Medano Creek

Two girls splash and float in a creek, with trees, dunes and mountains
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.

NPS/Patrick Myers

 
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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:

 
Medano Creek bed with no water, and snow-capped Mount Herard behind
The Medano Creek bed is dry at the main Dunes Parking Area.

NPS Photo

Current and Forecast Flow

Current Conditions

as of January 20, 2021

Refresh this page for the latest information.

The Medano Creek bed is dry this time of year at the Dunes Parking Area.The creek is frozen at Castle Creek Picnic Area on the eastern side of the dunefield along Medano Pass Primitive Road, accessible via high-clearance 4-wheel drive.

With a standard passenger vehicle, Castle Creek is a 1.5 mile (2.4 km) hike from Point of No Return, a trailhead located 1 mile (1.6 km) from the southern entrance of Medano Pass Primitive Road. Hike 0.8 mile (1.3 km) from Point of No Return on the trail to Sand Pit Picnic Area, then continue up the creekbed 0.7 mile (1.2 km) to Castle Creek Picnic Area.

2022 Season Forecast Flow

Medano Creek's seasonal flow around the dunes is dependent on snowpack in the mountains where it originates. As of January 20, snowpack in Medano Pass is only 52% of average for this date. The majority of snowfall typically occurs in March and April, so final snowpack totals and forecast flow won't be known until then. Continue to check this page during winter and spring for snowpack updates and forecast flow for the 2022 season. See below for what to expect each month of the season in an average year.

 
Chart showing Medano Creek's flow - click on the image for current flow.
Click on the chart image for up-to-the-minute flow in Medano Creek.

NRCS

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.

 
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.

 

Medano Creek Month-by-Month in an Average Year


Below are typical creek conditions for each month of an average season. Less or more snowpack will affect the depth and duration of the creek. See also overall conditions to expect at Great Sand Dunes each month of the year.

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 usually arrives at the Dunes Parking Area sometime in April, at first just a trickle. By the end of April, it may be a few inches/cm deep with minimal surge flow.

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. In average or wetter years, surge flow waves are high enough for children to float down limited distances 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. Late May and early June are the best opportunity to experience "surge flow", where waves flow down across the sand. In average or wetter years, surge flow waves are high enough for children to float down limited distances on flat inflatable toys. As the creek becomes much lower and warmer around mid-June, mosquitoes will 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. 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 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 1/2" - 1" (1-2 cm) 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 3 miles (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 are typically still present in large numbers due to the low, warm water, but begin to disappear as 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 still completely gone from the main visitor area near the Dunes Parking Lot. If dry conditions continue, it might not even flow 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 are gone in late summer and fall.

 
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: January 20, 2022

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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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