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 Conditions
Current conditions of Medano Creek

NPS/Patrick Myers

Current Conditions

as of May 20, 2017

Refresh this page for the latest information.

The creek is currently flowing in braided channels, each about 3-20 feet (1m-7m) wide, and 1 inch to 5 inches (1cm-9cm) deep. Overall creek width, including sand between channels, is 20-40 feet (7m-20m) wide. Cooler temperatures this week are diminishing snowmelt, and the creek is smaller than it was last week. Snow showers occurred last night.

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

As of May 20, current flow where Medano Creek first reaches the dunes is 15 cubic feet per second (cfs). (See next section for up-to-the-minute flow.) Peak flow in an average year is 40 cfs, typically occuring in late May or early June. Flow is expected to reach at least 45 cfs at peak (see below).

See "Medano Creek Month by Month" below for details on planning a visit for Medano Creek's seasonal flow this year, and check the current weather forecast for Great Sand Dunes.

 
Medano Creek Chart Annual Summary
Medano Creek flow chart showing the 2016 season's flow.  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

Medano Creek's flow and duration are now forecast to be somewhat above average in 2017. Peak flow is now forecast to occur in early June.

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 that time of year.

See below for a detailed breakdown of what to expect month-by-month this year.

 
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.

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

Visitor Center
11999 State Highway 150

Mosca, CO 81146

Phone:

(719) 378-6395

Contact Us