Driving Medano Pass & Visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park
From Colorado Springs a trip to Great Sand Dunes National Park is a breeze. While you can get there via the highway we decided to take the Medano primitive road as our route into the park. This primitive road turned out to be a beautiful 22 miles of wildflowers, dirt, gravel, creek crossings, and sand paths.
Taking the Medano Pass Primitive Road to the Sand Dunes
First of all, Medano Pass should not be attempted by any vehicle that is not 4WD, due to high clearance rocks/dips and water crossings. When we made the trek in July, the water was only 6-12″ at each crossing but it is recommended to check the creek conditions before you make the drive.
It is also recommended for some vehicles (those with regular road tires) to reduce air pressure to 20psi in each tire to navigate the sand. There is a place to refill your tires at the western entrance of the park. You can enter the trail either from the west (from the welcome center) or from the east. We decided to enter from the east due to departing from Colorado Springs.
From Colorado Springs you head due south on 25 until you reach Walsenburg. There we fueled up and took highway 69 west to Gardner. Reset your odometer and drive approximately 8 miles west of Gardner on 69 and you will see a forest service sign with “Medano Pass Road” noted (County Road 559).
The first 5 miles or so on the trail are mild dirt and gravel roads, rarely requiring 4WD, and passing near private property and national forest. We decided to enter “Medano Pass” into Google Maps to keep ourselves oriented as we continued on even though your GPS will not take you this way by default.
The next 5 miles were a wooded trail with varying degrees of incline, sharp turns, and narrow trail. The road was rocky but nothing too daunting. The following 5-mile stretch was more in a plain area with the road having a lot of vegetation on the side of the trail. This is where there were some cutbacks across the creek and where you start to see some of the campsites.
This was the most tedious portion of the trail due to the slow going and the high amount of traffic. At the end of this segment, there was a rest area with restrooms, which is where the sand portion (and last ~5-mile stretch) begins.
The key to maneuvering through the sand is to keep your vehicle moving and not stop on soft sand. There are great views of the dunes on this last portion of the trail which ends at the camping ground near the Great Sand Dune welcome center.
READ MORE: 2 Days in Colorado Springs
Arriving at Great Sand Dunes National Park
After we exited the Medano Pass road, we drove to the Great Sand Dunes Oasis, which is a little gas station about 5 minutes from the park down Highway 150. There we rented a sandboard for $20 and headed back to the park (there are also sand sleds available for the same price).
Great Sand Dunes National Park is 85,000 acres of sandy hills and is home to the tallest sand dune in North America (750′).
Depending on how much rain there has been, there are streams that flow around the dunes and are popular for cooling off while visiting the dunes – which was a much welcome reprieve whenever the temperatures were well in the 90s when we visited.
Be aware that during the summer months the sand can reach temperatures of 150 degrees, so bring appropriate footwear, and don’t forget a pair of socks if you’re going to be trying sandboarding or sand sledding!
I would also recommend bringing a pair of sandals that have a strap so you can walk up the dunes easier while also protecting your feet.
Climbing up the dunes can be quite exhausting, especially if you continually do so while sandboarding or sledding. Every step you take up the dune, the sand causes you to slide down, so be sure to bring plenty of water to stay hydrated!
Overall, this is one of the most beautiful deserts and a unique national park. Great Sand Dunes National Park is an awesome day trip and driving Medano Pass is well worth it too! So, who’s ready to do some sandboarding!?