Medano Pass Primitive Road

 
A Jeep crossing a mountain stream amid trees with fall colors
Medano Pass Primitive Road goes  through soft, sandy sections around the dunes, then crosses Medano Creek nine times to the summit of Medano Pass. A high-clearance 4WD vehicle is required to drive this road.

NPS Photo

 
A muddy backcountry road with a steep, slick section, surrounded by meadow and forest

NPS/VRP

Steep section near Creek Crossing 8, Especially after rain, this section can be very slick and difficult to climb. See conditions reports for each section below.
 
Medano Pass Road Map
Click on the map for a larger, printable map of the Medano Pass Primitive Road

Current Road Conditions

Refresh this page for the latest update

as of July 16, 2024


Medano Pass Primitive Road is fully OPEN.

All 21 primitive campsites along the road are accessible by high-clearance 4WD vehicle. They are free and first-come, first-served.

See map and mileage chart on this page for orientation.

Horse Trailer Parking Lot to Point of No Return – This section has become increasingly rocky and sandy. High clearance is now necessary, and 4WD is recommended in this first mile.

Ponderosa Point - Several large dips in the roadway. Drive slowly to avoid tires slipping and digging further out of the dips.

Sandy Section from Ponderosa Point to Creek Crossing 1 - Sand is drying out again after recent rains, and will become softer each day until significant rain falls. Some vehicles may need to drop air pressure to make it through the sand. The worst section of sand is just north of Castle Creek PIcnic Area.

If you drop pressure and plan to continue into the pass, you'll need your own air compressor to refill tires before going over rocky areas in the mountains. Driving with low tire pressure on rocks may damage tires and wheels. If you just travel to Crossing 1 and return, there is a free air station at the southern entrance of the road to refill tires. If you become stuck, seek assistance by contacting Colorado State Patrol, or request assistance from a passing motorist with proper recovery equipment. Do not winch to fenceposts or place tree limbs under your vehicle tires.

Creek Crossings Overview - There are 9 creek crossings on the way to the pass. Creek flow is currently averaging 5 cubic feet per second (cfs), which is 1/8 of the average springtime peak of 40 cfs, so crossings are relatively low. Thunderstorms may temporarily boost flow. Follow current cubic feet per second (cfs) flow of Medano Creek. Most vehicles are making it through all crossings. Drive through water slowly to avoid drowning your engine. There are some muddy, slick sections on the pass road, but these are drying out this week.

Creek Crossing 2 - The road remains cut out from last year's washout. It has a slope as you enter and exit the water, passable with high clearance vehicles with 4WD. Drive slowly to allow the water from the vehicle to drain in the creek, to prevent further washing out of the road.

Creek Crossings 4 to 8 - The north side of Crossing 4 (near the gate) is washing out from the creek.This area has exposed tree roots north of the gate. Drive slowly and use steady acceleration to keep the vehicle from rocking to avoid hitting the undercarriage. Prior to Crossing 8 is an alternate road from last year's washout. There is not much room for wider vehicles to fit between the trees on either side of the road.

Creek Crossing 8 to Preserve Campsite 4.5 - Roadway has a sharp turn entering/exiting the creek crossing to use the alternate route in place from last year's washout. Near this crossing is a very steep, slick section that is difficult to climb after rain (see photo above).

Preserve Campsite 5.8 to Pass Summit - The road is very steep and has the appearance of having to rock crawl. Drive at low speed to keep tires from slipping.

Planning Ahead for Sand, Water, and Rocks

  • Besides current conditions, there are many other considerations when planning to drive Medano Pass Primitive Road. Your type of vehicle, its clearance, its weight, the width of your tires, and your skill and confidence driving in sand, are all variables in driving this road.

  • 4-Wheel Drive (4WD) vehicles are required on this road. All-Wheel-Drive (AWD) vehicles, mini-SUVs, wagons, and similar vehicles with lower clearance are not permitted, as they will get stuck in the deep sand or creek crossings. True 4WD vehicles have a transfer case in the drivetrain that puts full engine power to the front wheels. All-Wheel-Drive (AWD), common on vehicles such as crossover SUVs, relies on a differential to send variable power to each wheel. AWD is good on level roadbeds in low traction conditions such as snow. It is not designed to fully power the front tires in off-pavement rugged situations such as the soft sand, creek crossings, and loose rocks of Medano Pass Primitive Road. Full size 4WD pickups or SUVs are also designed with sufficient clearance. Additions such as running boards or step bars may bog down in sand or get broken off by rocks. Heavy vehicles, or vehicles loaded with excessive gear, may also have difficulty.

