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Sand Spots: Where To Take Your 4x4 In The Sand

Posted in Features on November 14, 2016
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Photographers: Cole QuinnellClifton SlayManufacturer

If you have sand fever and the only cure is running your 4x4 across gritty beaches and dunes, we got you covered. We searched high and low to find the larger, more popular 4x4 accessible sand hotspots. We have all four corners of the United States covered and everything in between Alaska, Florida, Washington, Michigan, and California. We’re sure we left out a few, so if you have a favorite sand hotspot, drop us a line at editor@fourwheeler.com and tell us about it. We love photos, too! In the meantime, fire up the GPS, prep your 4x4, choose the location you wish to visit and then hit up it’s website for the most up-to-date information and start planning your cross-country sandcation.

Alaska

Knik River Public Use Area
Most of the dunes in Alaska are located within the confines of a national park, so 4x4s are not allowed. However, the small dunes along the Knik River allow 4x4 and OHV use. There is also a 22-mile trail, which follows the river up to Knik Glacier. There is a wide variety of terrain and the area is open year-round. However, it can get very muddy during the spring thaw. There is no use fee, plenty of room to park large trailers, and you can camp anywhere in the area. Only a few miles away is the town of Palmer, which has food, fuel, restaurants, and even a Starbucks for those that can’t survive without their fancy coffee.
Information: knikriver.alaska.gov

Arizona

Cinder Hills OHV Area
Cinder Hills is made up of about 13,500 acres that has been designated for off-highway use. The terrain isn’t exactly covered in fine sand but rather coarse volcanic cinders. You are required to stay on the dense network of trails through areas with trees and brush, although unrestricted use is generally allowed in most areas with little or no vegetation. Cinder Hills was once used by NASA in the late ’60s to early ’70s to replicate the surface of the moon for rover vehicle testing and astronaut training. Dispersed camping is allowed in the Cinder Hills OHV area, which is conveniently located 12 miles northeast of Flagstaff, where you have access to food, fuel, hotels, parts, and other amenities.
Information: www.fs.usda.gov/main/coconino/home

California

Dumont Dunes OHV Area
Dumont Dunes OHV area includes 8,150 acres and is easily recognized from a distance by the tall sand dunes that reach up several hundred feet from the desert floor. The summer and spring months are deathly hot, so winter is usually the best time of year to visit. Visitors to the dunes need a pass for each vehicle driven into the dunes—not for your towed trailer and green-sticker vehicles in your truck or trailer but only for the primary vehicle you drive in with when you enter and exit. Weekly non-holiday passes run $30 and holiday weekend passes are $40. Seasonal passes are also available. The onsite fee machines at Dumont Dunes take credit cards only. However, you can purchase passes from offsite vendors as well.

All vehicles must have a muffler or spark arrester and must be either street-legal or be registered as an off-highway vehicle. All OHVs must have a whip and red or orange flag. Possession or use of any glass container, empty or not, used for carrying any liquid for drinking purposes is prohibited. Camping is allowed anywhere within the riding area as long as it doesn’t block travel on a road.

Dumont Dunes is inconveniently located about 30 miles north of Baker. It’s a long drive to get supplies, parts, and fuel so make sure you have everything you need before hitting the sand. The Dumont Dunes Off-Highway Vehicle Area consists of several riding opportunities. The “Little” dunes are more forgiving to novice and intermediate drivers. The main dune field consists of steep dunes with sharp razorbacks and deep witches eyes. Lighter 4x4s with plenty of horsepower and paddles will fair far better than heavy underpowered rigs on street tires. The historic Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad can be seen to the east, and there are lots of areas for hiking, rock scrambling, rock hounding, and bird-, and wildlife-watching in the hills away from the dunes.
Information: blm.gov

Imperial Sand Dunes/Glamis
California is ripe with many different OHV areas with sand dunes, but the largest by far is the Imperial Sand Dunes or Algodones Dunes. The Imperial Sand Dunes include Mammoth Wash at the north end, Glamis/Gecko just south of State Highway 78, and Buttercup Valley just south of Highway 8 near the Mexico-U.S. border. When combined, these three areas allow off-road use on over 118,000 acres of sand dunes. The most popular area is Glamis, which is located 20 miles east of Brawley. The town of Brawley has food, fuel, parts, hotels, and more.

