Medano Creek

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

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.

 

Medano Creek

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Duration:
1 minute, 40 seconds

This short National Park Service video reveals the creek's attraction, and explains mysterious 'surge flow'!
Length: 90 seconds
Filmed 2015, newly edited and captioned 2017

Also available to watch on YouTube:

 
Medano Creek with low water level, dunes and mountains
Current conditions of Medano Creek; photo June 22, 2017

NPS/Patrick Myers

Current Conditions

as of June 22, 2017

Refresh this page for the latest information.

Medano Creek peaked on June 9 at 44 cubic feet per second, and has now dropped considerably to 14 cfs, or about a third of peak flow. The creek is currently flowing in braided channels, each about 10-20 feet (3m-7m) wide, and 1 inch to 4 inches (1cm-12cm) deep. Overall creek width, including sand between channels, is 12-60 feet (4m-20m) wide. There are still some tiny surge flow waves up to a couple of inches high. Floating is no longer possible.

Creek flow is usually highest at dawn, and lowest at dusk.

Mosquitoes are out now that water is low and warm. Mosquito season typically lasts from around the second week of June through late July, and can be intense during that time. Stay on the far side of the creek to avoid cool, shady areas where they are concentrated.

See "2017 Forecast Flow" and "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.

 
Medano Creek Chart 6-22-17
Medano Creek flow chart as of June 22, 2017.  Click on the chart for current flow.

NRCS

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.

 

2017 Forecast Flow

Updated June 22, 2017

The creek will continue to decrease from the June 9 peak, and will likely dry up at the Dunes Parking Area by mid-to-late July.

Throughout the season, creek flow is usually highest in the morning, and lowest in the evening.

As the creek becomes lower and warmer around the second week of June, mosquitoes emerge in large numbers. Mosquito season lasts from around the second week of June through mid-to-late July. Move to the far side of Medano Creek away from vegetation to avoid the worst of them.

Follow up-to-the-minute flow and trend by clicking on the graph above. A detailed breakdown of what to expect month-by-month in an average year is below.

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.

 
Medano Creek Waves and Family, 2015
Family Splashing in Waves, 2015

NPS/Patrick Myers

Weather/Webcam

View the park webcam during daylight hours. When Medano Creek is flowing, it will be visible at the base of the dunes.

Weather forecasts for Great Sand Dunes are available on the park's weather page.

See below for what to expect month-by-month in an average year.

 
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.

Medano Creek Month by Month in 2017

Below are some tips of what to expect this year. 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 will 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 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. Snow is still possible 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 18 inches (46 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 while 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, 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. 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. By late June, the water level will be fairly low, only 1 or 2 inches (1-5cm).

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.

 
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: June 22, 2017

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

Visitor Center
11999 State Highway 150

Mosca, CO 81146

Phone:

(719) 378-6395

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