Exploring Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve on horseback or with pack animals can be fun and rewarding, but requires some preparation on your part. We want you, your animals, and other visitors to have a great experience!
Here are answers to frequently asked questions about bringing horses to Great Sand Dunes:
As a hunter with livestock, how do I reserve the Cold Creek drainage?
Where can we ride our own horses?
Most of the national park and the entire national preserve are open to horse use. For closed areas, please refer to the Map of Areas Closed to Horse Use (.jpg file, 130 KB).
The following areas are closed to horseback riding:
- Piñon Flats campground
- Visitor Center parking area, area, or Sand Sheet Loop Trail
- Mosca Creek picnic area, near Dunes Parking Lot (Note: riders may access the southern and western portions of the dunefield through a permitted corridor than runs between the Visitor Center and picnic area. Please see map for location of this corridor.)
- Dunes Parking Lot and the area directly west of the Dunes Parking Lot, as far as the High Dune. This area is for pedestrians only.
- Wellington Ditch Trail
- Montville Nature Trail, except for the southern section required to access the Mosca Pass Trail. Please lead your horses on this section of the nature trail.
- any paved roads, except when crossing
- the Sand Ramp Trail between the campground and Point of No Return. Use Medano Primitive Road instead.
Where can we leave our trailer?
Use the horse trailer parking area at the beginning of the Medano Pass Primitive Road. If full, use the amphitheater parking lot nearby. Please clean up all manure before and after your trip.
Horse trailers may not be parked elsewhere within national park boundaries. For national preserve access from the east side of the Sangre de Cristos, you may leave your trailers at trailhead parking areas in the San Isabel National Forest, including Mosca Pass, Rainbow Trail, and Grape Creek Campground parking areas.
Northern park access: Hikers, horses and pack animals may use the Liberty Gate trailhead to access the national park and national forest lands in this area. Wagons or other horse drawn equipment are not permitted to enter the park. The park map has directions to Liberty Gate.
Where can we camp with our horses?
All national park horse camping areas are in the wilderness, away from roads. Camping with your horses is not permitted along roadsides, parking lots, or the Piñon Flats Campground in the national park. When accessing the backcountry through the main national park entrance on Highway 150, a backcountry camping permit is required.
Camping in the National Preserve
The national preserve includes higher forested areas above the dunefield; see a park map for boundaries. Obtain a free parking and camping permit from the Visitor Center during business hours the first day of your trip. Follow the minimum impact guidelines below. In designated sites along the Medano Pass Primitive Road, horses must be picketed or highlined at least 100 feet from tent areas.
Camping in the National Park
The national park includes the dunefield and some of the foothills around it; see a park map for boundaries. To camp in the dunefield or designated foothills campsites, you will need to reserve a permit in advance online. Get information and link to make a reservation on our Backpacking page.
In the national park, you may camp with horses at:
- Little Medano, Aspen, Cold Creek, and Sand Creek backcountry campsites.
- The Great Sand Dunes Wilderness, beyond the first high ridge of dunes. As you reserve a permit online through recreation.gov, you will need to request a parking change from Dunes Parking Lot to Horse Parking. Request this change in the comment section.
What animals are considered pack animals?
Horses, mules, burros, donkeys or asses, alpacas and llamas may be used in the national park and preserve as pack animals.
Where can we find guided horseback trips in the park?
Ranchlands is the only licensed provider of horseback riding in the national park. Horseback rides are provided only to overnight guests at the historic Zapata Ranch. Learn more on their website or call 719-378-2356.
Last updated: May 11, 2021