Medano Creek

Medano Creek May 2014

Two children in Medano Creek, May 2014

NPS/Patrick Myers

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.

 
Boy Tubing Medano Creek

NPS/Patrick Myers

Video Podcast

Medano Creek Podcast - This short National Park Service video on YouTube reveals the creek's uniqueness and attraction for people of all ages! 2010.
Length: 1 minute and 45 seconds.

 
Medano Creek Conditions May 20 2015

Current conditions of Medano Creek

NPS/Patrick Myers

Current Conditions

as of May 23, 2015

Refresh this page for the latest information.

Medano Creek is currently flowing at the Dunes Parking Area at 1" to 12" (2-30 cm) deep. Width varies from 60 to 120 feet (20m-40m). The creek has excellent surge flow. Some channels may be deep enough for a child to float down with flat inflatable items. There are always large shallow areas as well for toddlers to play in.

Flow is usually highest at dawn, and lowest at dusk, except during afternoon thunderstorms.

Heavy rain and snow in the first half of May have significantly boosted creek flow and snowpack. The water is chilly except when the sun shines on it for a few hours. Weather is usually calm and sunny in morning hours, then winds and thunderstorms are possible each afternoon. Check the current weather forecast for Great Sand Dunes.

A private business on the east side of the Sangre de Cristo Range has annual water rights to 25% of Medano Creek from May 15 - July 15. Creek flow diminished by 25% on May 15 but recent rain/snow have made up for the decrease.

 
Medano Creek Flow Chart May 23

Medano Creek Flow Chart, May 23, 2015

As of May 23, the creek is emerging from the mountains at 65 cfs. Peak flow in an average year is 40 cfs, so the creek is significantly above average peak flow.

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

Overall, May has been chilly, rainy and snowy, dramatically boosting flow and snowpack. Medano Creek's depth and duration are now forecast to be significantly above average, with the peak forecast to occur in late May or early June. Flow will slowly diminish over June and early July. Mosquitoes typically emerge in large numbers around the second week of June as the water gets low and warm.

Unless rains temporarily boost the creek during summer, the creekbed may be drying up at the Dunes Parking Area by mid-July. Sometimes the creek reappears with a shallow flow on July 15 after an annual water diversion ends (see next paragraph).

A private business on the east side of the Sangre de Cristo Range has water rights to 25% of Medano Creek from May 15-July 15 each year. The annual diversion began on May 15, decreasing flow by 25%. Recent heavy rain and snow have already made up for the loss.

See "Medano Creek Month by Month" below for what to expect in an average year. Continue to check this page throughout spring and summer 2015 for updated forecasts and current flow information.

 
medckgirl_floating_2014

Girl floating Medano Creek, May 2014

Weather/Webcam

View the park webcam during daylight hours. When Medano Creek is flowing, it will be visible at the base of the dunes.

Weather forecasts for Great Sand Dunes are available on the park's weather page.

See below for what to expect month-by-month in an average year.

 
Two Children in Medano Creek

Medano Creek can be a refreshing experience!

NPS/Patrick Myers

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.

 
Skimboarders on Medano Creek

Two skimboarders try their sport on Medano 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?