10 Best Sand Dunes in the US for Outdoor Adventure

From the desert sand dunes of Death Valley to the coastal dunes of Oregon, here are the picks for the best sand dunes in the West.

Discover the best sand dunes in the US from California to North Carolina including the Great Sand Dunes National Park the Outer Banks, & more.

The United States is home to some huge and surprisingly diverse sand dunes with options for hiking, sandboarding, wildlife viewing, and more. From the desert dunes of Death Valley to the coastal dunes of Oregon and North Carolina, here are my picks for the best sand dunes in the US.

Explore the 10 best places to see sand dunes across the US from the west coast to the east coast.

Important Reminder: As it goes in all of the destinations we share, please remember to Leave No Trace. This means packing out all of your garbage (including toilet paper), being respectful to others, and following the established rules.

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Best Sand Dunes in the West

1. Kelso Sand Dunes, Mojave Desert

  • Location: Mojave National Preserve, California
  • Dogs allowed? On leash
  • Camping: Free dispersed camping

Halfway between Vegas and Los Angeles, the Kelso Sand Dunes are an easy escape for those in the Southern California area. Yet because these dunes are absolutely HUGE, covering a whopping 45 square miles, it is likely you will have a large area all to yourself to explore.

I highly recommended taking a hike to the top of the dunes at sunset, as the desolate desert landscape explodes with colors like you’ve never seen.

Kelso Sand Dunes // Discover the best sand dunes in the US from California to North Carolina including the Great Sand Dunes National Park the Outer Banks, & more.

2. Eureka Sand Dunes

  • Location: Death Valley National Park, California
  • Dogs allowed? No
  • Camping: Free National Park campground

Eureka Sand Dunes in Death Valley National Park rise an impressive 600 feet above the valley floor and are backed by the even taller Last Chance Mountains, creating a stunning Mars-like landscape. Despite being the hottest and driest place in North America, these dunes support a surprising amount of plant life including species so rare that they are found nowhere else on earth.

Getting to the dunes requires a 40-mile drive down a dirt road and those who are willing to make the trek will be rewarded with desolate camping, hiking, and stargazing opportunities.

Eureka Dunes // Discover the best sand dunes in the US from California to North Carolina including the Great Sand Dunes National Park the Outer Banks, & more.

3. Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

  • Location: Southern Colorado
  • Dogs allowed? On leash with area restrictions
  • Camping: National Park campground and free primitive camping accessible by 4×4 high clearance vehicles

Nothing beats the view from Great Sand Dunes National Park. Unlike many other dunes located in the driest of deserts, the diverse landscapes surrounding these southwest Colorado dunes include 13,000-foot peaks, tundra, alpine lakes, wetlands, and grasslands.

Because most of the visitors limit their time to the dunes themselves, those venturing into the surrounding ecosystems experience solitude and spectacular wildlife viewing opportunities. Bighorn sheep, bison, black bears, and mule deer are just a few of the species you might encounter!

Great sand dunes national park // Discover the best sand dunes in the US from California to North Carolina including the Great Sand Dunes National Park the Outer Banks, & more.

4. Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park

  • Location: Southern Idaho
  • Dogs allowed? On leash
  • Camping: State Park campgrounds

Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park is an hour’s drive south of Boise and is located right along the beautiful Snake River. The dunes themselves are smaller than most other dunes on this list but worth visiting especially in the fall months when the dunes are surrounded by colorful changing foliage.

Stop by the visitors center where you can rent a sandboard and check out the prehistoric fossils that have been found in the area. You can also bring along a fishing pole and test your luck at catching some trout in the lake below.

Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park // Discover the best sand dunes in the US from California to North Carolina including the Great Sand Dunes National Park the Outer Banks, & more.

5. Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

  • Location: Outside of Kanab, Utah
  • Dogs allowed? On leash
  • Camping: State Park campground and free dispersed BLM camping

Located in Southern Utah’s canyon country just east of Kanab, these dunes are formed by red sandstone erosion resulting in a beautiful reddish-pink hue. This sandy playground is one of the top things to do in Kanab and especially popular amongst ATV enthusiasts.

You can avoid some of the crowds by visiting in late winter or early spring when the landscape is dusted with snow and conditions are perfect for winter tubing.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park // Discover the best sand dunes in the US from California to North Carolina including the Great Sand Dunes National Park the Outer Banks, & more.

6. Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

  • Location: Central Oregon Coast
  • Dogs allowed? Yes
  • Camping: Numerous paid options. Reservations can be made online through recreation.gov. Visit the Forest Service website to learn more about camping options in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area.

These ocean-front dunes span 40 miles of central Oregon coastline and offer something for everyone. Dunebuggy enthusiasts get their thrills driving over the steep, endless hills. Water lovers can enjoy a picnic at one of the dozens of lakes or take a chilly dip in the Pacific ocean. Hikers can get lost exploring the thick coastal forests. Or you can simply sit back and enjoy the magnificent view as the sun sets over the horizon.

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area // Discover the best sand dunes in the US from California to North Carolina including the Great Sand Dunes National Park the Outer Banks, & more.

