If you watched the 2013 Dakar Rally, you were likely awed by the video of Robby Gordon ripping down the face of a 3000-foot Peruvian sand dune at well over 120 mph. The Dakar route also included Peru’s Ica Desert (“Endless Dunes”) in 2012, but the Dakar didn’t visit Peru this year, so Chile’s huge coastal dunes had to suffice. While Peru’s Cerro Blanca, “The Everest of the Desert,” is 6,824 feet above sea level, Chile’s Cerro Medanoso is “only” 1800 feet high. It’s in the Atacama Desert, and Dakar competitors have to carry emergency water supplies, as the region is the driest place on earth (0.004 inch of rain per year!), and machines often vapor-lock in the intense summer (our winter) heat. The western coast of South America definitely has the tallest dunes on the planet and also some of the largest dune systems, so dune enthusiasts can travel there during the Northern Hemisphere’s hottest months. Ica, Peru, has dune buggy tours for $12–$75, and all of Sudamerica is into UTVs and ATVs, especially Argentina.
Australia has the world’s largest dune system, and Lumpy got to experience two days in the Simpson Desert during the 1993 Australian Safari. The Simpson Dunes cover some 65,000 square miles of continental Australia, but they’re linear dunes, so don’t expect to ride bowls. It’s up-down, up-down, up-down for two days, and, if you get lost or break down, “they might not find you for 100 years.” Dunes are 66–100 feet high, with the highest being Big Red at 130 feet. It gets so hot in the Simpson Desert that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources closes it every summer (again, our winter).
China has the third-tallest dunes at Inner Mongolia, and the Badain Jaran Dunes reach up to 1600 feet. Africa’s Namib Desert in Namibia has dunes up to 1,256 feet, and Europe’s tallest is the Great Dune of Pilat in southeast France at 328–377 feet, but you can’t even sand-board there, much less shred it on an ATV. America’s tallest dune is in the 30-square-mile system in Colorado; the Great Sand Dunes National Park contains the 750-foot Star Dune, but it’s also off-limits to OHV recreation. Boo, hiss! Why can’t they be more like the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, which boasts 40 square miles of coastal dunes, with the tallest being 500 feet? Here are the top 10 dunes systems in North America for OHV sand-slinging recreation.
1) Imperial Sand Dunes, Glamis, California:
Part of the Algodones Dunes, the largest dune system in California, the Imperial Sand Dune Recreation Area (ISDRA) is commonly known as Glamis for the store, restaurant and pizza parlor at the northeast end of the ISDRA and vendor row, where you can rent ATVs and UTVs and get most anything you need for duning and camping. They will even store your RV (Greg Biffle recently built a huge garage/palace there). Up to 300,000 people flock to Glamis on big weekends from Halloween to Easter to experience massive 300-foot dunes. They ride the ridges and sand bowls, or race up Comp Hill, Oldsmobile, Brawley Slide, Lizard Hill and China Wall. The American Sand Association (ASA) successfully overturned an eco-freak closure of 40,050 acres south of China Wall last May, so OHVs again have 123,000 acres of sand paradise to explore and challenge.
There is also a smaller vendor row servicing Cement Flats and all of the pads off of Gecko Road, Keyhole, Roadrunner and Gecko Loop, which are strewn with gravel pads, vault toilets and dumpsters. Or, camp in the sand by Glamis Store or off Wash Road. Since the reopening of the 40,050 acres in the middle of the dunes, it’s much easier to access Buttercup Valley, Campground and Comp Hill off of Interstate 8. Experienced guides and GPS are a great idea in such a vast dune system. Since it is a California State Parks SVRA, helmets, safety flags, OHV stickers and use permits are required, and anyone under 18 must complete an ATV safety course (800-887-2887) or be under the supervision of a certified adult. Administered and heavily patrolled by the BLM (who closes Comp Hill at night on big weekends), the ISDRA is a fee area from October 1 through April 15 every year. Bought off site or online, weekly permits are $35 and yearly permits are $150, but they’re $50 and $150 bought at the ranger station or Glamis Store.
