Big Bend National Park vs Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Feel Free To Share:

Big Bend National Park vs Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Big Bend National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve are two of America’s hidden gems, each offering a unique and breathtaking experience for visitors. Big Bend National Park, located in southwestern Texas, is a desert paradise where visitors can explore the rugged terrain and witness the vast expanse of the Chihuahuan Desert. On the other hand, Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, located in Colorado, offers a one-of-a-kind opportunity to explore the tallest sand dunes in North America, rising up to 750 feet. Imagine hiking through the desert, seeing cacti and other desert plants, and then finding yourself in the middle of the Great Sand Dunes. Both parks offer a wide range of outdoor activities, from hiking and camping to stargazing and wildlife watching. Whether you’re a seasoned adventurer or just looking for a weekend getaway, these two parks are sure to leave a lasting impression. Keep reading to find out more about the unique experiences offered by Big Bend National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve and discover which one is the perfect destination for your next trip.

Hiking Trails in Big Bend National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Big Bend National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve are both known for their diverse and picturesque hiking trails. Big Bend National Park is located in Texas and features over 150 miles of hiking trails that vary in difficulty, from easy nature walks to strenuous backcountry treks. Some of the most popular hiking trails in the park include the Lost Mine Trail, which offers a moderate hike with incredible views of the Chisos Mountains, and the South Rim Trail, which is a challenging hike that leads to stunning views of the park’s vast desert landscape.

On the other hand, Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is located in Colorado and is known for its towering dunes that rise as high as 750 feet. The park offers a variety of hiking trails, including the easy Dunes Overlook Trail and the strenuous High Dune Hike. The most popular hike in the park is the Medano Pass Primitive Road, which is a 4-wheel drive road that takes visitors to the base of the dunes for some of the most spectacular views in the park.

In terms of difficulty, Big Bend National Park offers a wider range of trail options, from easy nature walks to strenuous backcountry treks. Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is also known for its challenging hikes, but it is more limited than Big Bend National Park. However, both parks offer unique and diverse landscapes, making them great destination for hikers of all levels.

Most Popular Hiking Trails in Big Bend National Park

Name Length Elevation Type Difficulty Visitor Ratings
Lost Mine Trail 4.19 mi 1,098.80 ft out and back Moderate 5/5
South Rim Trail – Boot Springs Trail 10.98 mi 2,328.80 ft loop Hard 5/5
The Window Trail 5.19 mi 947.92 ft out and back Moderate 4.5/5
Emory Peak Trail 8.48 mi 2,400.96 ft out and back Hard 5/5
Santa Elena Canyon Trail 1.50 mi 610.08 ft out and back Easy 4.5/5
Balanced Rock Trail 1.90 mi 232.88 ft out and back Easy 4.5/5
Boquillas Canyon Trail 1.20 mi 229.60 ft out and back Moderate 4/5
Hot Springs Canyon Trail 5.49 mi 921.68 ft loop Moderate 4.5/5
Outer Mountain Loop 24.05 mi 5,707.20 ft loop Hard 4.5/5
Big Bend Hot Springs Trail 1.10 mi 127.92 ft loop Easy 4/5

Most Popular Hiking Trails in Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Name Length Elevation Type Difficulty Visitor Ratings
High Dune Trail 2.99 mi 629.76 ft out and back Hard 5/5
Mosca Pass Trail 6.39 mi 1,459.60 ft out and back Moderate 4.5/5
Dunes Trail from Pinyon Flats 4.49 mi 954.48 ft loop Hard 4.5/5
Sand Dunes Loop Trail 4.99 mi 741.28 ft loop Moderate 4.5/5
Upper Sand Creek Lake Trail 7.38 mi 1,964.72 ft out and back Very Hard 4.5/5
Medano Lake Trail 7.88 mi 2,289.44 ft out and back Moderate 4/5
Montville Nature Trail 0.50 mi 88.56 ft loop Easy 4/5
Dunes Overlook Sand Ramp Trail 1.50 mi 265.68 ft out and back Moderate 3.5/5
Little Medano Creek Trail to Medano Lake 25.04 mi 3,542.40 ft out and back Moderate 4/5
Wellington Ditch Trail 1.80 mi 157.44 ft out and back Easy 4/5

Wildlife in Big Bend National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Big Bend National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve are both known for their diverse wildlife and unique landscapes. Big Bend National Park is home to a variety of animals, including desert bighorn sheep, mountain lions, black bears, and over 450 species of birds. The park also boasts a wide range of plant life, including cacti and yucca, as well as mesquite and juniper trees.

