Death Valley National Park vs Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

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“Two vastly different landscapes, one common goal – to astound and leave a lasting impression. Death Valley National Park, with its scorching temperatures and otherworldly terrain, stands in stark contrast to the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, where towering sand dunes, sculpted by nature, reach for the sky. Both parks offer unique experiences that are sure to leave visitors in awe. So, whether you’re searching for an adventure in the desert or a peaceful stroll through the dunes, these parks have got you covered. Get ready to be whisked away on a journey of discovery, where the unexpected is always just around the corner.”

Hiking Trails in Death Valley National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Death Valley and Great Sand Dunes National Parks offer contrasting landscapes for hiking. Death Valley boasts an array of trails, from easy walks like Badwater Basin’s 2.5-mile trek to the lowest point in North America, to grueling hikes such as the 11-mile Telescope Peak offering sweeping views of the park. Great Sand Dunes, as its name implies, is famous for towering sand dunes and offers hikes ranging from a 1.5-mile round trip to the dunes to the challenging 8-mile ascent of Mount Herard. Both parks offer diverse hiking options, making them popular with outdoor enthusiasts.

Most Popular Hiking Trails in Death Valley National Park

Name Length Elevation Type Difficulty Visitor Ratings
Badwater Basin Salt Flats Trail 1.80 mi 9.84 ft out and back Easy 4.5/5
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes Trail 2.79 mi 206.64 ft out and back Easy 4.5/5
Zabriskie Point 0.40 mi 52.48 ft out and back Easy 4.5/5
Dante’s View Trail 1.60 mi 360.80 ft out and back Easy 4.5/5
Telescope Peak Trail 11.97 mi 3,322.64 ft out and back Hard 4.5/5
Golden Canyon Trail to Red Cathedral 2.89 mi 574.00 ft out and back Moderate 4.5/5
Golden Canyon and Gower Gulch Loop via Zabriskie Point 5.79 mi 1,092.24 ft loop Moderate 4.5/5
Mosaic Canyon Trail 3.49 mi 1,066.00 ft out and back Easy 4/5
Death Valley Natural Bridge Road 4.29 mi 1,000.40 ft out and back Easy 4/5
Darwin Falls Trail via Old Toll Road 1.90 mi 226.32 ft out and back 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 Death Valley National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Death Valley NP is known for its biodiversity in harsh desert conditions, including desert bighorn sheep, coyotes, and birds such as the desert tortoise and the roadrunner. The park also has unique plant life such as the Joshua tree and creosote bush.

Great Sand Dunes NP&P is home to a variety of animals adapted to its high-altitude desert environment, such as mule deer, black-tailed prairie dogs, and birds such as the mountain bluebird and the horned lark. The park also boasts diverse vegetation, including the Piñon Pine and the shrubby buckwheat.

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

Birds

Death Valley 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

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

Reptiles

Death Valley National Park Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
Gopher Snake Bull Snake
Terrestrial Gartersnake Western Terrestrial Garter Snake
Ring-Necked Snake Western Prairie Rattlesnake
Common Sagebrush Lizard Greater Short-Horned Lizards
Common Side-Blotched Lizard Milksnake
Rubber Boa Eastern Fence Lizard
Long-Nosed Leopard Lizard
Smith������S Black-Headed Snake
Tree Lizard
Eastern Fence Lizard
Glossy Snake
Long-Nosed Snake
Western Fence Lizard

Fish

Death Valley National Park Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
Largemouth Bass Brook Trout
Mosquitofish German Brown Trout
Goldfish Cutthroat Trout

Amphibians

Death Valley National Park Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
Woodhouse’s Toad Northern Leopard Frog
Canyon Treefrog Tiger Salamander
Woodhouse’s Toad
Plains Spadefoot

Beautiful Landscapes in Death Valley National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Death Valley NP: Badwater Basin (lowest point in NA), Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Artist’s Palette, Zabriskie Point, Ubehebe Crater.

Great Sand Dunes NP&P: towering sand dunes (up to 750ft), Medano Creek, Sangre de Cristo mountain range, Star Dune, Mosca Pass.

Things To-Do and Activities in Death Valley National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Death Valley and Great Sand Dunes National Park are two popular outdoor destinations, each with unique attractions. Death Valley is known for scenic drives, stargazing, and geological formations like Badwater Basin and Devil’s Golf Course. Great Sand Dunes is famous for its towering sand dunes, offering sandboarding, sledding, picnicking, and splashing in a seasonal creek. Both parks offer camping and ranger activities, but Great Sand Dunes has an added bonus of a seasonal creek for water-based activities.

Best Time to Visit Death Valley National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Death Valley and Great Sand Dunes have vastly different climates. Death Valley is known for extremely hot summers and mild winters, reaching 120°F in summer, while Great Sand Dunes has warm summers and cold winters, with temperatures ranging from 80s to 30s°F. Great Sand Dunes sees more rainfall, with monsoon season from June to August, while Death Valley only gets 2 inches of rain per year. To enjoy Death Valley, visit in winter for milder temps and less rain. To enjoy Great Sand Dunes, visit in summer for warm weather and outdoor activities. Visitors should prepare for extreme weather in both parks.

Family Friendliness of Death Valley National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Death Valley and Great Sand Dunes are both unique and family friendly but in different ways. Death Valley is an arid desert with fascinating geological formations, historical sites, and scenic drives. However, it can be very hot and have limited facilities. Great Sand Dunes, on the other hand, features towering sand dunes, scenic mountain views, and opportunities for sand sledding and hiking. It has more amenities and a milder climate. So, if you’re traveling with children, Great Sand Dunes may be the better option with more activities and comfortable weather.

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