7. White Sands National Park

  • Location: South-central New Mexico
  • Dogs allowed? On leash
  • Camping: Primitive backcountry camping (closed as of 2021 for rehabilitation). There are no established campgrounds in White Sands National Park

Rising up from the Tularosa Basin in southern New Mexico, White Sands National Park is characterized by 275 square miles of sand dunes composed of white gypsum crystals. It’s a place like no other and one of the best places to experience sand dunes in the US.

In addition to hiking through the dunes, visitors can also drive or bike the 8-mile scenic Dune Drive, go sledding on the white sand dunes, or explore the present and past history of this amazing place at the Visitor Center.

White Sands National Park // Discover the best sand dunes in the US from California to North Carolina including the Great Sand Dunes National Park the Outer Banks, & more.

Best Sand Dunes in the East

8. Jockey’s Ridge State Park

  • Location: Nags Head, North Carolina
  • Dogs allowed? On leash
  • Camping: No camping

Jockey’s Ridge State Park is home to some of the tallest sand dunes on the east coast. Located in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, here you’ll find plenty of outdoor adventure. Stop by the visitor center to learn more about the dune ecology before stepping out to explore the dunes.

You can also find hang-gliding lessons from vendors on the beach or spend the day walking on the shoreline, wading in the water, or getting out in a kayak or stand-up paddleboard.

Jockey's Ridge State Park // Discover the best sand dunes in the US from California to North Carolina including the Great Sand Dunes National Park the Outer Banks, & more.

9. Indiana Dunes National Park

  • Location: Indiana
  • Dogs allowed? On leash with some area restrictions
  • Camping: State Park and National Park campgrounds

Indiana Dunes National Park encompasses a 15-mile stretch of shoreline on the southern end of Lake Michigan. The Park boasts over 50 miles of rugged trail over massive dunes and through wetlands, making it a diverse and unique destination.

In addition to hiking, visitors can also enjoy 37+ miles of interconnected biking paths, long stretches of sandy beaches, great fishing and paddling opportunities, and tons of guided tours if you want to learn more about the dunes and surrounding area.

If you time your visit right, you can enjoy the annual Indiana Dunes Outdoor Adventure Festival, which typically happens in September, and is a weekend packed with tons of outdoor adventures.

Indiana Dunes National Park // Discover the best sand dunes in the US from California to North Carolina including the Great Sand Dunes National Park the Outer Banks, & more.

10. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

  • Location: Michigan
  • Dogs allowed? On leash with area restrictions
  • Camping: National Park campground

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is known for its huge, scalable dunes that rise nearly straight up from the shores of Lake Michigan. With miles of sandy beaches, towering bluffs, lush forests, and clear lakes, this area is an outdoor lover’s dream. One of the most popular activities in the park is the Dune Climb, which is located north of Empire on M-109. Climb to the top of the towering white sand dune for incredible views out over the lake.

Sleeping Bear also includes two wilderness-filled islands, North Manitou Island and South Manitou Island, both of which can be accessed by private boat or ferry.

Sleeping Bear Dunes // Discover the best sand dunes in the US from California to North Carolina including the Great Sand Dunes National Park the Outer Banks, & more.

Which sand dunes in the US would you love to visit? Which ones have you already been to? Leave a comment below!

Discover the best sand dunes in the US from California to North Carolina including Great Sand Dunes National Park, the Outer Banks, & more.

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11 Comments

  1. I looooooved the death valley sand dunes! I was there in December so it wasn’t even too hot. Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan are also quite fun!

  2. As a geology graduate, this post left me grinning from ear to ear! I’ve never seen a dune like these in real life, I think I need to one or two of these on my list, should I ever find myself in the area!

    This Girl Loves

  3. I love sand dunes – they change as much as the sea with the light of the day! We’ve been to some amazing dunes in Oman and UAE and the ones in Norfolk UK are pretty good too! Lovely fine sand – although just the type that seeps out of your shoes and travelling bags for months afterwards!!

    1. You left out Glamis in California which I’m pretty sure are the largest in the U.S. stretching all the way down into Mexico. Commonly referred to as the sanddune capital! The gentleman below mentioned Dumont which are awesome big tal dunes. They don’t cove alot of ground area but are great smooth dunes for off reading! Then you got Saint Anthony’s in Idaho, which are considered 100mph dunes! Cause you can peddle to the floor on these massive tall long and smooth dunes! Take A spin around the devils bowl at 80mph, or haul ass up Choke Cherry Hill! You can take it alil slower up the staircase. Stop by the lake for some swimming or fishing. Checkout the lava rock that made its way there from an eruption in Yellowstone National Park! And camp at the campgrounds a short distance away with a creek running through it. Very nice clean family ran campgrounds.

  4. Wow, these are stunning pictures–and as field people and science nerds, these places really speak to my heart and Jessi’s. Jessi at one point visited some dunes near Lake Michigan, not quite the West, but still amazing how diverse the landscape is in the U.S.!

    1. Tara – I’m also a science nerd! So I totally agree. And its really amazing that these sand dunes just pop up in the landscape in places where you wouldn’t really expect it.

  5. I’m older now, but I’ll never forget my 4 days at Dumont Dunes in California. It was amazing. This was back in the 1980’s. I rode around on my 4 wheel Honda Odyssey. I was able to outclimb my friends one their moto x bikes, then launch off of the top. I love the dunes in CA. Thanks for the story, it brought back great memories.