Medano Creek is a popular seasonal stream enjoyed by all ages. On this page you'll find a short video, current creek conditions, forecast flow for the season, and what to expect month-by-month in an average year.
Medano Creek Podcast - This short National Park Service video on YouTube reveals the creek's uniqueness and attraction for people of all ages! 2010.
as of April 24, 2015
Refresh this page for the latest information.
Warm conditions brought an unusually early flow of the Medano Creek, beginning in early March. It is currently flowing at the Dunes Parking Area at 1" to 3" (2-5 cm) deep, and width varies from 10 feet to 30 feet (3-10m). The creek sometimes partially refreezes at night.
As of April 24, it is emerging from the mountains at 9 cfs. Peak flow in an average year is 40 cfs.
See the current flow and trend of Medano Creek as a graph. Click "1 month" at the bottom of the graph to see the overall trend. The creek's flow on this graph is measured where it emerges from the forest and first enters the dunefield, not where it spreads out across the sand 5 miles downstream.. This measurement gives an indication of the current flow relative to average peak flow. Peak flow in an average year is 40 cubic feet per second (cfs), typically occuring in late May.
Forecast Flow for the 2015 Season
Snowpack is the primary indicator of what Medano Creek's flow will be. Though there was excellent snowfall over the winter, the usual heavy spring snows have not occurred, and snowpack continues to drop quickly. The Medano Pass snow-measuring site completely melted out in late March. The snowpack in the Sangre de Cristos is now estimated to be less than 2/3 of normal. If snowpack continues at the same pace, the creek's depth and duration will be less than 2/3 of normal. See "Medano Creek Month by Month" below for what to expect in an average year.
Because the creek began flowing early, it may peak earlier than normal. Average peak is late May, but it may peak 1-4 weeks earlier because more of the snowpack has already melted. Temperatures and precipitation over the next month will determine the peak timing.
April is the second snowiest month of the year in Colorado, so final snowpack and flow estimates won't be available until the end of April. May can also occasionally bring heavy snow to the mountains. Continue to check this page throughout spring 2015 for snowpack and current flow information.
How do you pronounce "Medano"?
Médano is a Spanish word that means "sand dune". It is pronounced "MED-ah-no". In the original Spanish there is an accent on the é.
Medano Creek Month by Month
Below are some tips of what to expect in an average year. Years of unusually high or low snowpack will mean longer or shorter creek flow, and deeper or shallower levels. Throughout the season, creek flow is usually highest in the morning, and lowest in the evening.
April is the second snowiest month of the year at Great Sand Dunes, but there can also be some sunny days with highs in the 60s. Spring is the windy season throughout the southwestern United States, especially afternoons, though mornings are usually calm. The creek begins to trickle down as the snow on the Sangre de Cristo Mountains melts. By late April the creek may be a few inches deep. Cottonwood trees and willows along the creek are usually not yet leafed out.
Late May is usually the peak of Medano Creek's annual flow. While it is still springtime and winds may arise, especially in the afternoon, May temperatures are generally moderate, with highs in the 60s-70s F. Trees and bushes along the creek begin to leaf out. There may be a few "no-see-ums" (tiny biting gnats), but mosquitoes are rarely out in May. May is the best opportunity to experience "surge flow", where waves up to about 16" (27 cm) high flow down across the sand. In wet years with good peak runoff, young children can float down the waves on flat inflatable toys. Because of the creek's popularity, late May and early June weekends are very crowded, including lines of traffic, overflowing parking lots, and a crowded beach. If possible, plan your visit on a weekday this time of year.
June brings warmer temperatures for water play, but also mosquitoes. Mosquitoes typically emerge in large numbers around the second week of June. Move away from vegetation, upstream, and on the far side of the creek to avoid the worst of the mosquitoes: they don't like open sand, but prefer to be near shady bushes and trees. As the water level decreases, it also increases in temperature. Because of the creek's popularity, late May and early June weekends are very crowded, including lines of traffic, overflowing parking lots, and a crowded beach. If possible, plan your visit on a weekday this time of year. By late June, the water level is very low, often a half inch or less.
In July, unless there is a high snowpack or significant ongoing rains, the creek will usually begin to retreat back toward the mountains, drying up at the main visitor area near the Dunes Parking Lot. It may continue to gently flow (1/2" - 1" deep) along the eastern edge of the dunefield, near the Castle Creek picnic area. Castle Creek is accessible by high clearance 4WD vehicle on the Medano Pass Primitive Road. Visitors without 4WD may also access the creek in late summer by hiking approximately 2 miles (3.5 km) up the creekbed from the Dunes Parking Lot, or approximately 0.7 miles (1km) from the Point of No Return parking area. Mosquitoes begin to decrease after the water retreats. July is the warmest month at the park, with average highs in the low 80s F.
In August and September, the creek is usually completely gone from the main visitor area near the Dunes Parking Lot. It may continue to gently flow (1/2" - 1" deep) along the eastern edge of the dunefield, near the Castle Creek picnic area. Castle Creek is accessible by high clearance 4WD vehicle on the Medano Pass Primitive Road. Visitors without 4WD may also access the creek late summer by hiking approximately 2 miles (3.5 km) up the creekbed from the Dunes Parking Lot, or 0.7 miles (1km) from the Point of No Return parking area. Mosquitoes usually disappear along with the creek.
Photo courtesy Nathan Salley. Used by permission.
Medano Creek Activities
Depending on water level, visitors may do any non-motorized and non-mechanized activities in the creek, including splashing, surfing, wading, skimboarding, floating (works only in small raft or tube with a child at peak runoff), sand castle building, and sand sculpting.
To protect this riparian habitat, please do not disturb living plants or animals, and keep water resources clean.