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Medano Pass Primitive Road
updated September 17, 2014
Sand moisture is average but drying out. Most full size, high clearance 4WD vehicles can make it through sandy sections without dropping tire pressure. Put your vehicle in 4WD low and keep momentum going. If your tires are narrow, your vehicle is heavy, or you are not skilled in driving through sand, dropping air pressure is advisable.
If you drop air pressure and plan to continue driving past the sand into Medano Canyon, you will need your own air compressor to refill your tires before driving over rocky sections of the road. If you just drive to day use areas along the dunes and return, you can refill your tires at the air compressor station at the beginning of the road.
Creek crossings are low (10-15 inches), depending on how recently thunderstorm activity has occurred. Check the park's weather page to link to the most accurate forecasts for the park.
Reminder: High-clearance 4WD vehicles are required on this road. Mini-SUVs, wagons, and other vehicles will get stuck. ATVs are not permitted anywhere in Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. All vehicles must be street-legal in Colorado.
Contact the Visitor Center for the latest information and conditions: 719-378-6395.
General caution for forested sections of the Medano Pass Road: The road passes through sections of forest that were burned in a 6,249 acre wildfire in 2010. Burned, standing trees may fall at any time, especially during wind. Thunderstorms may produce dangerous debris flows that can trap people or vehicles, and that may make the road impassible. The water in Medano Creek contains soot and ash, especially in lower sections; soot levels may increase during rainstorms or snowmelt. Upper sections of Medano Pass were not burned; water is clear higher on the pass.
Current Flow of Medano Creek
From Great Sand Dunes, the Medano Pass Road crosses Medano Creek nine times on its way to Medano Pass. See the current cubic feet per second (cfs) flow of Medano Creek. This current flow chart is shown as a graph over the past 10 days; click "1 month" for a longer trend. Creek flow is normally highest at dawn, and lowest in late afternoon. Peak flow for an average season is about 40 cfs (cubic feet per second). When creek flow goes over 50 cfs, the road is closed for safety, since water that high can sweep a vehicle downstream.
Call the Visitor Center at 719-378-6395 for more details and any daily changes.
General Information on the Medano Pass Primitive Road
Part of the mountain watershed of the Great Sand Dunes, Medano Pass (pronounced MED-ah-no; in the original Spanish the accent is over the e) is a scenic backcountry route. The rugged road takes you through soft sand around the eastern side of the dunefield, up through a forested mountain canyon, then over 10,000' Medano Pass, eventually joining Highway 69 in the Wet Mountain Valley. In the first 5 miles of the road, there are few places to turn around: Point of No Return (1.1 mile), Sand Pit (1.8 miles), Castle Creek (2.6 miles), and the first Medano Creek crossing (4.5 miles). A high-clearance 4-wheel drive, full-size SUV, truck, or Jeep is required. Low wagons, mini-SUVs, or all-wheel drive vehicles will get stuck in sand or in creek crossings. All vehicles and drivers must be street-licensed to drive in Colorado; off-road vehicles and unlicensed motorcycles are not permitted.
Fat bikes (mountain bikes with extra wide tires for sand) are permitted on the Medano Pass Primitive Road, both for day use and for overnight camping in Medano Canyon. Check current sand conditions (above on this page) before riding; if sand gets very soft and dry, travel may not be possible.
You will be sharing the road with vehicles, some traveling at higher speeds in order to make it through sandy sections.
NPS Photo by Patrick Myers
The road includes soft sand for about 4 miles, 9 creek crossings, and a rocky roadbed near the summit of the pass. When sand becomes soft during dry times, dropping tire air pressure to about 20 pounds may be necessary. Full tire pressure is required to drive over rocks higher on the pass, so if you do drop pressure, you will need to either 1) have your own air compressor to refill before going higher on the pass, or 2) drive the road from east to west, and reduce pressure after going over the pass but before driving through the soft sand. A free air compressor is available at the western entrance to the road in the national park (open in warmer months only).
The Medano Pass Road is not a shortcut to save time. Driving speed averages 5-10 mph. Plan on 2 1/2 to 3 hours to drive the entire 22 mile road. The road's eastern entrance is in Huerfano County; the closest town to the eastern entrance is Westcliffe.
Click View Park Map at left to see the official park map with zoom-in capability. This map shows the Medano Pass Primitive Road's route through the park and preserve. An area map of the Medano Pass Primitive Road showing regional towns and highways is also available.
Medano Road Camping Information
Camping Precautions Near Wildfire-Burned Areas
Some of the campsites in Medano Canyon are in the vicinity of sections of forest that were burned in a 6,249 acre wildfire in 2010. All campsites currently open are in unburned areas of the canyon.
Burned, standing trees may fall at any time, especially during wind. Thunderstorms may produce dangerous debris flows that can trap people or vehicles, and that may make the road impassible.
The water in Medano Creek may contain some levels of soot and ash, especially in lower sections; soot levels significantly increase during rainstorms or snowmelt. Water is clear higher on the pass.
Roadside camping is permitted only at 21 marked, numbered campsites in Great Sand Dunes National Preserve (part of the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness, beginning 5.2 miles from where the pavement ends in the National Park). These sites are indicated with a brown post and camping symbol, and are numbered by approximate road mileage from the Park/Preserve boundary to Medano Pass. Numbers in parentheses are approximate road mileage from Medano Pass down to the Preserve/Park boundary. Roadside car camping is not permitted in the national park other than the developed campsites in Pinyon Flats Campground.
These designated sites are free of charge and first-come, first-served. All 21 sites fill on summer holiday weekends, and often on other summer weekends.
Please follow all regulations for camping in these sites (.pdf file, 72kb), to protect the natural environment for present and future generations.
Campsite locations are listed below. Each location has one fire ring. Please do not build additional fire pits.
Uphill Mileage (Downhill Mileage)
0.0 (6.0) 3 sites
0.1 (5.9) 2 sites
0.2 (5.8) 1 site
0.25 (5.75) 1 site
0.3 (5.7) 1 site
0.9 (5.2) 1 site
1.2 (5.8) 1 site
1.8 (4.3) 1 site
1.9 (4.2) 1 site
2.2 (4.0) 1 site
2.3 (3.9) 1 site
3.2 (2.8) 1 site
4.5 (1.5) 1 site
4.8 (1.2) 1 site
5.1 (0.8) 1 site
5.6 (0.7) 1 site
5.7 (0.6) 1 site
5.8 (0.3) 1 site
Did You Know?
The 750' dunes look small from the alpine summit of 13,297' Mt. Herard, part of Great Sand Dunes National Preserve. More...