Medano Pass Primitive Road
Map and Guide
Current Road Conditions
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updated October 3, 2015
Sand is becoming soft and dry again. Many high-clearance 4WD vehicles will need to drop tire pressure down to 20 psi. The air station is open at the western entrance of the road. If you are traveling west to east, you will need your own air compressor to refill your tires before driving Medano Canyon's rocky roadbed.
The road is in fair shape in forested areas of Great Sand Dunes National Preserve. Creek crossings are low.
Check the park's weather page for the most accurate park forecasts.
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.
Current Level 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 (available spring through fall). 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.
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.
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.
Roadside camping is permitted only at 21 numbered campsites in Great Sand Dunes National Preserve beginning 5.2 miles from where the road begins near Piñon Flats Campground. 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 only permitted in designated sites in the national preserve.
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.
Map and Guide
Printable (8.5"x14") Medano Pass Road Map and Guide (pdf file) showing locations of campsites along the road, and camping regulations.
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.
The road passes through some 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 may still contain a little soot and ash, especially in lower sections;soot levels may increase during heavy rainstorms or snowmelt. Upper sections of Medano Pass were not burned; water is clear higher on the pass.