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Medano Lake


Hike from the Medano Pass 4WD road to a secluded lake in an alpine cirque.

Hiking Moderate

10 km
597 m
597 m
3-4 hrs
Low Point
2.9 km
High Point
3.5 km
Medano Lake Map

The hike to Medano Lake is a straightforward stroll through the forest, but getting to the trailhead is at least half the adventure. It’s along the Medano Pass Primitive Road, a 4WD track from Great Sand Dunes National Park. You’ll need a capable vehicle, driving skills, and a permit from the national park to take on this road. After about 8 miles on the road, you’ll reach the trailhead, situated at 9600 feet elevation, among thick forest.


The trail is rather well-traveled and easy to follow, though you may encounter overgrown sections, downed logs, and small stream crossings. The trail remains mostly in the trees, pleasantly shaded by spruce, fir, and some impressive stands of girthy aspen. It’s a moderate uphill gradient, steepening in the final mile. The trail emerges in rocky hillside meadows just before meeting the lake.

Medano is a small lake with a grand view. It sits at the timberline, surrounded only by shrubs and flowers, rocks and ice. Mount Herard rises in convoluted cliffs above. This is the mountain most visible from the Great Sand Dunes, thousands of feet below and on the other side of the range. A climb of Herard yields a sky-high vantage over the dune field, but it’s a committing hike that typically involves camping near the lake. Whether attempting the mountain or not, backpackers can enjoy an overnight stay. There are no designated sites, but dispersed camping is allowed. Fisherman may try for the cutthroat that inhabit the lake and the creek.

Sources: https://www.nps.gov/grsa/planyourvisit/hiking.htm https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/riogrande/recreation/hiking/recarea/?recid=75202&actid=50



Hiking along trails with some uneven terrain and small hills. Small rocks and roots may be present.

Medium Exposure

2 out of 4

The trail contains some obstacles such as outcroppings and rock which could cause injury.


3 out of 4

Little chance of being seen or helped in case of an accident.

Best time to visit

between June and October


  • Wildlife
  • Picturesque
  • Dog friendly
  • Wild flowers
  • Water features
  • Family friendly
  • Forestry or heavy vegetation

Similar routes nearby

Guidebooks in this area