Cahuilla Ranger Station
Gecko Road at Hwy 78
Glamis Beach Store
5775 California 78
Brawley, CA 92227
2) Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, Southwest Oregon:
The ODNRA stretches along Oregon’s coastline from North Bend to Florence, with Reedsport/Winchester Bay being the epicenter and home of Dunefest, which will be held July 29th through August 2nd, 2015. Dunes reach up to 500 feet high, but the coolest part of the ODNRA is that the dunes support evergreen rain forests along Highway 101, and many trails snake through the forests like e-ticket-ride tunnels. Also, street-legal vehicles can drive on the beach in northern areas in the off-season (October 1 through April 30), but the dunes are open year round. There are also fun worm trails through the salt grass flanking the beach and several camping pads and parking lots, and there are plenty of nicely shaped dunes for jumping (hucking), so bring the cameras. Those camping in the Winchester Bay (actually the mouth of the Umpqau River) marina or RV campgrounds can ride along the shoulder of Salmon Harbor to the OHV area, and there are several rental and tour companies servicing the ODNRA at North Bend/Coos Bay and Winchester Bay. Camping reservations are required May 1–September 30; call (877) 444-6777. Standard sites are $10 a night, and group sites are $20 per night. Oregon OHV permits are required.
Reedsport Chamber of Commerce
855 Hwy 101 S
Reedsport, OR 97467
Siuslaw National Forest
3200 SW Jefferson Way
Corvallis, OR 97331
3) Dumont Dunes, Baker, California:
Nestled between Death Valley and Baker, California, on Hwy 127, Dumont Dunes Off-Highway Vehicle Area is an 8,150-acre dune system, with Comp Hill climbing 500 feet. There are small dunes along Highway 127, and they get taller as you ride east. Or, drive east on Dumont Dunes Road to the larger dunes with seriously steep faces, sharp razorbacks, and witches’ eyes, so be really careful, especially at high noon. It’s much more readable with low sun. This relatively small dune system is bordered by wilderness, a national park and volcanic peaks, but there is some open desert riding along the Amargosa River. There are 10 vault toilets and plenty of sand camping, but you must have a California OHV sticker, nonresident OHV permit or license plate for your duner, plus a pass for your tow vehicle/RV. Weekly passes are $30, holiday weekend passes are $40, seasonal non-holiday passes are $90, and seasonal/holiday passes are $120. Dumont kiosks are credit card only (and are solar-powered), so buy your passes in Baker, Shoshone, Las Vegas, Pahrump or Redlands. Due to extreme heat, the season is Halloween weekend through Presidents Day weekend (October 27–February 16).
BLM Barstow Field Office
2601 Barstow Road
Barstow, CA 92311
4) Idaho Dunes, St. Anthony, Idaho:
Idaho Dunes is a 10,000-acre dune system with windblown quartz sand reaching up to 400 feet, and it’s host to the UTV Invasion every Labor Day weekend (August 28–31, 2015). The infamous Choke Cherry Hill is steeper than Glamis’ China Wall, and Thunder Mountain and Dead Horse Bowl are other features. Park at Egin Lake for day use or stay at the Idaho Dunes RV Park, which has 56 hookup sites, 25 acres of dry camping, RV trailer and ATV rentals, seasonal RV storage and a general store but no fuel pumps. Sand Hills Resort and Campground has race fuel, 109 RV spots with partial and full hookups, tent camping, day parking, a dump station and propane.
Idaho Dunes RV
1695 East 500 North
St. Anthony, ID 83445
Sand Hills Resort
865 Red Road
St. Anthony, ID 83445
5) Oceano Dunes SVRA, Pismo Beach, California:
Formerly a hub of the WORCS racing series, Oceano Dunes SVRA now hosts Huckfest in late October and is a duner favorite, especially during the summer months when Glamis and Dumont are uninhabitable. Cool ocean breezes are only part of the draw, as the SVRA is the only place in California where it’s legal to drive on the beach, a 5.5-mile stretch. The uncool part is that the OHV portion of the area, formerly known as Pismo Beach, has been cut down to 3500 acres, and that drops to 1500–2000 acres during the Snowy Plower nesting season (March–September). Camping is allowed on the beach (call Reserve America at 800-444-7275 for reservations), and Pismo is serviced by Luv 2 Camp RV Rentals (888-898-2267, also serving Glamis, Oregon Dunes and St. Anthony). Dunes run mostly north/south with some bowls, and dunes reach 200 feet tall. An OHV day-use annual pass is $50, and a non-resident OHV permit is $30, which is good for a calendar year. Camping is $10 per night, and California green or red stickers are required, with a red sticker that is good year round. There are also ATV/UTV rental companies servicing Oceano, including Angello’s ATV (805-481-0355), Arnie’s ATV (805-474-6060), BJ’s ATV (805-481-5411), Steve’s ATV (805-481-2597) and Sun Buggy Fun Rentals (805-728-4443).
