Medano Pass   
USGS 7.5' Map: Liberty, Medano Pass, Creager Reservoir
Difficulty: Number: Miles: Altitude: Obstacles: Time:
Easy 4 FR559 19.60 7,662 to 10,040 ft. Creek Crossing 9
Rock Outcrop 1
3-4 hours
County: Saguache, Huerfano
Adopted by:      
Managed by: Pike and San Isabel National Forest,
San Carlos Ranger District

U.S. National Park Service

3028 East Main Street
Canon City, CO 81212

11999 CO-150
Mosca, CO 81146

(719) 378-6399

Summary: Medano Pass crosses the Sangre de Christo mountains west of the Great Sand Dunes National Park. It starts/ends along the west side of the Great Sand Dunes and crosses Medano Creek nine times.
Attractions: Scenery, Creek crossings, Sand dunes
Natural - Closed by heavy snows or high creek levels.
Best Time: June - Early, National Park Service monitors the creek level
July - Best
August - Best
September - Best
October - Good, early snows possible
Trail Heads
Sand Ramp - Hiking
Medano Lake - Hiking
Sangre de Cristo - Hiking
Camping: There are 21 dispersed camp sites in the Great Sand Dunes Preserve on the west side of the pass. These sites are designated, numbered, and contain bear proof bins. On the east side there are 6 dispersed sites, one being a large area with multiple sites.
Base Camp: This would not be a good area to base camp. Fuel is available just outside of the National Park. The Blanca Peak 4WD road is south of the Great Sand Dunes National Park. sites.
Fall Colors: Poor - Some stands of aspen remain but the majority were burnt in the 2010 forest fire that hit the upper middle and west side of the pass road.
Navigation: From Alamosa, CO. head north on US-160 E for 14.4 miles. Turn left onto CO-150 N and go 20.3 miles. You will have to pay to enter the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. Turn left into a staging area before entering the campground. This is the start of the Medano Pass 4WD road.

From Westcliffe, CO, head south on CO-69 S for 24.0 miles. Turn right onto County Road 559 and follow it through the private property past Creager Reservoir. This road will become the Medano Pass 4WD road.
History: Herard was barely a town. It sits along Medano Creek on the east side of the Great Sand Dunes. In 1875 Ulysses Herard and his family came to the area around the Great Sand Dunes. The Herard family started a ranch and by the 1900 were raising thoroughbred horses and cattle.

Once a skunk got into the Herard cabin after dark. Attempts were made to shoo the animal out of the cabin, but they failed. Ulysses decided to fire his revolver, which sent the skunk scurrying behind the stove. Having had enough Ulysses took aim at the skunk and fired, blowing out the coal oil lamp. Of course the skunk got its revenge in its dying act by saturating the cabin. Needless to say the Herard family had to move to the bunkhouse there after.
At 6.2 miles from the end of pavement up the Medano Creek road stands the ruins of a fire place in a meadow. This is where Herard was, also called Frenchman's Cabin by the Park Service.

Jessen, Kenneth Ghost Towns Colorado Style, Volumn 3, 1st ed. Loveland, Colorado: J.V. Publications, 2001. Print.
Koch, Don. The Colorado Pass Book, 3rd ed. Boulder, Colorado: Pruett, 2000. Print.
Helmuth, Ed and Gloria. The Passes of Colorado Boulder, Colorado: Pruett, 1994. Print.
Medano Pass can be run from east to west, or west to east. To start at the west side you will have to enter the Great Sand Dunes National Park and pay the nominal entrance fee.
Sand Dunes at the entrance   Photo by: Adam M

Past the visitor Center the road will turn toward the campground and on the left side of the road there will be a large staging area. At the north end of this area is the start of the Meadano Pass road. The start is hard packed and you may meet cars on this section. Take it slow and watch for on coming vehicles. The road heads through the sage and low trees weaving through the small hills. After about a mile you will come to a sign next to a small parking area that marks the "Point of No Return"! This is where the road beyond this point can be soft sand when it is dry. You will need 4WD from this point on. As you head back toward the dunes you will come to a parking area for the "Sand Pit". The road will continue to the next parking area called "Castle Creek".
Sand dunes along Medano Creek at Castle Creek.

Photo by:
Joyce M

Sand dunes along Medano Creek.

Photo by:
Adam M

After the Castle Creek parking area the road heads back toward the mountains crossing the low lands. You will find more soft sand here. Once you cross the low lands you will come to Medano Creek and begin the creek crossings.
First Medano Creek crossing.

Photo by:
Adam M

Second Medano Creek crossing.

Photo by:
Brian M

The road will leave the Great Sand Dunes National Park and enter the Great Sand Dunes Preserve. There will be a set of signs marking this transition. From the entrance of the preserve you will pass designated campsites along the road with large bear proof boxes at each site. The majority of the campsites are after the first creek crossing.

Further up the creek you will enter an area where the trees have been burned. This is where a forest fire happened in 2010. There are new aspen trees starting to grow is most of the burned area.
Area that burned in 2010.

Photo by:
Adam M

The road will be tight in this section with brush on both sides. At one spot you will have to navigate around a large rock that is next to the road. Because the vegetation is so thick here take it slow and look for on coming traffic.

Further up the road the valley will widen with small open meadows. There will be some slower running sections of Medano Creek where it crosses these flat areas and beavers have built dams. As you climb higher toward the pass the road crosses to the other side of the valley.
Upper section of Medano Pass.

Photo by:
Adam M

After crossing Medano Creek for the eighth time you will come to an intersection with a road to the left. This road is less than a mile and takes you to the Medano Lake trailhead. Continue up hill to the east to stay on the Medano Pass road.
Almost to the pass.

Photo by:
Adam M

At the top of the pass you will leave the preserve and be back on forest service public lands. There will be a kiosk and information sign at the top. The pass is forested so there are no views, but there is a good campsite to the south of the pass. To the north is a short road, Hudson Ditch FR406, that climbs up the ridge and gives you views to the east. It will end at the Sangre De Cristo Wilderness boundary.
Medano Pass sign.   Photo by: Adam M

Heading down the east side from the pass you will immediately come to a large rock outcropping that has multiple routes over it. This is the only real obstacle on the Medano Pass road.
The Obstacle

Photo by:
Adam M

After the obstacle the road will continue down through the forest passing a few dispersed campsites. There will be a few steep sections and a few switchbacks, but nothing that challenging.
Road through the trees on the east side

Photo by:
Adam M

The road will flatten out and come to a small opening in the forest. There will be an intersection to the left with Muddy Creek, FR412. Stay to the right to stay on the Medano Pass road. This area has many larger campsites that are used by people with travel trailers and horses or ATVs. The road from here on down to Highway 69 is a graded gravel road. It will enter private property within a half mile. Stay on the main road which travels through a private ranch and it will bring you out to Highway 69.
Data updated - November 8, 2015     4WD Road driven - July 20, 2015     Copyright - 2000-2015