Medano Creek

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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

Also available to watch on YouTube:

 
A wide shallow creek flowing at the base of dunes and a snowy mountain
Medano Creek, May 15, 2024. The creek is trending toward being very wide but shallow this year.

NPS

Current and Forecast Conditions

as of May 15, 2024

Refresh this page for the latest information.

Current Conditions

  • Medano Creek has a shallow, gentle flow at the Dunes Parking Lot. The creek is flowing in braided channels with a total width of 40-60 feet (13-20 m), and about 1-4 inches (2-10 cm) deep. There are small surges 1-2 inches (2-5 cm) high in some channels.
  • Flow is typically highest at dawn, and lowest at dusk.
  • The creek is entering the dunes from the mountains averaging 10-12 cubic feet per second (cfs). Peak flow in early June will likely be over 40 cfs.
  • Check park weather forecasts for environmental conditions at the creek.

Check Up-To-The-Minute Flow

See the current flow and trend of Medano Creek as a graph. (Available spring through fall). 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.

2024 Forecast Flow

Medano Creek's depth and duration are directly linked to snowpack. With recent heavy snows, snowpack above the dunes is now above average. Flow is forecast to be above average in depth and duration. With recent chilly temperatures and late snows, peak flow may be in early June instead of late May.

Creek Conditions to Expect Each Month

See also overall conditions to expect at Great Sand Dunes each month of the year.

April

While April is the second snowiest month of the year on average, there can also be warmer, sunny days that begin to melt the snowpack. Medano Creek arrived at the Dunes Parking Area April 21, at first just a trickle. By the end of April, it was about 2 inches (5 cm) deep with minimal surge flow.

May

Flow increases through May, and 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 are 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 flow down across the sand. If some channels are deep enough at peak flow in higher flow years, children may be able to float short distances on flat inflatable toys. If the creek spreads out over a larger area, channels will be shallow. 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.

With chilly temperatures and late snows this year, peak flow may be early June instead of late May.

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 osn a weekday this time of year.

June

June brings warmer temperatures for water play and generally pleasant conditions the first week of June. Late May and early June are the best opportunity to experience "surge flow", where waves flow down across the sand. If some channels are deep enough at peak flow in higher flow years, children may be able to float short distances on flat inflatable toys. If the creek spreads out over a larger area, channels will be shallow.

With chilly temperatures and late snows this year, peak flow may be early June instead of late May.

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.

As the creek becomes much lower around mid-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) or may even be drying up.

July

In July, unless there are significant ongoing rains, the creek will be retreating back toward the mountains and will be dried up at the main visitor area near the Dunes Parking Lot. It may continue to gently flow at at 1-2 inches deep (2-5 cm) 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 1-3 miles (3-5 km) up the creekbed from the Dunes Parking Lot, or 0.7-1.5 miles (1-2.5 km) from the Point of No Return parking area. Mosquitoes are typically still present in large numbers around the low, warm water the first 2-3 weeks of July, but begin to disappear as the water continues to retreat farther back toward the mountains. July is the warmest month at the park, with average highs in the low 80s F.

August and September

In late summer and fall, the creek is still completely gone from the main visitor area near the Dunes Parking Lot. It may continue to gently flow at at 1-2 inches deep (2-5 cm) 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 1-3 miles (3-5 km) up the creekbed from the Dunes Parking Lot, or 0.7-1.5 miles (1-2.5 km) from the Point of No Return parking area. Mosquitoes are typically gone in August and September.

 
Medano Creek Waves and Family, 2015
Family Splashing in Waves

NPS/Patrick Myers

Weather

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 15, 2024

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

Visitor Center
11999 State Highway 150

Mosca, CO 81146

Phone:

719 378-6395
Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center main number

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