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, on the other hand, is known for its towering sand dunes and unique ecosystem. The park is home to a variety of animals, including pronghorn, bighorn sheep, and mule deer, as well as a wide range of bird species, such as the golden eagle and the mountain plover. The park also boasts a diverse range of plants, including sagebrush, yucca, and prickly pear cactus.

Both parks offer a unique and diverse wildlife experience, but the type of animals and plants seen will vary depending on the park. Big Bend National Park offers a desert ecosystem while Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve offers a unique high-altitude desert ecosystem.

Below are lists of the most commonly spotted wildlife at Big Bend National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve. However, you can see a full list of wildlife at each national park here.

Birds

Big Bend National Park Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
Peregrine Falcon Peregrine Falcon
Northern Harrier Northern Harrier
Sharp-Shinned Hawk Sharp-Shinned Hawk
Osprey Osprey
Tree Swallow Tree Swallow
Mallard Mallard
Canada Goose Canada Goose
Lincoln’s Sparrow Lincoln’s Sparrow
Ruby-Crowned Kinglet Ruby-Crowned Kinglet
American Robin American Robin
Great Horned Owl Great Horned Owl
Red-Tailed Hawk Red-Tailed Hawk
Northern Flicker Northern Flicker
Merlin Merlin
Barn Swallow Barn Swallow
Savannah Sparrow Savannah Sparrow
Great Blue Heron Great Blue Heron
Hermit Thrush Hermit Thrush
American Kestrel American Kestrel
Bald Eagle Bald Eagle
Song Sparrow Song Sparrow
European Starling European Starling
Northern Pintail Northern Pintail
American Wigeon American Wigeon
Green-Winged Teal Green-Winged Teal

Mammals

Big Bend National Park Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
Coyote Coyote
American Beaver American Beaver
Muskrat Muskrat
Big Brown Bat Big Brown Bat
Bobcat Bobcat
Striped Skunk Striped Skunk
Deer Mouse Little Brown Bat
Raccoon Deer Mouse
Black Bear Raccoon
Porcupine Black Bear
Silver-Haired Bat Porcupine
Hoary Bat Silver-Haired Bat
Long-Tailed Weasel Hoary Bat
House Mouse Red Fox
Mountain Lion Long-Tailed Weasel
Mule Deer Mule Deer
Common Gray Fox Gray Fox
Gray Wolf Long-Legged Myotis
Long-Legged Myotis Long-Eared Bat
American Badger Badger
California Myotis Ermine
Fringed Myotis Snowshoe Hare
Brazilian Free-Tailed Bat Masked Shrew
Townsend’s Big-Eared Bat Water Shrew
Western Harvest Mouse Brazilian Free-Tailed Bat

Reptiles

Big Bend National Park Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
Sonoran Gophersnake Bull Snake
Prairie Rattlesnake Western Terrestrial Garter Snake
Ring-Necked Snake Western Prairie Rattlesnake
Common Side-Blotched Lizard Greater Short-Horned Lizards
Desert Kingsnake Milksnake
Texas Nightsnake Eastern Fence Lizard
Long-Nosed Leopard Lizard
Mexican Milksnake
Central Texas Whipsnake
Smith’s Black-Headed Snake
Big Bend Tree Lizard
Eastern Collared Lizard
Glossy Snake
Long-Nosed Snake
Desert Spiny Lizard

Amphibians

Big Bend National Park Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
Barred Tiger Salamander Northern Leopard Frog
American Bullfrog Tiger Salamander
Southwestern Woodhouse’s Toad Woodhouse’s Toad
Red-Spotted Toad Plains Spadefoot
Canyon Treefrog

Fish

Big Bend National Park Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
Largemouth Bass Brook Trout
Green Sunfish German Brown Trout
Bluegill Cutthroat Trout
Fathead Minnow
Common Carp
Longnose Dace
Yellow Bullhead
Channel Catfish
Mosquitofish

Beautiful Landscapes in Big Bend National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Big Bend National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve both offer a diverse range of landscapes and natural features that are sure to leave a lasting impression on visitors.

Big Bend National Park is home to the Chisos Mountains, a range of rugged peaks that rise up to 7,832 feet. The mountains offer some of the best hiking in the park, with trails that lead to breathtaking overlooks and panoramic views of the surrounding desert. The park also has the Rio Grande river that runs along the border of Mexico, offering scenic river trips and opportunities for bird watching and wildlife viewing. Additionally, visitors can explore the Santa Elena Canyon, a dramatic gorge carved by the Rio Grande.