Permits are required in the Imperial Sand Dunes from October 1 through April 15. Seven-day permits are available onsite for $50 or at a discounted price offsite and online for $35. Yearly permits are also available. Glass beverage containers and pallet burning are prohibited. Safety flags are required on all vehicles in the Imperial Sand Dunes recreation area. The whip mast must extend 8 feet from the ground and have a 6-inch by 12-inch red/orange flag. Despite the temptation on hot days, swimming in the canal located on the western end of the dunes is prohibited. The ranger and police presence is extreme on holiday weekends. In some cases, even help from the National Guard has been utilized. If you’re looking to cause trouble, don’t bother going to Glamis. You’ll be ousted quickly.

The summer months are slow because of excessive heat, but the cooler winter months bring tens of thousands of off-road enthusiasts. Halloween, Thanksgiving, New Year’s, and President’s Day are among the most popular weekends. During the busy season, many different vendors set up booths near the Glamis Beach Store where you can find burgers, parts, safety flags, T-shirts, and more.
Information: blm.gov

Oceano Dunes SVRA
The Oceano Dunes SVRA, often called the Pismo Dunes, is located about 12 miles south of San Luis Obispo. It is the only area in the state of California that allows driving and camping right on the beach, as well as in the adjacent sand dunes. The Oceano Dunes SVRA is made up of about 3,500 acres, 2,000 acres of which is set aside as a buffer/preserve. During the Snowy Plover nesting season (March - September), the SVRA area is reduced from 1,500 acres to about 1,100 acres. The town of Oceano borders the entrance to the SVRA and has hotels, food, parts, campgrounds, and more.

Many campers become stuck in the sand en route to the camping area, so air down your tires prior to hitting the beach and stay on the packed wet sand with heavy trailers and motorhomes. Access to the OHV and camping area may be restricted periodically by the Arroyo Grande Creek, which is subject to water releases and increased flow during winter storms. Deep sand, rushing water, and unrelenting high tides have submarined more than a few trucks, travel trailers, and motorhomes. Be sure to camp away from the waves, or you might find yourself floating away in the middle of the night. Strong winds are not uncommon. They push the sand particles up into wave-like crests that run north-south, making the east or leeward side of the dune slopes very steep. Be ready for the dropoff when you drive over the dunes. You’ll be tempted to speed along the water’s edge; however, the speed limit is 15 mph on the beach and within 50 feet of any camp or group of people.

The Oceano Dunes SVRA issues only a limited number of day use and camping permits. Holiday and larger event weekends can sell out quickly, so plan ahead and purchase your reservations early.
Information: blm.gov

Colorado

North Sand Hills SRMA
The North Sand Hills SRMA is the only OHV sand recreation area in the state of Colorado. It’s located 15 miles northeast of Walden and features 300 acres of dunes and 1,400 acres total within the SRMA, all at a mountainous elevation of 8,500 feet. Primitive dry camping is available and the only facilities are two vault toilets. Some of the dispersed campsites have shade trees. There are no use fees for the area. The burning of pallets, construction material, and flammable liquids is prohibited. Wood collecting is limited to dead and downed trees only. There are many hiking opportunities through the sage brush, aspens, and open dunes. Government Creek on the northeastern side of the dunes offers shade and a cool place to dip your tired feet.

Motorized off-road travel is limited to the open sand dunes and existing open trails. Riding over vegetation is strictly prohibited. The speed limit is 15 mph around dispersed camps and the developed campground has a speed limit of 10 mph.

None of the surrounding towns are very large, so you best pack all you need. The town of Walden is small too, but it has food, fuel, and some hotel accommodations.
Information: blm.gov

Florida

Daytona Beach
Daytona Beach may not be known for extreme four-wheeling, but it is well known for a variety of other reasons, including the 23 miles of wide, hard-packed sand that hosted the first automobile and motorcycle races in 1902. Today, you can still enjoy driving on Daytona Beach. However, access is limited. Some areas are car-free. Beach access points can be found along the Atlantic Highway, also known as A1A.

Daytona Beach driving requires a fee of $10 per vehicle, which allows for an entire day of beach driving and parking. The beach speed limit is 10 mph. You are also required to drive with headlights on and windows down. No texting and driving. Beach access is dependent on tide conditions.
Information: daytonabeach.com

Idaho

St. Anthony Sand Dunes
The St. Anthony Sand Dunes are the largest in Idaho and located 50 miles northwest of Idaho Falls. The closest town, St. Anthony, is 10 miles to the east and Rexburg is located about 11 miles south. You can find food, fuel, and other amenities at both locations. Several campsites and RV parks surround the dunes, including Egin Lake Campground, Idaho Dunes RV Park, and Sand Hills Resort.

