The Backdoor to Sand Dunes National Park

During the summer months there is a back entrance to Sand Dunes National Park. The route enters over Medano Pass from the Wet Mountain Valley near Westcliffe, Colorado.

Information panel

Medano Pass, originally a route used by Native Americans to pass between the Wet Mountain Valley and San Louis Valley was traversed by Zebulon Pike and his exploration in 1807. In the later 1800’s the pass was improved into a wagon road to be used as an access route to the San Louis Valley from the Colorado Front Range cities.

View from the east side trail head

For years I have wanted to drive this route into the Sand Dunes and finally had a chance this last week. Our Toyota FJ Cruiser is well suited for routes like this.

I found the trail head about 23 miles south of Westcliffe on State Highway 69. FS Road 559 heads to the west providing an access corridor through private property, please stay on the road.

View along the trail

At the start of the road is a pullout with an information sign talking about the Pike expedition. I aired down my tires on the truck to 20 PSI and the trailer to 15 PSI at this point to smooth the ride on the washboard road. The route can be handled fine with out reducing pressure.

The view of the mountains is fantastic from this location and I could see the saddle that the pass makes its way through. Heading west the road snakes its way through the pines and scrub oak. Wild life is abundant and if you are lucky you will see a bob cat such as I did.

A section of the burn scar

As the road climbs out of the valley the conditions become a little rougher and a little more attention is needed for tire placement. Once into the national forest there are also a number of places to camp.

At the top of the pass I entered the Sand Dunes Preserve were additional restriction are implemented. Only the single road traverses down from the mountains into the Monument. There are still a number of designated back country camp sites, most of which were empty. If you are planning on camping and do not have reservations in the main park campground I recommend that you pullover in one of the fantastic isolated camp sites for the night.

Entering the monument

There is a major burn scar from 2010 that the road descends through so be careful if the winds are high. There are also 8 river crossings that will be no problem after the main spring runoff, even though flash floods can be a problem in the burn scar area.

View of the dune field

Nearing the end of Medano canyon I finally caught sight of the dune field and knew I was getting to the sandy section of the trail. In dry weather the road can become more difficult and airing down can assist in maintaining traction. Finally off the primitive road I stopped at the air station the park has provided and aired the tires back up.

One more item to check off the back roads adventure list!!!




Tomas has lived in Colorado since age 5. Having grown up on the Western Slope of Colorado lots of time was spent in the Desert Southwest. Tomas' father introduced him to the love of 4 wheeling at an early age in the high mountains around Aspen, Colorado. While an avid Mountain Biker, Tomas and his Family enjoy adventures in the mountains and desert in the remote locations that can only be reached by 4wd. Day hikes are always a must when on the family trips. While enjoying outdoor activities he wants to share his love as a certified 4wd trainer and ski instructor. Tomas also enjoys caving and cave exploration. Tomas currently resides in Colorado Springs. 

  1 comment for “The Backdoor to Sand Dunes National Park

  1. Thad
    August 31, 2014 at 6:46 AM

    Thanks. I’m always looking for new trails to try in CO during the summer months.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.