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is home to the tallest sand dunes in North America, rising up to 750 feet. The dunes are the main attraction of the park and offer a unique experience for visitors who can explore the dunes by hiking, sandboarding, and even skiing. The park also has Medano Creek, a seasonal stream that flows through the dunes, offering visitors an opportunity to splash around in the water and cool off from the heat. Additionally, the park is home to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, a beautiful range of peaks that offer a great backdrop to the park.

In summary, Big Bend National Park offers a diverse range of landscapes and natural features, including the Chisos Mountains, the Rio Grande river, and the Santa Elena Canyon, while Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is known for its unique sand dunes, Medano Creek, and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Both parks offer a wide range of activities and opportunities for visitors to explore and enjoy the natural beauty of the park.

Things To-Do and Activities in Big Bend National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Big Bend National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve are both popular destinations for outdoor enthusiasts, but the activities offered at each park are quite different.

At Big Bend National Park, visitors can enjoy a wide variety of outdoor activities such as hiking, backpacking, camping, rock climbing, and river rafting. The park is home to over 150 miles of trails, including the challenging South Rim Trail and the more moderate Window View Trail. The park also offers guided river trips on the Rio Grande and has several designated backcountry camping areas.

In contrast, Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is known for its towering sand dunes, which are the tallest in North America. The most popular activity at the park is hiking and sand sledding on the dunes. Visitors can also enjoy backpacking and camping in the surrounding wilderness area, as well as fishing, horseback riding, and stargazing.

In terms of family-friendliness, both parks offer a range of activities that can be enjoyed by visitors of all ages. However, the rugged and remote terrain of Big Bend National Park may make it more challenging for families with young children, while Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve offers a more accessible and unique experience for families with children.

Best Time to Visit Big Bend National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Big Bend National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve are both located in the western United States and offer a variety of outdoor activities, but the weather in the two parks is quite different.

Big Bend National Park is located in southwestern Texas and has a desert climate with hot summers and mild winters. The park receives very little rainfall, with most of it falling between July and September. Average summer temperatures range from the high 90s to 100s Fahrenheit, making it a great spot for visitors who enjoy hot weather and outdoor activities such as hiking and camping. The best time to visit Big Bend National Park is during the spring and fall, when temperatures are mild and the park is less crowded.

On the other hand, Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is located in southern Colorado and features a high-altitude desert climate with cool summers and cold winters. The park receives most of its precipitation in the form of snow, with the heaviest snowfall occurring between November and April. Average summer temperatures range from the 60s to 70s Fahrenheit, making it a great spot for visitors who enjoy mild weather and outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, and sand sledding. The best time to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is during the summer months, when temperatures are mild and the park is less crowded.

In conclusion, both Big Bend National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve offer visitors a chance to experience unique landscapes and outdoor activities. However, the best time to visit each park will depend on the type of weather and activities visitors are looking for. If you are looking for hot weather and dry landscape, Big Bend National Park would be a great choice while if you are looking for mild weather, cooler temperature and snow activities, Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve would be a great choice.

Family Friendliness of Big Bend National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Big Bend National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve are both family-friendly destinations, but each park offers a different type of experience for visitors traveling with children.

Big Bend National Park is a great destination for families who enjoy outdoor activities and adventure. The park offers a wide range of hiking trails that are suitable for children of all ages, and many of the trails offer stunning views of the surrounding desert. The park also has a Junior Ranger program that is designed to help children learn about the park’s wildlife, geology, and history. Additionally, the park has several campgrounds that are suitable for families and offer a great way to experience the park’s remote wilderness.

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is also a great destination for families, but it offers a different type of experience than Big Bend National Park. The park’s main attraction is the sand dunes, and children of all ages will enjoy exploring the dunes by hiking, sandboarding, and even skiing. The park also has a Junior Ranger program that is designed to help children learn about the park’s natural and cultural history. Additionally, the park has several picnic areas and a playground that are suitable for families.

In summary, both Big Bend National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve are family-friendly destinations, but each park offers a different type of experience. If your family is looking for an outdoor adventure and enjoy hiking, Big Bend National Park might be a better option. If your family is looking for a unique experience exploring sand dunes and other activities, Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is a better choice.

Leave a Comment