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.
as of February 12, 2018
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Medano Creek is mostly frozen at the Dunes Parking Area. On warmer, sunny winter afternoons, the ice may melt and some water may flow.
2018 Forecast Flow
Medano Creek's seasonal flow is dependent on snow in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains above the dunes. As of February 12, 2018, snowpack in Medano Pass is 19% of average for this date. If snow accumulates at this same rate during the remainder of winter, Medano Creek's flow will be about 19% of average in 2018. March and April are typically the two snowiest months of the year in Colorado, so final snowpack totals won't be known until the end of April.
View a map showing current snowpack levels throughout Colorado (updated daily; refresh your browser if it shows an earlier date). The Great Sand Dunes' watershed is indicated by the triangles northeast of Alamosa. Or, view a chart listing numerical snowpack levels for each snow-measuring site in Colorado. Medano Pass is listed under the Upper Rio Grande Basin section. The second-to-last column gives the current percentage of the average snowpack for today's date.
Though the last few years have had excellent snow levels and flow in Medano Creek, the weather pattern in recent months has been dry overall. This current trend in the region is called a "La Niña," caused at least in part by natural oceanic temperature changes. La Niñas generally bring warmer, drier conditions to the southern half of the U.S. (including southern Colorado), and cooler, wetter conditions to the north and east. Learn more about the La Niña and El Niño weather patterns from the National Weather Service.
See the current flow and trend of Medano Creek as a graph.
What to Expect 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.
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 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: February 12, 2018