The St. Anthony dunes cover 10,600 acres of land with some dunes towering as high as 500 feet. A day use fee of $5 per vehicle/per day is required. Season passes are also available. All vehicles must be equipped with a whip and brightly colored flag that reaches 8 feet above ground level. The best time to visit is spring through fall. Summer temperatures cause the sands to reach more than 100 degrees. The Deadhorse Bowl is a popular attraction. It’s 1-mile in circumference, 400 feet deep, and located in the western section of the dunes. The St. Anthony Dunes are closed seasonally in winter from January 1 to April 1 or May 1 annually.
Information: blm.gov

Kansas

Syracuse Sand Dune Park
The Syracuse Sand Dune Park is located outside the town of Syracuse, which is about 15 miles east of the Colorado border. The park features 1,300 acres of low-rolling dunes, with some bowls, small hills, and a few trails for exploration. The tallest dune is less than 150 feet. The fee to use the park is $5 per driver, $100 for an individual annual pass, and $25 for each additional immediate family member annual pass. Whip flags are required and must be 10 feet in height from the ground with a 6-inch by 12-inch flag attached within 10 inches of the whip’s tip. The flag must be bright red or bright orange with no writing. No glass or alcoholic beverages are allowed in the park.

When you are done with the dunes, there is a 40-acre fishing pond you can drop your line into. Dry camping spots and spots with full hookups are available at the park. Syracuse has food, fuel, parts, RV parks, and hotels.
Information: syracusesandpark.com

Michigan

Silver Lake State Park
The Silver Lake dunes cover an area of about 2,000 acres. However, only about 450 acres are available for off-highway vehicle use. There are no camping areas with direct access to the dunes, but the town of Silver Lake is right on the edge of the park and has many campgrounds, RV parks, and hotels. Food, fuel, and other entertainment is also readily available.

The off-road vehicle area is open from April 1 through October 31. Parking is limited. The spots are 12 feet by 60 feet in size. If you plan to visit during a busy weekend and need a parking or staging spot, be sure to get a parking voucher as early as possible. Vouchers are free to park visitors and are distributed from the Off-Road Vehicle Welcome Center located at the corner of Fox and Ridge Roads, about 1/4-mile east of the ORV area entrance. Access to the ORV area and dunes is stopped 1/2-hour ahead of closing time, every evening. All vehicles entering the park must display a Michigan annual ORV license in addition to an annual Michigan ORV trail permit. Signage and fences direct traffic in a clockwise rotation. Traveling the opposite direction is not permitted in high dune areas. A whip with a rectangular safety-orange flag that reaches 10 feet above the ground is required on all ORVs.
Information: michigan.gov/dnr/

Nevada

Winnemucca Dunes
Much like California, Nevada enjoys an abundance of sand dune areas. The Winnemucca Dunes is the largest dune field in the state. The dunes are typically less than 100 feet tall, but span almost 40 miles. The area is a mix of sand trails and open dunes. The largest section of the dunes is a combination of BLM and privately owned land. The Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 granted every other square mile for 25 miles on both sides of the Central Pacific Railroad right-of-way to pay for the construction of the first transcontinental railroad. Dune use and camping are free. A whip flag that extends 8 feet from the ground is required. Because much of the land in the dunes is privately owned, damage to the environment and vegetation is prohibited. Firewood containing nails, screws, or other metal hardware is not allowed. There is no trash collection, so pack out whatever you bring in.

The main camp for the Winnemucca Dunes is off of highway 95, 10 miles north of Winnemucca on the west side of the highway. It is very close to Highway 95, so if road noise is an issue, it’s not the place for you. Because the camp area is just a few acres, maneuvering large motorhomes and trailers may be difficult on a busy weekend. Winnemucca is a medium-sized town with plenty of access to food, fuel, parts, and accommodations.
Information: blm.gov

New Mexico

Mescalero Sands North Dune OHV Area
The Mescalero Sand Dunes are located 36 miles east of Roswell. It’s made up of 610 acres of mostly vegetated dunes, the tallest of which reach about 90 feet above the desert floor. The road into Mescalero Sands can easily support trucks and buses, but the soft sand off of established roads and parking lots is not. The BLM does not recommend leaving the surfaced areas in any vehicle other than an all-terrain vehicle. The Bowl Parking Area offers access to the northern portion of the dunes, which includes the Bowl. The Bowl is a large depression surrounded by dunes. The Cottonwood Site provides access to the southern portion of the dunes. There are trails which connect both dune sections.

