Summary: Complete Guide to the best sand dunes to visit in Death Valley National Park, defining features of each Sand Dune, Camping spots, What to Pack and more. *I use affiliate links and may receive a small commission on purchases. Thanks for your support!
Land Acknowledgement: Northern Paiute and Newe Land. Find what Native Land you are visiting by using the app Native Land! I encourage you to read the history and culture of the Indigenous people who’s land you are visiting!
Check to see the status of Park trails and campgrounds HERE. Depending on when you’re reading this, there may be a stay at home order still in place and National Parks respond according to the State’s Covid-19 status.
- About the Sand Dunes in Death Valley
- Death Valley Video Mini-Series
- For the Science Nerds Like Me
- Getting to the Dunes
- 1 Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
- 2 Eureka Dunes
- 3 Saline Valley Dunes
- 4 Panamint Dunes
- 5 Ibex Dunes
- Where to Stay when visiting the Sand Dunes in Death Valley?
- Frolic the Dunes in Style
About the Sand Dunes in Death Valley
Alright, so when I went to Death Valley this December, I did not do as much location planning as I would have liked. We were only there for such a short time and did our best to see some of the highlights this stunning area has to offer.
I was unaware that there are FIVE different dune areas! FIVE! And they all have unique features and different pros/cons of visiting. So, I’m going to break it down for you. The research I wish I would have done.
These are the Sand Dunes in Death Valley we will be exploring:
- Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
- Eureka Dunes
- Saline Valley Dunes
- Panamint Dunes
- Ibex Dunes
Fun Fact: There are areas of Death Valley that dip BELOW SEA LEVEL. Yep. there is an area that is -282.2′ below sea level. Try to wrap your head around that.
Death Valley Video Mini-Series
If you want a short visual of our time in the Death Valley Dunes, check out the YouTube Video my partner Johnathon DeSoto created! Subscribe if you want to see the complete mini series as it comes out!
For the Science Nerds Like Me
Okay, quick note. There are 3 major different TYPES of Dunes! This was brand new info to me and I went down a very long rabbit hole of info on this. The three types of dunes are Crescent, Linear and Star-shaped!!
- Star-shaped Dunes: This intrigued me the most. The dunes I visited where star-shaped, meaning they formed as a result of multidirectional winds, causing the dunes to radiate from a center point. Star-shaped dunes are known as some of the tallest dunes in the world, with some recorded at 1600 feet in China. I legitimately cannot imagine dunes that large.
- Linear Dunes: Linear dunes sound boring compared to star-shaped dunes, but they have their own neat qualities. These are usually the longest dunes, where they have ridges that snake for miles! Linear dunes are longer than they are wide and often run parallel to each other.
- Crescent Dunes: Crescent dunes are the most common dunes and are recognized as being wider than they are long and look like, well, a crescent moon. These form when winds blow from just one direction.
Alright, thanks for taking that science detour with me. Let’s get back to planning your trip.
Getting to the Dunes
- Distance from Las Vegas: 2 hours
- Distance from Los Angeles: 4.5 hours
- Distance from San Francisco: 8.5 hours
PARKING PASS & FEES
The National Park pass – America the Beautiful is required to spend time in Death Valley! Purchase online HERE.
1 Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are the most popular, most photographed and easiest to get to in Death Valley. So, if you don’t want to trudge through sand uphill for hours, this might be the Dune for you. The highest dune reaches about 100 ft and covers a size-able area (largest dune area in the park)!
- Length: 2.8 miles round trip
- Elevation Gain: 206 ft
- Heavily Trafficked Trail
- Best time of day: I would recommend going for sunrise as this is the most popular dunes. You bet more people will be hanging out at sunset.
- Contains all 3 types of dunes: crescent, linear, star
- This is the ONLY dune area that allows sand boarding in Death Valley
2 Eureka Dunes
The Eureka Dunes are the sand dunes in Death Valley I’m most intrigued by. Definitely going to have to plan a trip back to explore these beauties. The dune area itself is only 3 miles by 1 mile, but has some of the tallest dunes in North America at up to 680′ tall!! These are not as accessible. You will need to travel 20-40 miles (depending on which way you’re coming from) on a graded dirt road.
