Every Year the Snow Melt Creates an Amazing Natural Waterslide at Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park
Photo: Getty Images

For a few months each year, a natural phenomenon creates a rare waterslide at Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve’s Medano Creek, and the creek is now seeing the first signs of this year’s arrival.

Medano Creek starts in snowfields in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, melting into Medano Lake and flowing around the basin of the area’s dunes, where it turns into a wide and shallow stream.

The phenomenon, known as surge flow, occurs when snow at the peaks melts and trickles down to the sand ridges, creating underwater ridges in the sand that build up and break every 20 seconds to produce waves in the creek, park representatives explain in a video.

While the peak flow of the phenomenon, where the creek experiences a flow at speeds of some 40 cubic feet per second, typically occurs in late May or early June, a wet and cold winter season has led to a slower melting rate and delayed peak date for 2019.

While the creek is only experiencing a small surge flow at the moment, higher snowpack means visitors can look forward to flow increases within the next two weeks that will continue throughout June and taper off into shallow flows through July.

The creek, which is often referred to as “Colorado’s natural beach,” is surrounded by the soaring dunes the area is known for, and opens to activities including surfing, wading, skimboarding, and even floating when water levels rise during surge flow season.

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Families and visitors of all ages can often be seen setting up tents where they’ll enjoy outdoor picnics and sandcastle building after taking a dip in the creek, creating a relaxing escape to enjoy after exploring the park's forests, alpine lakes, and towering dunes.

Visitors will want to note June is often a crowded time to visit the park with long lines of traffic, which is why park representatives recommend visiting on a weekday during the month.

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