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 August 20, 2016
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Medano Creek peaked in early June, and is now most often dry at the Dunes Parking Area. Thunderstorms temporarily boost flow (see next section below).
In late summer there is usually 1-2 inches of water flowing farther up the creek bed at Castle Creek Picnic Area, accessible by 4WD vehicle or by hiking 1.5 miles (2.4km) from Point of No Return. Find details in the park Visitor Guide on the Plan Your Visit page.
See "What to Expect Month by Month" below for details on planning a visit for Medano Creek's seasonal flow, and check the current weather forecast for Great Sand Dunes.
Even though Medano Creek is usually dry this time of year at the Dunes Parking Area, heavy afternoon rains sometimes bring back a temporary shallow flow. Rain will only boost the creek for 6-24 hours; snowmelt is the consistent driver of the creek during the spring flow season. August is usually the wettest month at Great Sand Dunes. Check the weather forecast to see if rain is forecast during your visit.
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 occurring in late May or early June.
2016 Forecast Flow
Updated August 20, 2016
Medano Creek's depth and duration are directly linked to snowpack in the mountains above the dunes. Final snowpack totals were about 100% of average by the end of May. The last heavy snow occurred on May 27, blanketing the dunes white.
Medano Creek's flow is forecast to be average in depth and duration for the remainder of the 2016 season. The creek is currently mostly dry at the Dunes Parking Area, but afternoon thunderstorms temporarily boost flow. See below for what to expect month-by-month in an average year.
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 leaf out. There may be some "no-see-ums" (tiny biting gnats), but mosquitoes are rarely out in May. May is usually the best opportunity to experience "surge flow", where waves up to about 18 inches (46 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. Water comes out of the mountains cold, but warms up significantly when the sun shines on it for a few hours while it spreads across the sand. Because of the creek's popularity, late May and early June weekends are extremely crowded, with 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, 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 as the sun shines on it. Because of the creek's popularity, late May and early June weekends are extremely crowded, with lines of traffic, overflowing parking lots, a crowded beach, and full campgrounds. 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 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 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.
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.