Medano Creek begins annual flow in Colorado's Sand Dunes — The Know

One of Colorado’s natural beaches has water once more.

Medano Creek has begun flowing for the season, meaning Great Sand Dunes National Park just became one of the most sought-after locations in the Southwest.

The creek — which peaks around late May and early June — is meandering near the main parking area at the Dunes, creating all sorts of high-country floating, surf and splashing activities, at least during peak flow.

The Great Sand Dunes is truly one of Colorado’s more unique attractions. But now it serves as a beach, too, with Medano Creek flowing gently, between 10 and 30 feet wide, and 1/2 inch to 3 inches deep, according to the National Park Service. Data taken on May, 1 about 5 miles upstream from Dunes parking, indicates that the creek is flowing at 6 cubic feet per second. (Peak flow in an average year is 40 CFS, but it’s unlikely to reach that this summer.)

Medano Creek’s seasonal depth and duration are directly related to the snowpack in the mountain watershed above. Due to an overall dry April, the snowpack is currently at 68% of the average for the Arkansas River watershed; hence the flow is forecast to be somewhat below average this year.

But hold off on donning the swim trunks just yet: The National Park Service stresses checking the forecast before heading out as it can snow at that elevation in May.

“Because of the creek’s popularity, late May and early June weekends are extremely crowded, with long lines of traffic, overflowing parking lots, a crowded beach, and full campgrounds,” NPS says. ” If possible, plan your visit on a weekday this time of year.”

Fun fact: Médano is a Spanish word that means “sand dune.” 

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