Where to See Sand Dunes near Palm Springs

sand dunes californiaWe’ve all heard of sand dunes but have you ever seen one? Instead of being simple piles of sand, sand dunes are much more awe-inducing than that, as they are marvelous works of nature formed by sand that was trapped initially by grass or other objects on the ground. They keep growing, shifting and morphing, meaning these  geologic marvels are always a new sight to behold.

Where to see sand dunes in California

Most sand dunes are comprised of quartz, which gives them their sporadically shiny appearance, but others are made of additional components as well. Wondering where you can explore the dunes near Palm Springs and Los Angeles? Keep reading for some of the best ones you can find in California.

Kelso Sand Dunes

Located in between I-15 and I-40 in Kelso, California, the Kelso Dunes are part of the Mojave National Preserve. Kelso, which is known for being a ghost town that was once a bustling railroad depot, is also known for its incredible sand dunes.

The dunes, made of quartz and feldspar from the nearby mountains, span about 45 square miles, making them the largest-spanning dunes in the Mojave Desert. Perhaps most intriguing about the Kelso Dunes is that they are rumored to “sing,” as it is theorized that the dunes create either a squeak or a boom sound as the tiny grains of sand shift and move. Some visitors report that instead of hearing the dunes, they feel them vibrating as they shift. The Kelso Dunes “sing” more when they are super dry, so it’s best to go during the summer if you can handle the severe heat.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes 

Located in Death Valley, the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are popular for people who sandboard because they are the only ones of the five sand dunes in Death Valley that are open to sandboarders. While these dunes may not be very high – only reaching around 100 feet – they offer quite a lot of beauty as visitors can clearly see crescent dunes, star-shaped dunes, and linear dunes. It is quite clear that there used to be water in the area as well, seeing as there is a visible dried-up lakebed underneath. The dunes also feature some trees that are home to various birds and other wildlife.

Eureka Sound Dunes

Also located in Death Valley, the Eureka Sound Dunes are another one you won’t want to miss. Being the highest dunes in the state—reaching almost 700 feet— makes them one of the best to climb despite the fact that it may take a while to get up to the top.

These dunes are lucky to get some occasional rain, which enables unique wildlife and plants to thrive there. These include the night-blooming Eureka Dunes Evening Primrose, an endangered species.

sand dunes california

As with the Kelso Sand Dunes, many visitors report that these dunes make noises and “sing” when the sand is very dry, but these are said to give off more of a musical vibe than the Kelso sand dunes… something like a pipe organ or like an airplane is in the distance.

Ibex Sand Dunes

Another set of sand dunes in Death Valley, the Ibex Sand Dunes, are located about a mile’s walk off of Saratoga Springs Road in Baker, California.

Visitors are cautioned that they should have a reliable 4-wheel drive vehicle upon entry, as some of the terrain is accessible but difficult with a less powerful car. The Ibex dunes sit between the small community of Saratoga Springs and an old talc mine and they are usually not crowded at all  and often, visitors report not seeing anyone else during their visit.

Guadalupe-Nipono Sand Dunes

If you’ve ever watched Cecil B. DeMille’s original rendition of The Ten Commandments, you have already seen the Guadalupe-Nipono Sand Dunes, as they were featured as the windswept setting.

Interestingly, the original set of the film is confirmed to be buried under the dunes, which was done at DeMille’s request. These dunes, which are along the Central California Shore, stretch for 18 miles and feature dunes up to 500 feet high! Unlike the dunes that simply look like sprawling desert sand, visitors can see waves crashing from the beaches if they are high enough on some of the dunes.

Also present are beautiful freshwater lakes as well as bright yellow flowers sprouting out of the dunes. As the largest stretch of coastal dunes on the planet, these truly are some of the most incredible you’ll ever find.

Navigating the Badlands in Anza Borrego

Anza-Borrego State Park Dunes

It is worth mentioning that the Anza-Borrego State Park is one of the most diverse in terms of terrain that you will find anywhere in the Southwestern U.S. The park offers everything from canyons to mountains and mud caves to sand dunes.

Although the sand dunes probably aren’t the most raved about part of the park, they are still a point of interest seeing as they are intermixed with so many other types of terrain. These dunes don’t reach as high as others, but they are good for beginning climbers who just want to get the feel of sand between their toes. A visit is also certainly worth it due to the views of the sprawling California landscape visible from the top as well as the different activities within the same region.

Imperial Sand Dunes

If you’re driving through Southeastern California and want to see something unforgettable, the Imperial Sand Dunes are one of the most incredible attractions in the area. Sitting peacefully in the Sonoran Desert, the Imperial Sand Dunes will make your ride one of the most memorable ever. Known for being the largest-spanning dunes in the State of California, these were formed by the long-gone Lake Cahuilla. Travelers literally drive through the dunes, as the highway runs right in between them. The farther you go on Highway 78, the taller they get as they surround you – up to 300 feet. These dunes run over 40 miles and are an excellent option for individuals who love off-roading because it offers its so-called Glamis ATV area, but is also perfect for those who like moments of peace and quiet. These dunes are great to climb at sunset, and if you have ever watched “Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi” or “Lawrence of Arabia,” you’ve already seen their beauty, as both feature scenes at these dunes.


Palm Springs Traveller Staff