season. For more information about these sites, see the National Park Service website.

What to Pack For Your Great Sand Dunes Elopement

Packing for your elopement in Great Sand Dunes National Park will depend on the season, weather, and what activities you want to include in your day, but here are some key things to keep in mind!

  • Elopement formalwear (consider comfort, mobility, and packability when choosing suits and dresses, especially if you plan to hike to your elopement site)
  • Base layers and warm jackets for cold weather (choose light-colored base layers that can be worn under formalwear—the wind is brutal during colder months and temperatures drop quite a bit before sunrise/right after sunset)
  • Good hiking boots and socks (there’s pretty much no way to wear heels or loafers on the dunes, so I recommend leaning into the hiking-boots-and-wedding-attire vibe and choosing some cute boots or honestly, just plan to ditch the shoes all together!)
  • Athletic clothes and backpack for hiking and other activities
  • Swimsuit (if you plan to splash in Medano Creek or hit up the hot springs)
  • Water bottles and/or Camelback (we’ll need to pack lots of water no matter the time of year, because there’s no natural running water in most of the park, and dehydration and heat exhaustion are huge risks in the summer)
  • Hiking and adventuring snacks
  • Vow books, florals, rings, and other elopement details
  • Camping gear (if you’re camping, glamping, or backpacking)
  • Sunscreen, sunglasses, and hat (the sun is intense year-round at such high elevation, and sunglasses will protect your eyes from blowing sand)
  • Pet supplies (if you are bringing your four legged friend along, make sure to pack gear for them too! Their leash, treats, toys, water, and accessories can all make the day fun for them too.)

Leaving No Trace During Your Great Sand Dunes Elopement

Great Sand Dunes National Park is a truly unique environment, and it’s the responsibility of every visitor to do our part to protect it.

The Leave No Trace foundation has 7 principles for leaving nature the way you found it:

  • Plan head and prepare
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  • Dispose of waste properly
  • Leave what you find
  • Minimize campfire impacts
  • Respect wildlife
  • Be considerate of others

During your Great Sand Dunes elopement, here are some specific things to consider to make sure we’re leaving no trace on the dunes:

  • Don’t feed or approach wildlife. It may not seem like it at first, but Great Sand Dunes has a thriving ecosystem of critters, including salamanders, frogs, 250 species of birds, kangaroo rats, badgers, pikas, mule deer, and black bear (in the forested areas of the park). These animals are often cute and exciting to see in person, and especially when it comes to small creatures like lizards and frogs, it can be easy to forget that they are wild and that feeding them can severely disrupt their natural habit and way of life. Enjoy from a distance, but give animals a wide berth! When camping in the forested areas of the park and surrounding campgrounds, make sure to secure food in bear boxes.
  • Pack out trash and waste. Make sure that anything you bring with you leaves with you! Be considerate of food wrappers, and make sure you dispose of any trash in the trash cans at trailheads and parking lots. If backpacking, you’ll need to pack out all trash. This also means we can’t toss flower petals, birdseed, confetti, etc. after an elopement ceremony.
  • Don’t take anything with you. Though it can be tempting, don’t remove any rocks, plantlife, or other natural objects from their natural environment.
  • Follow campfire rules. Campfires are restricted at many of the backcountry campsites in Great Sand Dunes National Park. Make sure you follow all rules regarding campfires, never light a campfire where it’s restricted, and put out campfires completely.

Meet Your Great Sand Dunes National Park Elopement Photographer and Planner!

Hey there, the name’s Sam!

I’ve spent years living in and exploring the state of Colorado, and man I love it. Great Sand Dunes is one of my favorite “less known” parks here. It takes even locals a while to venture down here!

Ready to Plan Your Great Sand Dunes Elopement?

Whether you’re excited about an elopement on the dunes, feeling overwhelmed with the steps to plan your elopement, or have questions about whether a Great Sand Dunes elopement is right for you, the first step is to contact me! I’ll walk you through every step of the process, from scheduling to permitting to booking lodging and vendors. 

And if your heart is set on a Colorado adventure elopement, but Great Sand Dunes isn’t the place for you, I’ll help you find the elopement location that’s picture perfect for you and your person!

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