Medano Pass Primitive Road

 

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Medano Pass Road Map
Click on the map for a larger, printable map of the Medano Pass Primitive Road

Current Road Conditions

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Updated June 17, 2021

Medano Pass Primitive Road is open. However, the spring runoff created some hazardous conditions on certain sections of the road, especially high on the pass, where there is some deep trenching. While the road remains open, please use caution while traveling. The access road to the Medano Lake Trailhead also has trenching and might not be passable to some vehicles. The park will continue to provide updates on this page.

Sand conditions are drying out in the hot, dry conditions this week. Drive through sand as fast as safely possible in 4 Low gear; momentum is important in sand. If needed, the air compressor at the southern entrance of the road is available. However, if you are traveling south to north over the pass, and deflate your tires at the southern end of the road, you will need your own air compressor to refill your tires before continuing on to rocky forested sections of the road.

Creek crossings are now moderately low. Always drive through crossings slowly, steering toward the uphill side to avoid the deepest holes.

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 normally 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.
Medano Creek Information and Current Conditions

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

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.

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

Reminders:

  • 4-Wheel Drive (4WD) vehicles are required on this road. All-Wheel-Drive (AWD) vehicles, mini-SUVs, wagons, and similar vehicles with lower clearance will get stuck in the deep sand or creek crossings.
  • ATVs and UTVs and 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.
  • Licensed motorcycles need to be registered as OHVs (Off -Highway Vehicles) when used on the Medano Pass Primitive Road. OHVs in Colorado must have an OHV sticker issued by the State of Colorado to ride on federal lands.
  • Annual Road Closure: Every November, the road closes for the winter season the day following the end of the fourth rifle season- if weather conditions allow. The road fully reopens when weather and road conditions allow, typically in mid-to-late May.

Contact the Visitor Center for the latest information and conditions: 719-378-6395.

 
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 western 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.

 
Pathfinders 4x4 Logo

Four-Wheel Drive Tours and Jeep Rentals

Visitors that do not have a 4WD vehicle but would like to experience the Medano Road may contact Pathfinders 4X4, the only permitted 4WD tour provider. As of 2021, tours are only available as part of a package deal with a larger tour of the area.

Last updated: June 17, 2021

Contact the Park

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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