Weather in the winter does frequently close or cause limited access to this road – so be sure to check out the weather and road reports prior to going here. These dunes also report no services and no water. Be sure to have enough gas, the 10 essentials with you, and be prepared with lots of extra water – even in the winter, temps can reach the 90’s. This is one where you NEED to do your research.
- Length: 3.5 miles round trip
- Elevation: 616 ft
- Lightly Trafficked Trail
- Wear sturdy footwear as it is climbs up loose sand and gravel. Need suggestions on footwear? Check on my blog on footwear HERE.
- No off-roading is permitted
3 Saline Valley Dunes
Saline Valley Dunes are located at the edge of salt flats! They are the least visited dunes in the park and from my research I can see why. Guides list the road to get there as “a long, rough drive”. My research shows that the entire road IS passable without a 4WD vehicle, but long stretches of road are extremely rough with a surface of sharp rocks and a high clearance vehicle is strongly recommended.
The road is open year round, but is best in October-May. Be sure to check for road closures in the winter. If you have a capable vehicle and want to have more of an off-roading type experience – these could be the dunes for you. Chances are you’ll have them to yourself too.
- Stats unavailable
- Recommended for 4WD vehicles only
- Isolated, very minimal people
- Backdrop is the Inyo Mountains
4 Panamint Dunes
The Panamint Dunes also require a drive on a dirt road, but a manageable* five mile dirt road. **I’m not sure I’d recommend this in a Sedan. We had cars with moderate clearance and AWD. When you’re driving on HWY 190 you can see the Sand Dunes off in the distance. They are the only dunes in Death Valley NP that are on a slope instead of a flat valley.
There is a “trail” but it is extremely difficult to see. The entire trail of 3.5 miles is uphill (859 feet to be exact) and requires navigating around rocks and bushes. Luckily, the dunes tower over the hill and you will not get lost on your way there. If you are going for sunset, I highly recommend using GPS tracking of some kind to find your way back to your vehicle (and a headlamp of course).
This is the trail that destroyed my feet LOL. I had blisters from sliding on the sand on the long trek to these dunes. It was worth it for the amazing experience we had there. Bring water, bring sun protection, bring a first aid kit for any blisters!
- Trail Length: 7 miles round trip
- Elevation Gain: 859 feet
- Lightly Trafficked
- Best Months to visit: Oct-April
- Trail is available on AllTrails to provide GPS tracking
5 Ibex Dunes
Not going to lie, these kind of seem like a hidden gem. I would like to check these out when I make a trip back next time! GPS is available on AllTrails for navigation and tracking. Less of a workout than the Panamint Dunes, this trek is 5.7 miles round trip with 485 feet elevation gain. My research shows that these dunes are much taller than the Mesquite Flat Dunes.
- Trail Length: 5.7 miles round trip
- Elevation Gain: 485 feet
- Lightly Trafficked Trail
- Available on AllTrails
Where to Stay when visiting the Sand Dunes in Death Valley?
As mentioned above, check the Covid-19 status of California before planning a trip. As I am writing this blog post, there is currently a stay at home order in place, which means some or all of these places to stay are closed.
Camping Options near Sand Dunes in Death Valley:
If you guys have read any of my blog posts before, you know I LOVE finding free camping on freecampsites.net. There are several options in Death Valley, but I’ll list just a few that are closest to the action!
- Death Valley National Park – Lee Flat
- Open all year round
- Free, dispersed camping
- First come, first serve
- Restrooms available
- Death Valley National Park – Emigrant Campground
- Open all year
- 10 sites
- water is available
- toilets are available
- Death Valley National Park – Stove Pipe Wells
- Mid September – Mid May
- $12 a night
- Water and Toilets available
- Desert Airstream Delight
- $80 / night
- Darwin, CA
- Death Valley Base Camp
- $50 / night
Frolic the Dunes in Style
When I was in Death Valley, I tried to get a little more styled with my wardrobe instead of my typical comfy hiking outfit. Not saying there is anything wrong with hiking clothes! But here are some options if you’re trying to take some trendier photos:
I hope you enjoyed this post! Check out these other Death Valley Destinations:
Comment below and tell me which Dunes you want to visit!
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