Last Updated on September 3, 2023

Dune climbing is no easy feat, but the challenge is what makes it such a fun and rewarding activity.

Climbing on sand dunes differs from hiking for the lack of trails and the fact that you are, well, attempting to climb on a huge pile of soft sand, inevitably ending up half step back after each step forward.

The lack of trails and the unstable nature of the sand make dune climbing more challenging than traditional hiking, but there are a few famous dunes where climbing is attempted as a popular recreational activity.

1. Sleeping Bear Dunes – Michigan

The Dune Climb is one of the most famous activities at the Sleeping Bear Dunes.

The climbing spot is located at the Dune Center, a pic-nic area with restrooms and a bookstore, and reaching the peak will reward you with a majestic view of Glen Lake.

Dune Climb - Sleeping Bear Sand Dune Michigan

2. Great Sand Dunes – Colorado

The Star Dune is the tallest dune in North America and an ideal pick for climbing if you are in for a challenge.

The whole area is surrounded by tall, climbable dunes and allows for incredible panorama views and opportunities for landscape photography.

Great Sand Dunes Colorado - Dune Climbing

3. Dune 7 – Namibia

Another dune amongst the tallest in the world, Dune 7 is an incredibly suggestive dune in the Namibian desert and quite a challenging climb.

Make sure to avoid the scorching sun of afternoon hours and to stick to the shady areas.

The sand in the Namib desert is over five million years old and has a distinctive red color, which makes for a truly unique hiking experience that is well worth the effort of climbing up this difficult dune.

Dune 7 - Namibia

4. Dune 45 – Namibia

Another popular climbing spot in Namibia is Dune 45, which is easily accessible from the road.

This dune is not as difficult as Dune 7, but it still makes for a challenging climb and decent cardio workout.

Make sure to head there just before sunset and bring plenty of water with you.

Dune 45 Namibia

How to climb a sand dune

Climbing up sand dunes is somewhat straighforward as long a you take the right precautions beforehand:

  1. Head to the dune in the early morning or evening when it’s not too hot;
  2. Make sure to be wearing proper desert footwear, don’t go barefoot unless you are sure the sand won’t get hot;
  3. Try to stick to shady areas;
  4. Bring plenty of water and remember to stay hydrated;
  5. Apply sunscreen cream every two hours or so.

Here are some tips on how to climb sand dunes safely:

  1. Wear sturdy shoes with good traction. The sand can be very soft and loose, so you need to make sure your feet don’t slip.
  2. Bring plenty of water and snacks. It can be very hot and dry in the desert, so it’s important to stay hydrated and fueled.
  3. Start slowly and gradually work your way up the dune. The sand is very tiring to walk in, so don’t try to go too fast.
  4. If you start to feel tired, take a break. There’s no shame in admitting that you’re not up to the challenge.
  5. Be aware of your surroundings. Sand dunes can be dangerous, so be sure to watch out for other people, wildlife, and any hazards such as cliffs or unstable sand.

Here are some additional tips:

  • If you’re climbing with a group, stay together. It’s easy to get lost in the sand dunes, so it’s important to stay within sight of each other.
  • If you’re climbing alone, let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to be back.
  • Don’t climb sand dunes at night. It’s too dangerous.
  • Respect the environment. Don’t leave any trash behind.

How hard is it to climb on a sand dune?

Dune climbing is harder than you think. Climbing on very steep sand dunes can be challenging and if you don’t pay attention every step you forward can turn into two steps backs.

It is rather common to feel fatigue when attempting to climb on top of a challenging dune.

Remember that it’s ok to take a break if you are feeling tired and that the way down is always easier.

Climbing on sand dunes
Sand dune climbing in Jordan. Photo courtesy of Verity Cridland.


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