California is one of the trendiest sandboarding and sand duning destinations in the United States, hosting some of the most spectacular dunes of the Mojave Desert and the iconic Death Valley National Park. Before you hit a dune, you need to make sure to familiarize yourself with the area and its rules: on many dunes sand surfing and off-road driving are prohibited in order to protect the natural habitat of rare species of vegetation that only grows in this part of the world.

There are four major sandboarding locations in the California desert:

  1. Death Valley National Park
  2. Dumont Dunes
  3. Kelso Dunes
  4. Imperial Sand Dunes (a.k.a. Algodones Dunes or Glamis Dunes)

There are also many more opportunities for sand surfing on the coastal dunes of SoCal and, in the winter season only, sand sledding can be practiced at beaches all around Los Angeles.

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Sandboarding in Death Valley is only allowed at the Mesquite Flat dunes.

Death Valley National Park, CA

There are five major groups of sand dunes in the area, but the practice of sandboarding is only allowed on the Mesquite Flat Dunes, in order not to disturb the local wildlife and plants of the park. Off-roading is also not permitted anywhere in Death Valley National Park.

Mesquite Flat Dunes

You can sandboard in Death Valley’s best known and most accessible sand dunes. The Mesquite Flat Dunes cover a vast area but are not very tall, as the name suggests, and they come in three different shapes: crescent, linear, and star-shaped. Sand boarding, sand sledding and sand skiing are all allowed.

Other Dunes to Visit

Eureka Dunes – Sandboarding not allowed

These are arguably the most famous dunes in the park and worth checking out, even if you are not going to be able to slide down any of them. They are some of the tallest and steepest dunes in North America, but what makes them stand out is a phenomenon called singing sand – when the sand is very dry avalanches may occur that cause a sound similar to a roar.

Saline Valley Dunes – Sandboarding not allowed

Low dunes surrounding a dry lake, the area is large but pretty isolated. These are “whaleback” dunes (they kinda look like the back of a whale) and can be very steep, almost vertical. Sandboarding would be a challenge even if it were allowed!

Panamint Dunes – Sandboarding not allowed

Star shaped dunes, with multiple sinuous ridges radiating out from a central peak. While sand boarding is not possible, you can enjoy some incredible sightseeing, trekking and camping at these dunes.

Ibex Dunes – Sandboarding not allowed

This is technically the closest sand dune system to the city of Los Angeles, yet it is relatively “niche” and not easy to reach. The area is small but hosts some rather tall dunes, and makes an ideal track for hiking and taking pictures of the desert and its beautiful vegetation and peculiar lizards.


Dumont Dunes. Photo courtesy of Murray Foubister. CC BY-SA 2.0.

Dumont Dunes

The Dumont Dunes area is situated about 30 miles north of Baker, California, on the east side of Highway 127, just outside the southeast corner of Death Valley National Monument. These dunes are especially remarkable as the “booming sand” phenomenon can be heard when visiting them, with sand avalanches sometimes generating booming sounds coming from the dunes.

Sandboarding tips

Dumont Dunes are very sandboard-friendly, but you will need to bring your own sandboarding equipment, that is, a sand board or sand dune sled, some sandboard wax, and appropriate clothing.

Off-roading in Dumont Dunes

The so-called Open Area is a OHV (Off-Highway Vehicle Area) where sand duning can be practiced. On weekends, the dunes are usually completely overrun with 4×4 cars and other off-road vehicles. In this recreational area quad biking, hiking, camping, rock climbing are also practiced.

Dumont Dunes Halloween and other holidays

Every year on the last week of October thousands of people gather in Dumont Dunes to have an unforgivable Halloween celebration: entire families, rigorously dressed up in a costume, camping, setting up haunted houses and trick-or-treating. Similar celebrations are held for Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve, and another few weekends during the year. Keep in mind that you will need a special holiday pass to enter the dunes at these times!

Weather

The region is sunny and arid, with summer temperatures ranging from 100 to 120 degrees F. Low temperatures in the winter will drop below freezing with high temperatures around 70 F. Typical of desert climates, winds are regular and heavy, and humidity is usually poor.


Kelso Dunes on a windy day. Photo courtesy of John Fowler.

Kelso Dunes

The Kelso Dunes, also known as the Kelso Dune Field, is the largest sand dunes area in the Mojave Desert, occupying 45 square miles. They are the third largest dunes in the United States. Located south of Baker, California, Kelso Dunes is a protected area of the Mojave National Preserve, a scenic area inaccessible to off-road vehicles. These are so-called “singing dunes”, which may appear to emit sounds under specific environmental conditions.

Sandboarding tips

Evening primroses, ricegrass and other types of plants have started stabilizing on the dunes and you may get in trouble if you disturb their natural habitat, so make sure to only practice dune boarding away from vegetation.

Hiking

It’s a short but intense hike up Kelso Dunes. The landscape resembles a “sea of sand” or lunar craters out of a Star Wars movie, and it’s worth to visit early in the morning or late at night, when the sky is very dark. The wind can get problematic so make sure to wear appropriate clothing.


Algodones / Glamis Dunes. Photo courtesy of Joshua Brown.

Algodones Dunes (Imperial Sand Dunes)

Los Algodones (Spanish for “cotton plants”) are a system of dunes resembling a sea sand bordering the U.S. states of Colorado and Arizona, and the Mexican state of Baja California, and about 17 miles west of Yuma, Arizona. The long, narrow dunes system extends for approximately 45 miles in a 5-to 8-mile wide band and are often referred to as Glamis Dunes, because of their proximity with the Imperial County town of Glamis. They are also the closest option for sandboarding near San Diego. The Algodones are incorporated in the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area, where off-roading is also practiced. 

The Imperial Sand Dunes area has become somewhat of iconic because its dunes are features in countless blockbuster movies, such as Star Wars and The Scorpion King.

Sandboarding Imperial Sand Dunes

The best spot for sandboarding is in the North Algodones Dunes wilderness area where off-roading cannot be practiced. Keep in mind that dune boarding and sledding are only allowed away from vegetation. You can also sandboard the area known as Mammoth Wash or the southern dunes closer to the Mexican border, keeping in mind that you will likely have to share your space with countless off-road vehicles.

Glamis off road rentals

The Imperial Sand Dunes are considered a Mecca for sand duning in the States and there are plenty of opportunities to rent an off-road vehicle in Glamis. During peak season (October to April) a seasonal OHV permit may be required. It is prohibited to practice off-roading in the area known as North Algodones Dunes where vegetation has sprung, in order to protect the local habitat.


Sandboards for Sale

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Diamond Back Terrain Sandboard
– 9 ply maple veneer deck
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Slip Face Sandboard Kestrel WingTail
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– Dakine adjustable foot straps
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Next: Sandboarding in Southern California’s Beach Dunes


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