Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve vs Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

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Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve are two of the most unique and diverse national parks in the United States. Both of these parks offer visitors a chance to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life and immerse themselves in the beauty of nature. While these parks may seem vastly different at first glance, they both have something special to offer. From the towering glaciers of Glacier Bay to the rolling sand dunes of Great Sand Dunes, these parks are sure to captivate and inspire. In this article, we will compare and contrast these two parks and help you decide which one is the best fit for your next adventure.

Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or a nature lover, Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve is a must-see destination. With its stunning glaciers, pristine fjords, and abundant wildlife, this park is a true natural wonder. On the other hand, Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is a unique landscape unlike anything you’ve ever seen. With its towering sand dunes, mountain vistas, and scenic streams, this park offers a truly one-of-a-kind experience.

Hiking Trails in Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve offer vastly different hiking experiences to visitors.

At Glacier Bay, the trails are surrounded by glaciers, rainforests, and wildlife, and range from easy, flat walks to strenuous, multi-day backcountry hikes. The most popular trail is the Bartlett Cove Trail, a 1.5-mile round-trip hike that offers stunning views of glaciers and the bay. For a more challenging hike, the West Glacier Trail is a 5.3-mile one-way hike that leads to the face of the Margerie Glacier.

In contrast, Great Sand Dunes is known for its unique landscape of towering sand dunes and offers a mix of easy and challenging hikes. The easiest hike is the Dunes Boardwalk Loop, a 0.5-mile trail that takes visitors through the heart of the dunes. For a more strenuous hike, visitors can climb to the top of the tallest sand dune, Star Dune, a 7.5-mile round-trip hike with a 1,000-foot elevation gain.

Regardless of the level of difficulty, both parks offer breathtaking landscapes and a chance to connect with nature. With a mix of easy and challenging trails, Glacier Bay and Great Sand Dunes have something to offer for every type of hiker.

Most Popular Hiking Trails in Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve

Name Length Elevation Type Difficulty Visitor Ratings
Bartlett Cove Forest Loop Trail 1.10 mi 111.52 ft loop Easy 4.5/5
Bartlett River Trail 6.89 mi 875.76 ft out and back Easy 3/5
Bartlet Lake Trail 5.89 mi 465.76 ft out and back Easy 3.5/5
Tlingit Trail 1.10 mi 65.60 ft out and back Easy 3.5/5
Point Gustavus 12.47 mi 387.04 ft out and back Moderate 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 Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve is a remote wilderness located in the Alaska Panhandle. The park is known for its glaciers, seabirds, and marine mammals. Visitors may see whales, otters, seals, and sea lions swimming in the bay. Bald eagles, puffins, and gulls are common birds seen in the area. The park also has a variety of plant life, including spruce and hemlock trees, as well as wildflowers like fireweed and lupine.

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is located in the San Luis Valley in Colorado. The park is famous for its towering sand dunes that can reach up to 750 feet high. Visitors may spot pronghorns, mule deer, and elk in the park. The park also has a variety of bird species, including the mountain bluebird, spotted sandpiper, and the green-tailed towhee. The park’s wetlands and streams provide habitats for beavers, muskrats, and a variety of amphibians. The park also has a diverse array of wildflowers, including the Sand Dunes Sunflower, which blooms in the summer.

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

Birds

Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve 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

Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
Coyote Coyote
American Beaver American Beaver
Little Brown Bat Muskrat
Deer Mouse Big Brown Bat
Black Bear Bobcat
Porcupine Striped Skunk
Red Fox Little Brown Bat
House Mouse Deer Mouse
Mountain Lion Raccoon
Mink Black Bear
Mule Deer Porcupine
Gray Wolf Silver-Haired Bat
Short-Tailed Weasel Hoary Bat
Snowshoe Hare Red Fox
River Otter Long-Tailed Weasel
Masked Shrew Mule Deer
Water Shrew Gray Fox
Red Squirrel Long-Legged Myotis
Montane Shrew Long-Eared Bat
Long-Tailed Vole Badger
Lynx Ermine
Wolverine Snowshoe Hare
Marten Masked Shrew
Northern Flying Squirrel Water Shrew
Grizzly Bear Brazilian Free-Tailed Bat

