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Don't let the warm air fool you, Medano Creek at the Great Sand Dunes isn't ready quite yet

Medano Creek at the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.jpg
Posted at 10:32 AM, Apr 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-09 12:47:27-04

Not everyone knows it, but there are huge sand dunes right here in southern Colorado!

The Great Sand Dunes National Park lies in the northeast corner of the San Luis Valley south of Pueblo and west of the Sangre De Cristo mountains.

Great Sand Dunes collage.jpg

One of the coolest parts of visiting the dunes is playing in Medano Creek as it surges across the sand!

Medano Creek Great Sand Dunes National Park
Water path of Medano Creek through the Great Sand Dunes National Park

Medano Creek starts as snowmelt high up in the Sangre De Cristo mountains.

Mount Herard (13,345′) and the surrounding peaks are big-time snow feeders to Medano Lake.

Water flows off the mountains, into Medano Lake, through Medano Creek, and dries out as it travels across the east side of the Great Sand Dunes.

Medano Creek Streamflow.jpg

In order to see the creek flow across the dunes, you'll need to plan your trip for a certain time of year.

Stream flow in Medano Creek tends to be highest from late April through early June.

Peak stream flow is almost always in late May, and that's when the biggest crowds are drawn.

SNOTEL Snowpack
Snowpack from USDA SNOTEL sites across the mountains.

Currently, the snow pack in the Upper Rio Grande river basin that feeds Medano Creek is sitting just under normal snow pack levels for this time of year.

The stream flow is pretty slow at this point, but as snow melt increases in the next few weeks, the water will start to edge farther out towards the dunes.

You're still going to want to wait until late April to early June to see the creek at the dunes, with mid to late May likely still being the peak flow for this year.

Sand Dunes Plan Tips.jpg

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you've never visited the Great Sand Dunes.

The San Luis Valley is hot and dry in the warmer months, so grab extra water and load up on the sunscreen to protect your skin.

You'll want to bring foot protection, like a slip on shoe or sandal, to protect your feet from the hot sand. On 70 to 80 degree summer days, the sand can heat up to 150 degrees!

The standard entry fee for the national park is 25 dollars, or the same as what you would expect at Rocky Mountain National Park.

Go during a week day or prepare for long lines at the entrance and busy crowds if you go on a weekend in May to early June.