Medano Creek

Medano Creek June 7 2016
Girl floating Medano Creek at peak flow

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.

 
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Duration:
1 minute, 16 seconds

This short National Park Service video reveals the creek's attraction, and explains mysterious 'surge flow'!
Length: 70 seconds
2017

Also available to watch on YouTube:

 
Creek with wave and people playing, dunes, and snow-capped mountain
Medano Creek is currently exhibiting some surge flow despite cold temperatures.

NPS/Patrick Myers

Current Conditions

as of May 22, 2019

Refresh this page for the latest information.

Medano Creek reached average annual peak flow (40 cfs) a few days ago, but very cold weather with snow showers have occurred since then, slowing snowmelt considerably. Current flow is 26 cfs. The creek is approximately 20-40 feet (7-15 m) wide, 1-4 inches (2-10 cm) deep, and is exhibiting small surge flow. Throughout the season, flow is generally highest at dawn, and lowest at dusk.
Due to very high snowpack and cold temperatures, this year's peak has not yet occurred. See forecast flow below.

 
Medano Pass Snowpack Chart
The red line on this chart shows the buildup of winter 2018-2019 snowpack at the Medano Pass snow measuring station above the dunes, compared with average buildup (black line).  

NPS/Andrew Valdez

Forecast Flow for 2019 Season

Snowpack in Medano Pass is currently 160% of average for this date. Medano Creek's flow is now forecast to be over 160% of average in depth and duration in 2019. See below for what to expect of Medano Creek month by month in an average year. Due to above average snowpack, peak flow is forecast to be in early June rather than late May, and some shallow flow will likely continue through July. Mosquito season will still probably last from the second week of June through July. See below for details.

 
Medano Creek Chart 2017 Season
Medano Creek flow chart showing a typical flow season. Click on the chart for up-to-the-minute flow.

NRCS

Check Up-To-The-Minute Flow

See the current flow and trend of Medano Creek as a graph.
(Available spring through fall). 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 occurring in late May or early June.

 

Medano Creek Month-by-Month in an Average Year

April is the second snowiest month of the year at Great Sand Dunes, but there are also 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 not yet leafed out.

Late May is near 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. However, snow is still possible at this elevation in May! Trees and bushes along the creek leaf out. There may be some "no-see-ums" (tiny biting gnats), but mosquitoes are rarely out in May. Late May and early June are the best opportunity to experience "surge flow", where waves up to about 20 inches (50 cm) high flow down across the sand. In wet years with good peak runoff, children can float down the waves on flat inflatable toys. Water comes out of the mountains cold, but warms up significantly when the sun shines on it for a few hours as it spreads across the sand. Because of the creek's popularity, late May and early June weekends are extremely crowded, with long lines of traffic, overflowing parking lots, a crowded beach, and full campgrounds. If possible, plan your visit on a weekday this time of year.

June brings warmer temperatures for water play and generally pleasant conditions the first week of June. But as the creek becomes much lower and warmer around the second week of June, mosquitoes emerge in large numbers. Move away from vegetation, to 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. By late June, the water level will be fairly low, only 1 or 2 inches (1-5cm). Because of the creek's popularity, late May and early June weekends are extremely crowded, with long lines of traffic, overflowing parking lots, a crowded beach, and full campgrounds. If possible, plan your visit on a weekday this time of year.

In July, unless there are significant ongoing rains, the creek will begin to retreat back toward the mountains, drying up at the main visitor area near the Dunes Parking Lot. It will 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 usually disappear 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 will likely be completely gone from the main visitor area near the Dunes Parking Lot. It may continue to gently flow (1/2 to 1 inch or 1-2cm 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 typically disappear along with the creek.

 
Medano Creek Waves and Family, 2015
Family Splashing in Waves

NPS/Patrick Myers

Weather and Conditions to Expect

Weather forecasts and information for Great Sand Dunes are available on the park's weather page. Also learn what Conditions to Expect Each Month at the park.

 
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.

 
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.

Last updated: May 22, 2019

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

Visitor Center
11999 State Highway 150

Mosca, CO 81146

Phone:

(719) 378-6395

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