  • To avoid becoming stuck, do not stop in unstable areas.

  • To minimize damage to the road and your vehicle, do not spin your tires.

  • Seek self-recovery as your first option if you have proper equipment.

  • Always know your location to assist Law Enforcement Rangers when contacting Dispatch for assistance. Take note of signs posted along the roadway such as creek crossings and campsites.

  • ATVs and UTVs are not permitted anywhere in Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. All vehicles must be highway-legal in Colorado. Colorado does not recognize ATVs and most UTVs as highway-legal.

  • Check the park's weather page for the most accurate park forecasts.

  • For up-to-the-minute conditions, please contact the Visitor Center at 719-378-6395.

Current Level of Medano Creek

From Great Sand Dunes, the Medano Pass Road crosses Medano Creek nine times on its way to Medano Pass. See the current cubic feet per second (cfs) flow of Medano Creek (available spring through fall). Creek flow is typically highest at dawn, and lowest in late afternoon. Peak flow for an average season is about 40 cfs (cubic feet per second), typically occuring in late May and early June. The current cfs flow indicates the level of the creek relative to average peak flow of 40 cfs.

Medano Creek Information and Current Conditions

Medano Pass Driving Season

The road fully opens in when weather and road conditions allow, typically in mid-to-late May. It remains fully open through the end of the fourth rifle hunting season in late November, if weather conditions allow.

 
Jeep Crossing Medano Creek with Gold Aspens
Fall is one of the prettiest times to drive the Medano Pass Road. Late September and early October are generally the peak of color. Keep in mind that hunting is permitted in Great Sand Dunes National Preserve (the higher mountain portions of the park/preserve) during fall.

NPS/Patrick Myers

Overview


Map of Medano Pass Primitive Road (.jpg file, 1MB)

This is a rough 22 mile road connecting Great Sand Dunes with the Wet Mountain Valley and Colorado State Highway 69. Passable only in the warmer months and only with high-
clearance 4-wheel drive vehicles, it gives access to Medano Pass (elevation 10,040’) and Great Sand Dunes National Preserve. This road crosses areas of deep sand, traverses Medano Creek nine times, and passes through excellent habitat for bighorn sheep. Average driving time for the entire primitive road is about 2.5 - 3 hours.

Reduce tire pressure to about 20 psi if the sand is dry and soft. A free air station is available near the south entrance to the road in warmer months between the hours of 7AM and 9PM. If you reduce pressure, you will need to reinflate using your own air compressor before driving over rocks in Medano Canyon. Drive through creek crossings slowly to avoid drowning your engine.

 

Mileage Chart

Set your odometer to zero at the southern entrance of the primitive road to follow along with this guide.


0.0 End of Paved Road: start of Medano Pass Primitive Road.
0.2 Garden Creek: flows until mid-summer
0.5 Buck Creek: intermittent stream
1.0 Sawmill Creek: flows until mid-summer.
1.1 Point of No Return: 4WD vehicles ONLY past this point. Sand Ramp Trail access.
1.4 Ponderosa Point Picnic Area: view of Mt. Herard (13,297’) and dunes.
1.8 Sand Pit: DEEP SAND! Reduce tire pressure to about 20 pounds if sand is soft
2.6 Castle Creek Picnic Area: picnic tables, vault toilet. Park only in designated areas.
3.3 Horse Canyon: views of eastern dunes and foothills.
4.5 1st Crossing of Medano Creek: spring runoff can be very deep! Use caution.
4.6 Old Fire Road: closed to vehicles. 1/2 mile walk to ridge with good views.
5.0 Sand Ramp Trail: trail crosses road. Overnight backpacking permit required.
5.2 Park/Preserve Boundary: roadside campsites begin, numbered by mileage from
boundary. 8 campsites over next 0.3 mile.
5.6 2nd Crossing of Medano Creek
5.9 More Campsites: 2 campsites over next 0.5 mile.
6.1 3rd Crossing of Medano Creek: look for bighorn sheep in meadows and cliffs.
6.2 Herard family’s 1870s homestead site (only foundation remains).
6.4 4th Crossing of Medano Creek
6.8 5th crossing of Medano Creek: 4 campsites over next 0.9 mile.
6.9 Tight squeeze: narrow roadway, boulders on roadsides. Use caution!
7.2 6th crossing of Medano Creek
7.7 Crossing of a Tributary Creek
7.8 Two alternatives: left side usually best.
7.9 7th Crossing of Medano Creek: road steeper ahead.
8.4 More campsites: 1 campsite within next 0.3 mile.
8.6 Creek Crossing of a Tributary Creek.
8.8 Beaver Dams: long meadows, marsh, and beaver dams.
9.0 Three Cabins: burned in 2010 wildfire.
9.5 More Campsites: 6 campsites over next 1.5 miles.
9.6 8th Crossing of Medano Creek
10.6 Creek crossing of a Tributary Creek.
10.7 Medano Lake Trailhead: trailhead at end of short spur road.
11.0 Irrigation ditch: steep section ahead.
11.2 Medano Pass: elevation 10,040’ above sea level.
 
