Medano Pass Primitive Road

Medano Pass Primitive Road Quicklinks Navigation

 
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

 
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.

Updated August 8, 2022

Medano Pass Primitive Road is fully OPEN.

The sand is relatively firm due to continued rains most days. Reducing tire pressure to 20 psi is not necessary for most vehicles. The air station at the southern entrance of the road is available to refill tires. If you reduce tire pressure and continue past the sand into the rocky roadbed of Medano Canyon, you will need your own air compressor to refill your tires. Driving on rocky terrain with low tire pressure may damage your tires.

A rainstorm August 7th has elevated flow in Medano Creek, currently flowing near 50 cfs. At 50+ cfs, the road crossings can have deep, fast flowing water, so be cautious going through the creek. Drive slowly through all crossings to help prevent flooding your engine. Stay on the uphill side of each crossing to avoid the deepest water. If the water looks too deep, or you are unsure, it is recommended to not attempt crossing. Heavy thunderstorms may significantly impact Medano Creek flow and road conditions. We advise you check park weather forecasts prior to traveling the road.

In the first three miles, there may be some standing water and small troughs where the water has run down the road. Near Sand Pit and Castle Creek are areas where the road has sloughed off close to the edge due to flash flooding. They are marked with cones. They don't impact travel as long as you don't get close to the edge of the road.
Approximately 3/4 miles north of Castle Creek Picnic Area there is one large mud hole that should be avoided. Cones have been placed on either side. The road is bumpy in this section, and there are diversion mounds to control water, so travel carefully through this section.
The road is rough between Creek Crossings 1 and 4, in the lower part of Medano Canyon, as this area has taken the most damage from recent storms. Campsites in this area have not sustained any substantial damage.
Between Crossing 4 and Crossing 8, the road is rocky in several locations. 'Squeeze Rock' (6.9 on the mileage chart below) is a tight fit as always. There are standing mud puddles throughout this section but the bottoms are all solid. There is a large mud pit above crossing 6 that is holding deep water; treat as any other creek crossing by driving slowly through it to avoid drowning your engine. Crossing 8 is currently the deepest of the creek crossings.
The road is holding water in some areas near Crossing 9, but all have solid bottoms and did not present any issues. The road up to Medano Lake trailhead is in good shape.
Between the Medano Lake Trailhead turn-off to the pass summit, the road is very rough, to the point of rock crawling. The road here has some deeper troughs but vehicles are making it through them. There is a large mudhole that should be avoided in this section.

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.

 
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.

- Mountain Master Off-Road Tours provides Jeep tours. 719-588-9022

- Great Sand Dunes Lodge provides Jeep rentals. 719-378-2900

Last updated: August 8, 2022

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Contact Info

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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