Fish

Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
Rainbow Trout Brook Trout
Brook Trout German Brown Trout
Longnose Sucker Cutthroat Trout
Lake Trout
Northern Pike
Burbot
Silver Salmon
Chinook Salmon
Slimy Sculpin
Threespine Stickleback
Sockeye Salmon
Pink Salmon
Chum Salmon
Dolly Varden
Cutthroat Trout
Arctic Grayling

Amphibians

Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
Wood Frog Northern Leopard Frog
Tiger Salamander
Woodhouse’s Toad
Plains Spadefoot

Beautiful Landscapes in Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve is located in Alaska and is known for its dramatic glaciers and stunning fjords. Visitors can witness the glaciers calve and see the ice-blue waters of the bay. The park is also home to a rich and diverse array of wildlife, including whales, seals, and bald eagles.

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, on the other hand, is located in Colorado and features the tallest sand dunes in North America. The dunes were created by wind and water erosion and reach heights of over 750 feet. Visitors can hike, sandboard, and even sled on the dunes. The park also offers scenic views of the surrounding mountain ranges and the chance to witness magnificent sunsets.

Both Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve offer unique and breathtaking landscapes for visitors to explore. Whether you prefer to witness the power of glaciers or the beauty of sand dunes, these parks are sure to leave a lasting impression.

Things To-Do and Activities in Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve are both unique and offer different experiences for visitors. Glacier Bay is known for its stunning glaciers and wildlife, such as whales, seals, and bears. Visitors can enjoy scenic boat tours to see these glaciers up close or take a kayaking trip to explore the fjords. In addition, hiking and backpacking are popular activities, with trails that range from easy to challenging.

On the other hand, Great Sand Dunes is known for its towering sand dunes and diverse landscapes, including wetlands, forests, and alpine lakes. Visitors can explore the dunes on foot, horseback, or by sand sledding. Hiking and backpacking are also popular activities, with trails that range from easy to challenging. In addition, visitors can enjoy stargazing and wildlife viewing, including bighorn sheep, elk, and black bears.

Both parks offer a variety of recreational activities for visitors, from easy nature walks to strenuous hikes. Whether it’s exploring glaciers, sand dunes, or diverse landscapes, both parks offer unique experiences for all types of visitors.

Best Time to Visit Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve are two diverse national parks located in Alaska and Colorado respectively. Both parks offer unique experiences, but their seasonal weather differs greatly. Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve experiences a cool and wet maritime climate, with average high temperatures ranging from the mid 40s to mid 50s°F in the summer and low 30s to mid 40s°F in the winter. Heavy rainfall is common, especially from May to September. On the other hand, Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve experiences a dry and warm desert climate, with average high temperatures ranging from the mid 80s to low 90s°F in the summer and mid 30s to low 40s°F in the winter. Snow is rare in the winter and the park can be hot and dry during the summer months.

The weather affects the best time to visit each park. Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve is best visited from June to September when the weather is mild and wildlife is abundant. The winter months can be harsh, with limited accessibility to some areas of the park. On the other hand, Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is best visited in the spring and fall when temperatures are mild and the park is less crowded. The summer months can be extremely hot, making outdoor activities challenging and the park can be crowded.

Family Friendliness of Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve offer different attractions and experiences for families.

Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve has a number of opportunities for families to experience the natural beauty of Alaska and its glaciers. The park has ranger-led programs and boat tours that are perfect for families with children. Children will have the chance to learn about the wildlife and glaciers in a fun and educational way. Additionally, the park has a number of trails that are easy to hike, giving families the chance to explore the wilderness together.

On the other hand, Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is all about the sand dunes. Children, especially, will love playing in the sand and hiking to the top of the dunes. The park also has a number of ranger-led programs and guided hikes that are perfect for families. However, the sand dunes can get hot in the summer, so families should come prepared with plenty of water and sun protection.

In conclusion, both Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve offer families a chance to enjoy the great outdoors. However, Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve is better for families who want to experience glaciers and the Alaska wilderness, while Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is better for families who want to play in the sand and explore the dunes.

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