General Trip Planning Information
To visit the portion of the wilderness located in Great Sand Dunes National Preserve from the San Luis Valley (west) side, drive east on U.S. Highway 160 from Alamosa for about 16 miles. Turn north onto Colorado Highway 150 and proceed 15 miles to Great Sand Dunes National Park. Stop in at the visitor center for more details and maps of the area. Visitors planning to drive over the primitive Medano Pass road will need a high clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle to negotiate soft sand, stream crossings, and a road that can be rough in places.
Music Pass/Sand Creek Lakes/other alpine peaks provide stunning alpine scenery. The eastern trailhead for Music Pass is accessed via Highway 69, 4.5 miles south of Westcliffe. Turn off Highway 69 to the west at the sign for Music Pass and South Colony Lakes Trailhead. At the 'T' junction turn left onto South Colony Road. At the end of the ranch fence on the right, you'll see another sign for Music Pass. 2WD drivers should park at the Grape Creek Trailhead which is where the Rainbow Trail crosses. From here it's about 4 miles to the top of the pass. 4WD drivers may drive another 2.7 rough miles to the end of the road (this road requires very high clearance). From here it's just a steep one mile hike to the pass. From the top of the pass descend into the basin to two alpine lakes or to any one of the 13,000' peaks above the basin.
Medano Lake/Mount Herard: Access this trailhead from the Medano Pass 4WD road. Beginning at 10,000' elevation, the trail climbs through lush meadows and forests, ending at an alpine lake just above timberline. For advanced hikers, continue on to the summit of 13,297' Mount Herard for a spectacular view of the Great Sand Dunes.
Mosca Pass Trail: This trail may be accessed from the west near the Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center or from the east via Huerfano County/USFS Road 583 which will take you right to the top of Mosca Pass. The trail is 3.5 miles one way. Indians and early settlers used this route for travel into the San Luis Valley.
Climate and Special Equipment Needs
Elevation of the wilderness area varies from 8,500' to over 13,000' above sea level. Winter snows result in road closures approximately 5-6 months of the year. At higher elevations snow drifts may cover trails into late June or early July. Weather is typically sunny but temperatures are relatively cool all year. Summer highs can approach the low 80s F (21 C) with lows in the 40s F (4 C). High winds can develop at any time creating cold wind chill factors. Afternoon thundershowers are common from July through September.
Safety and Current Conditions
Be sure to bring rain gear, layers of clothing, and sunscreen. All water should be treated before drinking. Bears are common in the area so take appropriate precautions with food, garbage, and other items that may attract them. Plan to complete ascents of alpine peaks prior to noon each day as thunderstorms with lightning are common.
Drink plenty of water. At over 8,000 feet (2,499 m) above sea level, altitude sickness can be a problem, especially if you're accustomed to lower elevations. Symptoms include shortness of breath, headaches, and nausea.