Campsite 5.1 along Medano Pass Road
Each of the 21 campsites along the road has a fire ring and bearproof box to store food and other items.

NPS/John White

Medano Road Camping Information

Roadside camping is permitted only at 21 numbered campsites in Great Sand Dunes National Preserve beginning 5.2 miles from where the road begins near Piñon Flats Campground. These sites are indicated with a brown post and camping symbol, and are numbered by approximate road mileage from the Park/Preserve boundary to Medano Pass. Numbers in parentheses are approximate road mileage from Medano Pass down to the Preserve/Park boundary. Roadside car camping is only permitted in designated sites in the national preserve. Vehicle access to these sites is only available late spring through fall, depending on snow, creek, and road conditions.

These designated sites are free of charge and first-come, first-served. All 21 sites fill on summer holiday weekends, and often on other summer weekends.

Camping Regulations for Medano Road Campsites

  • Camping is permitted in designated, marked sites only in the national preserve. No permits are necessary.
  • Tents must be located within 40 feet of the front of the bear box at each site.
  • Pets must be leashed or restrained at all times.
  • Fires only in existing fire rings; put out completely with water. Gather dead and down firewood 4” or less diameter.
  • No off-road driving. Vehicles must be highway-legal in Colorado. Park only in designated campsites or parking areas.
  • Secure food, coolers, toiletries, and trash from black bears. Lock them in the bear boxes provided at most sites.
  • All trash, including orange peels, egg shells and toilet paper, must be removed. Bury human waste 6” deep.
 
Fat Bike

Fat Bikes

Fat bikes (mountain bikes with extra wide tires for sand) are permitted on the Medano Pass Primitive Road, both for day use and for overnight camping in Medano Canyon. Check current sand conditions (above on this page) before riding; if sand gets too soft and dry, travel may not be possible. Bikes are not permitted off-road.

You will be sharing the road with vehicles, some traveling at higher speeds in order to make it through sandy sections. For your safety, listen and watch carefully for vehicles as you ride.

 
Medano Burned Trees and New Growth
New aspen trees sprout at the base of trees killed in the 2010 Medano Fire, which burned some lower sections of Medano Canyon.

NPS Photo

2010 Medano Fire

The road passes through some sections of forest that were burned in a 6,249 acre wildfire in 2010. Burned, standing trees may fall at any time, especially during wind. Upper sections of Medano Pass were not burned.

 
A Jeep on a forested road
Follow the links at left for Jeep rentals or Jeep tours on the Medano Pass Primitive Road.

jeep.com

Jeep Tours and Jeep Rentals

For visitors that do not have a 4WD vehicle but would like to experience the Medano Road, there are companies that rent Jeeps and/or provide Jeep tours.

Last updated: July 16, 2024

Park footer

Contact Info

Mailing Address:

Visitor Center
11999 State Highway 150

Mosca, CO 81146

Phone:

719-378-6395
In case of emergency (police, fire, medical): call 911. Non-emergency (non-life-threatening): call (719) 589-5807

Contact Us

Tools