RV camping is allowed in the north, middle, and south parking lots. Dispersed camping is allowed away from the parking lots in the dunes. Picnic tables and shelters are available at the Bowl Parking Area and the Cottonwood Site has three shelters equipped with picnic tables and grills. A restroom is located at the Cottonwood Site, but there is no water available at Mescalero Sands. You can find fuel, supplies, and accommodations in Roswell, Hagerman, and Dexter.
Information: blm.gov

North Carolina

Outer Banks
The Outer Banks rewards 4x4 owners with a variety of things including stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean and access to some fabulous fishing spots. We’ve been there, and it’s awesome. If you are looking for a place to drive aggressively and spin your tires in the sand like a 16-year-old in a rental car, this isn’t it. Many Outer Banks beaches are open to 4x4 travel, but there are enforced rules in place. It’s also important to note that some areas are subject to closure at times for environmental reasons. As with any sand area, read up on the area you wish to visit before you go.

Hatteras, Frisco, and the stretch of beach north of Corolla are especially interesting to explore. There are no “roads” on the North and South Core Banks barrier islands, only 4x4 tracks. The Core Banks can be reached by vehicle ferries. We’ve been to the South Core Banks, and it’s stunning. Our 4x4 was ferried to the island and unloaded on the beach. When we went in the month of May, the island was almost deserted, too.

Kitty Hawk is well known for its aviation history and the Wright brothers; Duck is considered the most pet-friendly beach in the United States; Buxton is known for having the tallest lighthouse in the U.S.; and Rodanthe, Waves, and Salvo are known for big waves. Rental homes, rental cottages, and campgrounds are abundant along the Outer Banks and the coast is riddled with small shops and restaurants where you can find food and other supplies.
Information: outerbanks.org

Oklahoma

Little Sahara State Park
The Little Sahara State Park features 1,600 acres of sand dunes ranging in height from 25 to 75 feet. It is located four miles south of Waynoka, where you can find food, fuel, and other supplies. The dunes formed over time from terrace deposits, remnants of when the Cimarron River flowed over the entire area.

The park offers amenities such as 86 RV sites with water and electricity, 143 tent sites, picnic areas, and showers. Concessions are offered in the park seasonally. The cost is $10 per day per driver to enter the dunes. All vehicles must have a whip that extends 10 feet from the ground with a 6-inch by 12-inch flag attached within 10 inches of the whip tip. It must be bright solid orange in color with no writing. A rollbar able to support the weight of the vehicle and seat belts for all passengers are required for 4x4 vehicles. Glass containers and all alcoholic beverages are prohibited in the dune area. The park is open year-round, but some of the campsites close for winter.

Oregon

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area
Oregon is another state which is littered with sand dunes, only most of them are located along the coastline. The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area covers the coast for nearly fifty miles, from the mouth of the Siuslaw, to Cape Blanco at Coos Bay. In places, dunes as high as 500 feet extend 2 1/2 miles inland. There are three separate dune areas at the Oregon Dune National Recreation Area. Florence in the north, Winchester Bay (Umqua Dunes) in the middle, and Coos Bay is in the south. You cannot travel between these three areas without hitting the pavement. The Florence area features mostly sand roads and designated routes between South Jetty to the Siltcoos River. The Umpqua area near Winchester Bay offers the highest and most dramatic dunes, while Spinreel and Horsfall near Coos Bay/North Bend features larger areas with a variety of dunes.

The recreation area headquarters and information center is located in Reedsport. There are many different campground opportunities around all three OHV areas. Several different towns along highway 101 including Coos Bay, North Bend, Glasgow, Hauser, Winchester Bay, and Florence offer food, fuel, and accommodations.
Information: fs.usda.gov

Texas

The Dunes at Kermit
The Dunes at Kermit are a privately owned belt of mostly low-rolling dunes. The main entrance is located about 10 miles northeast of Kermit, but the dunes spread 100 miles through Winkler, four other Texas Counties, and on into New Mexico. The width of the dunes varies from 3 to 20 miles, and some of the dunes are more than 70 feet tall.

