The Best Sand Dunes in the West

Photo: James Marvin Phelps

The 5 Best Sand Dunes in the Western US

The West is home to some huge and surprisingly diverse sand dunes with options for hiking, sand boarding, wildlife viewing, and more.  From the desert dunes of Death Valley to the coastal dunes of Oregon, here’s my picks for the best sand dunes in the West.

••• Kelso Sand Dunes, Mojave Desert (California) •••

Halfway between Vegas and LA, 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-DunesPhoto Credit: Jason Pier

••• Eureka Sand Dunes, Death Valley (California) •••

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 there 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-Sand-Dunes-Death ValleyPhoto Credit: John Florence

••• Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve (Colorado) •••

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 includes 13,000 foot peaks, tunda, 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. Big horn sheep, bison, black bears, and mule deer are just a few of the species you might encounter.

Great-Sand-Dunes-National-ParkPhoto Credit: David and Becky

••• Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park (Idaho) •••

Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park is an hour drive from Boise and is located right along the Snake River. The dunes themselves are small but still quite tall and are worthy of a day trip. Stop by the visitors center where you can rent a sand board 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.


••• Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park (Utah) •••

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 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-utahPhoto Credit: Dave McMullen

••• 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.




Bearfoot Theory

Written by Kristen Bor

Hey there! My name is Kristen, and this is my outdoor blog. I discovered the power of the outdoors in my 20s, at the time I needed it most. Now 15 years later, prioritizing that critical connection with nature continues to improve my life. My goal at Bearfoot Theory is to empower you with the tools and advice you need to responsibly get outside.

7 comments on “The Best Sand Dunes in the West

  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!!

  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.

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