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.
Current Conditions and 2013 Season Summary
The creekbed is dry at the Dunes Parking Lot. Medano Creek is frozen at Castle Creek Picnic Area along the Medano Pass Primitive Road.
Medano Creek's 2013 flow peaked at 8 cubic feet per second on May 29. This was about 1/5 of the normal peak flow of 40cfs. Creek water during the gentle snowmelt was mostly clear. The creek receded back toward the mountains in mid-June. Low snowpack resulted in limited flow during the 2013 season.
See the current flow and trend of Medano Creek as a graph. Click "1 month" at the bottom of the graph to view the overall flow trend. The creek's flow is measured where it emerges from the forest and enters the sand. 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.
Current Snowpack and Forecast Flow for 2014
Snowpack above Great Sand Dunes is the primary predictor of spring runoff in Medano Creek. Follow this page through the winter months for current snowpack in Medano Pass. Toward the end of the snow season, estimations of Medano Creek's flow will be posted.
Early snowstorms have boosted the snowpack in Medano Pass to 167% of average for this date. However, the majority of annual snowpack accumulates in late winter/spring, so final snowpack will depend on snowfall during the first four months of 2014.
See below for what to expect month-by-month in an average year.
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 often one of the snowiest months at Great Sand Dunes, but there can also be some sunny days with highs in the 60s. Spring is the windy season throughout the southwest, 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.
Mid-to-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 usually 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, May and early June weekends are very crowded, sometimes including lines of traffic, overflowing parking lots, and a crowded beach If possible, plan your visit on a weekday this time of year to have a better experience of the park.
June brings warmer temperatures for water play, but also mosquitoes. Mosquitoes typically emerge in large numbers around the second week of June. Go away from vegetation, upstream, and on the far side of the creek to avoid the majority of them. Mosquitoes 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, May and early June weekends are very crowded, sometimes including lines of traffic, overflowing parking lots, and a crowded beach area. If possible, plan your visit on a weekday this time of year to have a better experience of the park.
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. The creek will usually continue to gently flow 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 may also access the creek 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 will usually continue to gently flow 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 may also access the creek 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 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.
Did You Know?
The Ladies' PEO organization led the original effort to make Great Sand Dunes a national monument in 1932. Pictured at left is Myrtle Woods, a member of PEO at that time. More...