Oceano Dunes District Office
340 James Way, Suite 270
Pismo Beach, CA 93449
Oceano Dunes SVRA Entrance Kiosks
100 Pier Ave.
25 W. Grand Ave.
Grover Beach, CA
6) Little Sahara Dunes, Fillmore, Utah:
The Little Sahara Recreation Area (LSRA) is Utah’s largest dune system at 60,000 acres, and dunes climb to 700 feet! Quartz sand from the ancient Servier River blew up to create Sand Mountain some 15,000 years ago, and the system covers 124 square miles. Check out the smaller dunes with the whole family southwest of Black Mountain, which has mountain trails for those with knobbies, or head to the big bowls of White Sands Dunes, which has 99 campsites nestled in junipers and flush/vault toilets. Oasis campground has paved roads for RVs with 114 sites, drinking water and a dump site, while Jericho serves as an overflow campground for big weekends and has 41 shaded picnic tables and an amphitheater. Sand Mountain has three paved parking/camping loops, tent spaces, vault toilets and water. It’s the place to be on big weekends, but dispersed camping is permitted throughout the LSRA. Utah OHV stickers are required, but out-of-state OHV stickers are good for 30 days. Annual permits are $120 (second vehicle is $65), while one-night camping is $18; the visitor center is open during spring and fall heavy-use periods. The entrance road is four miles west of Jericho Junction, Utah.
LSRA Visitor Center
27020 W. Sand Mountain Rd.
Eureka, UT 84628
Richfield BLM Office
7) Sand Hollow State Park, Hurricane, Utah:
Opened in 2003, Sand Hollow State Park is the new headquarters for the WORCS races, since Greens contested the WORCS five-year agreement with Oceano Dunes SVRA. Sand Hollow has 15,000 acres of red sand dunes, washes and red rock formations. Soft red sand forms the dunes, and the consistency is more like flour or silt than beach sand. It saps power and is harder to get on top of, so paddles are a really good idea for the steep dunes in the 20,000-acre park, of which 1,322 acres are a reservoir for cooling off in hotter months. Sand Mountain is 200 feet high. Hours are 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. April through September, and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. October through March. Annual passes are $75, and day-use passes are $10. Camping is $28 per night at Westside Campground with full hookups, partial hookups are $25 per night, and primitive camping is $15.
SHSP Visitor Center
3351 Sand Hollow Road
8) Little Sahara Dunes, Waynoka, Oklahoma:
Formed some 15,000 years ago by winds and the Cimarron River in the Oklahoma panhandle, Little Sahara covers 1600 acres, with blowing sand dunes 25–75 feet tall with familiar names like Comp Hill and Buttercup. Little Sahara hosts Midwest Sandfest September 9–13, 2015, and it’s located north of Seiling on US60/OK281. Park fees are $10 per person per day to dune. There are 86 RV slots with hook-ups ($20) and 143 tent camping sites ($12). The park is open year round, and ATV/UTV rentals are available.
Little Sahara State Park
101 Main Street
Waynoka, OK 73860
9) Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Kanab, Utah:
Southeast of Zion National Park, Coral Pink Sand Dunes covers 1200 acres with red sand dunes moving up to 50 feet per year, and there are hundreds of miles of BLM trails adjacent to the dunes. There are also jumpable dunes and tight trails along the edges of dunes weaving through junipers, pinion and chaparral. Sand is fine like at Sand Hollow, and dune faces are steep. There is a visitor’s center, day-use area with ATV rentals by Utah ATV Tours (855-627-0868), and a campground with restrooms, showers, picnic tables and BBQ grills, plus a large group site. OHV entry fee is $8 and camping is $20.
Coral Pink State Park
P.O. Box 95
Kanab, UT 84741
(800) 322-3770 camping reservations
10) Silver Lake State Park, Michigan:
Silver Lake State Park covers 2000 acres along the shore of Lake Michigan, with both dunes and mature forest, and some 450 acres are OHV habitat with dunes reaching up to 100 feet. The OHV recreation season in the dunes is April 1st through October 31st, and there are long-stretching dunes to jump, steep climbs and deep water crossings in spots. A Michigan OHV sticker and recreation passport are required, along with flags on 10-foot whips. Camping isn’t permitted, but there are several RV campgrounds nearby.
Silver Lake State Park
9679 W. State Park Rd.
Mears, MI 49436
(231) 873-3083 ο