Love the thrill of downhill sports? Lose your woolly socks and thermal fleece and get ready for sandboarding -- arguably the coolest new way to have fun on a beach or desert getaway.
Kids have long been sledding down sand dunes on pieces of cardboard and plastic snow sleds. But in recent years, surfers and out-of-season snowboarders have taken it to the next level with sandboarding -- riding down dunes on boards and sleds made out of a slicker material that glides on sand.
Want to try sandboarding or sand sledding on your next getaway? A waxed snowboard or snow saucer will probably do. If your kids are up for serious careening, then you'll want to rent boards and sleds made specifically for sand.
While this emerging sport is a natural fit for beach destinations, some of the best places to try sandboarding and sand sledding may surprise you. (Michigan and Colorado? Who knew?) Here are five of the best dune destinations in the United States.
Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve: Mosca, CO
An 83,000-acre hunk of desert might be the last thing you'd expect to find in Colorado, but Great Sand Dunes National Park feels like the Sahara was plopped down in the middle of the Rockies. Rising 750 feet, the tallest sand dunes in North America are a four-hour drive south of Denver. The park allows year-round sand sledding, sandboarding and sand skiing anywhere there is no vegetation. You can rent boards at the Oasis Store, just outside the park entrance, from April through October, before heading off the beaten path. It's a three-quarter-mile trek from the parking lot to the first dunes, so be sure to bring ample food, water, and sunscreen. After a day of sledding, reward yourself and the kids with a hot mineral soak or swim at family-friendly Sand Dunes Swimming Pool in Hooper, a 30-minute drive from the park.
Jockey's Ridge State Park: Nags Head, NC
According to Sandboard Magazine, Jockey's Ridge on North Carolina's Outer Banks offers the best sandboarding on the East Coast. The area is rightfully world-famous for kite flying and hang gliding, and the Wright brothers took flight in nearby Kitty Hawk. Sand dune sledding is a casual affair here, with kids of all ages sliding on cardboard and body boards throughout the year. Sandboarding, however, requires a permit and is allowed October through March.
Silver Lake State Park: Mears, MI
(photo: Daniel Marchese/Flickr)
Collectively named one of "America's Best Little Beach Towns" by Travel + Leisure magazine, the Silver Lake Sand Dunes Area -- including Hart, Mears, and Pentwater -- is one of Michigan's most popular summer haunts. Between Lake Michigan and Silver Lake lie 2,000 acres of natural, lofty sand dunes that are a mecca for off-road driving, as the only dunes east of Utah allowing private motorized vehicles. Your family can have fun sandboarding and sledding with rental gear from The Sandbox in Silver Lake. Beyond the dunes, this area was made for lazy summer days punctuated by lighthouses, farmers' markets, tree-lined bike paths, and water sports galore.
Sand Master Park: Florence, OR
Billed as the world's first sandboard park, this 40-acre venue on Oregon's central coast caters to sand lovers of all ages and ilk. Take a free sand-sculpting clinic and then build your masterpiece in the state's largest sand box, challenge yourself with a private sandboard lesson, or traverse the dunes on a family dune buggy tour. It's all about the sand here, but the surf is just five minutes away.
Marina State Beach and Dunes Preserve: Marina, CA
Located 10 miles north of Monterey, off Highway 1, Marina State Beach boasts some of the California coast's tallest dunes and is a magnet for kite flyers and hang gliders. The easy-does-it dunes are perfect for families with young kids that want to combine a day at the beach with sliding down the sand. More experienced sandboarders can head to The Pit in Sand City or the dunes in Seaside.