The approach trail to Medano Lake climbs approximately 1,900 feet from the trailhead at 9,600 feet for 3.5-4 miles to Medano Lake at about 11,500 feet. The trailhead is about a half mile west of Medano Pass on the Medano Pass 4-wheel drive road. Detailed directions are included on the main page for Mt. Herard.
The trail starts off with a relatively easy grade for the first few miles with the occasional creek crossing. Some of the largest aspen trees I have seen in Colorado are along this trail. The trail passes through a few sections where most of the aspens are over a foot in diameter with some approaching 18 inches. The trail steepens as it approaches Medano Lake.
There are a few well-used camping areas around the lake for those who wish to overnight at the lake and enjoy this quite impressive cirque and alpine lake.
On the north side of Medano Lake there is a faint trail that leads up a grass ramp between the cliffs north of the lake. Climb steeply up the ramp and around a corner and out of view from Medano Lake.
The faint trail leads to the upper bowl above Medano Lake. Above the bowl is the saddle north of Mt. Herard. To the left of the saddle is the north ridge of Mt. Herard which is the summit route. Once in the upper bowl head to the left up the steep grass/rock ramp to the north ridge. There is no trail so pick a route to the ridge and pushed on.
Once to the top of the steep portion of the north ridge you will be at the top of the large couloir visible from Medano Lake. Take a moment to peer down this beauty to Medano Lake about 1,500 feet below.
Follow the more gradual upper north ridge a few hundred vertical feet to the main summit area. A large cairn is in the middle of the relatively broad/flat summit. Take your time and stare in wonder at the Great Sand Dunes and the Blanca Group to the south with the mighty Crestones to the north. Don't forget to look for Ptarmigan.
The route described climbs over 1,800 feet from Medano Lake and is approximately a 3 mile round-trip. The total elevation gain from the trailhead is over 3,700 feet in a round-trip distance of a little over 10 miles.
During the summer and early fall months when Medano Pass is most likely to be open your standard mountain hiking gear should do. Check with Great Sand Dunes National Park for current conditions.