sand dunes in California

The state of California is the largest in the United States. It has many different natural wonders that can be found everywhere, and dunes are one example. A trip to California would not be complete without visiting at least one of these impressive dunes. I mean, who doesn’t love feeling like they are in a desert surrounded by some of the most beautiful natural landscapes?

There are 15 dunes to visit throughout the state, each with its unique characteristics and scenery. This blog post will introduce you to some of these best dunes for your next adventure!

1. Dunes near the Salton Sea / Dunes of Coronado National Monument

At first, I thought it was a little strange to put this destination first. However, these dunes are extraordinary because they have been designated as California Historical Landmark No. 554. This designation is given to “locations, places, buildings and structures which have been deemed worthy of preservation…as part of our heritage.” The significance of this protection for this site is easy to understand when you see how beautiful it is!

 The dunes are located in Imperial County called the Sand Hills or Tin Mountain. They were formed by shifting sands from the dry lakebeds and sandstorms over thousands of years. Techn, these dunes do not contain vegetation because there is no water source in the area, and they are constantly exposed to high amounts of wind. Even though these dunes may not be as tall or wide as other dunes in California, their uniqueness makes up for it!

2. Desert Sand Dunes State Park

This is another popular destination when visiting San Diego. This state park has the tallest dunes east of the Mississippi River, at 300ft! If you are looking for a more challenging hike with some better views, this is your destination. There isn’t anything else in the area except for endless sand and desert landscapes. The closest towns can be found by taking Hwy 94 East for about 5 miles to see Algodones or head south on I-8 10 miles towards Yuma, AZ.    

The best time of year to visit these dunes is April through September because it will not be as hot and allow for better hiking conditions. Just remember that if you get there during the summer months, the dunes can get up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. So it’s best to bring lots of water on your hike, dress appropriately for the weather, and wear STURDY shoes. This picture was taken at the beginning of May when it was still a little cold out!

3. Dumont Dunes / Mojave National Preserve

Here are another collection of dunes located just outside of Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley. There are two different types of dunes here: barchan (crescent-shaped) and star or linear dunes.

You can hike all of them if you choose, given that they are not too high of an incline. Please make sure you have enough water! The temperature can get up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit!

4. Sand Hills State Recreation Area / Eureka, CA

One of my favorite places for hiking in California is the Sandhills. This area has about 15 named dunes, and they range from 40 to 60 feet high, with a few smaller and one larger than that.

The highest recorded temperature here was 129 degrees Fahrenheit by the Weather Bureau on July 10th, 1905, so be sure always to bring enough water! Especially if you want to go during the warmer months of April through September because the temperatures can get higher, as I previously stated (sometimes as high as 120 degrees!)

5. Kelso Dunes / Mojave National Preserve

This is another excellent place worth checking out when visiting Death Valley. These are similar to the Sand Hills mentioned above because they are linear or star-shaped dunes. The temperatures here can get up to 115 degrees Fahrenheit so make sure you bring enough water! 

6. Glamis Sand Hills / Imperial County, CA

The Glamis sandhills consist of more star dunes, and they are one of the only spots in California where you can see a linear dune closer to a crescent-shaped one. I’m not exactly sure why they call them “Glamis,” but if it’s anything like Scotland, it must be magical!

It’s worth checking out if you’re driving around the Imperial Valley or near this location during your visit to Southern California!

7. Sand Dunes / San Diego

The last dunes location is located in San Diego, and they are known as Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. The hike up to the top of these dunes can be pretty challenging, depending on how high you go, but it’s worth it.

This area is also great for watching sunsets because you have a 360-degree view from top to bottom!  

8. Salton Sea / Salton City, CA

The last location I’d like to mention is the Salton Sea! This place is worth checking out because it’s one of the only salt lakes in California. It also happens to be artificial, which makes hiking here that much more enjoyable. You can combine this spot with nearby Bombay Beach if you choose, and you will see what I mean by “man-made.”

Please make sure you check out these locations during dry weather conditions because it can get dangerous if there has been recent rain. After all, flash floods are possible.  

9. The Anza-Borrego Dessert State Park / Borrego Springs, CA

The last area we’ll talk about is the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and this location has the potential to be the most dangerous place for hiking in California! Nevertheless, I recommend it because it offers a lot of incredible sights and extraordinary experiences. However, you’re going to need some expertise navigating through dunes before heading out here.

Do not try to go backpacking across these areas without an experienced guide or someone who has been there before. It might seem like you can get lost very quickly, but that’s pretty much one of the only ways to an area of isolation if you enjoy camping out on your own.

10. Honda Dune – Death Valley, CA

One of the most popular places in California for camping is Honda Dune which happens to be located at Death Valley National Park. It is one of the highest points in the park, standing at 6,285 feet, making it an excellent place to watch sunsets or sunrises! Please make sure you’ve had enough water and food before you head out here for this reason.

In addition, it’s a great location during the winter months as well because temperatures can get as chilly as 37 degrees Fahrenheit! You can also try snowshoeing over these areas if you’re not afraid of heights!      

11. Sand Mountain – Mojave National Preserve, CA

Here’s another linear dune you can hike up to from Sand Mountain located in California. It’s a pretty simple climb, so if you’ve already hiked other dunes and know how to navigate safely, then getting here should be no problem for you.

12. Kelso Dunes – Mojave National Preserve, CA  

Last on this list of dunes, but certainly, not least is the Kelso Dunes from the Mojave National Preserve. These are a lot larger than most locations that have been mentioned so far on here which makes them all that much more enjoyable! If you’re an experienced hiker and would like to try something a little more challenging, then I recommend checking these out for yourself.

Please make sure you bring enough water with you because it can get boiling during the summer months, and some spots may be difficult to climb up depending on how loose or compacted they are.

13. Land Park Dunes / Sacramento, CA

Last on this list of dune locations in the Land Park Dunes located in Sacramento. This park is considered the most significant urban open space in America, and it’s not uncommon to find people out there during any given day.

Many people go here for activities such as sledding or skiing down these areas, so if you’re up for an extreme winter sporty challenge, then I suggest visiting this place!

14. Del Dios Fenix Dunes / San Diego, CA  

Another great location from San Diego that’s worth checking out is the Del Dios area, where you can find giant dunes ranging anywhere from 3 to 10 feet high, known as Fenix Sand Dunes.

Many people enjoy visiting this location during the summer months as well as it’s considered to be one of the most popular off-road areas in America!

15. Monarch Wilderness – San Diego, CA

Lastly, I will mention the Monarch Wilderness, which is located along with San Diego and Mexico. This place has a great trail system and some giant dunes that you can hike up if you’re an experienced explorer who doesn’t mind carrying extra supplies.


I’m sure there’s at least one location here that you can visit yourself if you’re an experienced hiker who doesn’t mind taking some time to explore different areas of the mainstream!  

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