The nearby town of Kermit has food, fuel, and accommodations. The Sandhills Park is a developed camping area with electricity and water hookups. Vehicle registration is not required, but headlights and taillights are mandatory at night. The park is open any time for camping. All users must sign a waiver and follow all posted rules. Pricing is $10 per rider, $5 for a campsite, and $30 for electric service per day.
Information: facebook.com/kermitdunes

Utah

Little Sahara Recreation Area
The Little Sahara Recreation Area is made up of 60,000 acres of sagebrush flats, Juniper-covered hills, and free-moving sand dunes, including the 700-foot Sand Mountain. The dunes are located about 100 miles south of Salt Lake City. Delta and Eureka are the nearest towns with supplies, fuel, and accommodations, but they are quite a distance from the recreation area. A special recreation permit fee includes use of all facilities within the Little Sahara Recreation Area boundary. There are four different camp areas, including White Sands with 100 campsites, Oasis with 115 campsites, Jericho for large groups, and the Sand Mountain primitive camping and staging area. A one-night permit is $18 per vehicle, which expires at dusk the following day (2 day, 1 night). Permits can be purchased at the visitor center, pay booth, or at the self-registration station. Annual permits are also available. Drinking water is available year-round at the water-fill station located 1/4-mile past the visitor center and in the campgrounds during frost-free months.
Information: blm.gov

Sand Hollow State Park
The 20,000-acre Sand Hollow State Park is one of the most visited destinations in the Utah State Park system. The park is located about 15 miles east of St. George and it’s covered with 15,000 acres of dark red sand dunes. Inside the park you’ll find several different campgrounds and a store. Just outside the entry gate is the Sand Hollow Resort and golf course. The nearest towns of St. George, Washington, and Hurricane have food, fuel, parts, and accommodations.

The park day use fee is $10 and a brightly colored whip flag is required when driving in the sand dune areas. Lights must be used between sunset and sunrise. After a day in the dirt, you can wade into the 1,322-acre Sand Hollow reservoir or go boating, but beware of Swimmers Itch. Other nearby attractions include Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument, and the Dixie National Forest.
Information: stateparks.utah.gov

Washington

Juniper Dunes
Juniper Dunes is located about 35 miles northeast of Pasco. Pasco is a fairly large town with food, fuel, parts and accommodations. Juniper Dunes is a fee-free area with only dry camping. It consists of three adjoining areas made up of 19,600 acres. Each area has different use regulations. The 7,100-acre Juniper Dunes Wilderness area strictly prohibits motorized and mechanized use. The 3,920-acre open OHV area is designated as open to OHV use. Cross-country travel is allowed throughout the open area. The 8,620-acre Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) limits motorized travel to existing routes. No off-route travel is allowed here. Safety flags on whip masts are required.

Although Juniper Dunes is open to the public, portions of Peterson Road (the only access road into the area) are privately owned. Public access is contingent on the willingness of adjacent landowners to permit the public to cross their property to reach the BLM public lands. Other activities in the area include hiking and hunting.
Information: blm.gov

Moses Lake Sand Dunes
The Moses Lake Sand Dunes are on the southern tip of Moses Lake in the Grant County ORV Area. They are located about four miles south of the town of Moses Lake, where you can find food, fuel, parts, and accommodations. The dunes cover more than 3,000 acres. Camping is allowed, but there are no improvements. Burning pallets or tires is illegal.

The ORV area is open to the public 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with restrictions on major weekends like Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day weekends. The “yellow zone” is closed seasonally from October 1st to July 1st for nesting of migratory birds. A whip flag is required and it should measure in at 108 inches above the ground.
Information: grantcountywa.gov

Wyoming

Killpecker Sand Dunes
Killpecker Sand Dunes is the second largest active sand dune field in the world. These dunes are somewhat isolated in southern Wyoming, about 30 miles north of Rock Springs. Rock Springs has food, fuel, parts, and accommodations. The Greater Sand Dunes Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) is part of the larger Killpecker Sand Dunes. No motor vehicle traffic is allowed in some areas. However, the OHV open area is designed as multiple use. Part of the OHV area is an active producing gas field. There are a number of pipelines, tanks and valves in the area. Ever-changing winds can bury or expose them. Stay alert and avoid hitting them. Many of the dunes are very steep on the downwind side. There are also small ponds of water to avoid. Most of the ponds are on the steep downwind sides of the dunes.

The dirt road into the dune area is long and can be treacherous for heavy motorhomes and trailers. You may want to inspect your route before heading in if you are not familiar with the area.
Information: blm.gov

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