Sand Dunes of Southern California

By -
Sand Dunes of Southern California

Friday April 20th, 2007
By: Staff Report

undefinedYou’ve heard the stories and more than likely, you’ve seen a few pictures of sand dunes. In recent years a few of the OEM’s have used sand dune photos in brochures and on TV commercials. There are many sets of dunes throughout the western half of the country, but there aren’t many as popular as those in southern California. We’ve put together some images and helpful information that will make you want to; “Go west young man”.

If you’ve been an ATV enthusiast for at least a couple of years, chances are you or someone you know have been to the Glamis or Dumont Dunes. They each offer a different adventure and have unique things about both of them.

When you ride for 15 or 20 minutes and turn back, it almost looks like an ocean of sand. It truly is an amazing sight to see so much sand.

The Glamis dunes are located in extreme southern California, north of Interstate 8 and south of State hwy 78. You’ll find what is officially called the Imperial Sand Dune Recreational Area (ISDRA), aka Glamis, on a map east of Brawley, CA. and west of Yuma, AZ. This area is the biggest sand dune riding area in the country. Let us make something clear, when we say the biggest; we mean the acreage of the sand, and not the tallest dunes. If you visit Glamis, it would be best to ride with someone who has already been undefinedthere. It’s big enough to get lost and if you find yourself needing help and don’t know where you’re at, it will just compound your problems. Because this area is so large, it has been broken up into different “regions” and named individually. The “Glamis” area is the northeastern. This is where the famous Glamis store is located and many vendors. The Eastern border of the ride area, the railroad tracks are visible from the store. South of the store are what is called the “washes” where people can camp. There are well over 20 washes. Another area is the southern most, that is south of Interstate 8 and ends at the Mexico border. This is called the Buttercup dunes. Don’t be surprised if you see the U.S. Border Patrol agents patrolling day and night. It’s hot spot for smuggling people and drugs across the border. Just north and a little west of Buttercup is Gordon’s Well that some call Dune buggy flats. This area may not be the most popular for the party crowds, but its one of the biggest sections that hasn’t had any closers. It also has a café (Duners Diner) that is open for breakfast lunch and dinner. We ate lunch there and was really impressed with the surroundings and staff. And the burger was good too.

We weren’t kidding, there really is a “Little Dune” section. No tall dunes, but plenty to enjoy for the youngsters.

The Dumont dunes are about 90 minutes southwest of Las Vegas, about 25 miles north of Baker, CA. Its acreage isn’t near as big, but it has dunes that are much taller in size. What is known as “comp hill” is one of the three tallest dunes in the U.S., somewhere in the 600 plus feet range. Those of you who are serious about drag racing will find some of the fastest quads around here on holiday weekends. There isn’t as many

If you’ve never seen a pack of Rhinos, it’s only because you’ve never been to the dunes. They are everywhere at Glamis.

smaller dunes at Dumont for the lesser experienced rider, but there are areas where youngsters can ride safely. Three miles down the road, there are smaller dunes connected via a trail that is called, “Little Dumont”. This campground is a perfect place for a family with young kids who are learning what dune riding is all about. There are no tall dunes, but a few that can teach young riders how to negotiate climbing in sand. And since it is connect to the main dunes, it’s only a 15 minute ride for the adults to have fun at the big stuff. There is a pay station at the entrance of both dunes (main and little) that accepts cash or credit card and prints you a receipt to put in the windshield. The main dune has a building where Rangers an be found and during office hours, there are people on duty to take money for permits. Otherwise if you get there late, use a pay station.

Glamis Permits
If you’re just visiting from out of state, you’ll still need a permit. A seven-day permit is . A full season is .  You can call (800) 278-0165 to purchase one. You might also need a California green sticker to ride an ATV in the state of CA. If your home state doesn’t issue a registration sticker of some kind, you’ll need to get a out of state sticker from a local dealership.

Dumont Permits
Annual permits are and weekly permits are . For more information on permits, call (760) 726-6055. For other general information try (760) 252-6000. You’ll need a whip flag on all OHV’s and helmets are required in California. And riding double on an ATV is an easy way to be fined at both dunes.  

If you’ve never been to a sand dune before, there are a few things you might want to know. We put together a list of helpful suggestions that could make your trip a little easier.

  1. Paddle tires
    Some people will tell you paddle tires are a must when ever riding in the sand. If you plan on doing a lot of racing or climbing, you’ll want them for sure. If you prefer to have maxim tire spin and being able to whip your rear tires around (if you have a solid rear axle) then you might want to stick with knobbies. What ever you choose, you’ll want to run them with less air than you do on a hard packed surfaces. Most duners will agree that 3 pounds of air is a good place to start.
  2. Always top off with gas
    If you ride on MX tracks, running out of gas isn’t something you worry about too much. Dune riding is a lot like taking those long trail rides. Every time you come back to camp, you’ll want to top off with fuel. Bringing plenty of fuel cans is another thing to consider. Most dunes are many miles from any town, and you want to bring plenty to last your entire time there. A five gallon can may only last a day if you ride long and fast.
  3. Be prepared for windy conditions
    It took wind to make sand, so you have to expect wind to be there at some point. If you stay at any dunes for 5-6 days and never experience wind, you’ve hit a calm time. This doesn’t mean every week has a wind storm either. The good news is; windy conditions normally will only last a few days at a time. It wouldn’t hurt bringing a few games or DVD’s to pass the time if you get stuck in a wind storm.
  4. Use caution when crossing the top of a dune
    First time duners are often so excited to climb a dune, they aren’t thinking about what is on the other side, at the top. In an extreme case, the top is like an upside down “V”. This is called a “razor”. Crossing it straight across can be very dangerous. It’s best to turn to the left or right just before making it to the top and looking over the other side, and then cross when it is safe. If you’re riding with lesser experienced riders, they may need to start with small dunes first and work there way up to taller dunes. Otherwise they can get separated from the group and lost.
  5. Night riding
    Once you get there, you’ll find that night riding can be a lot of fun…and it is. Before you do, you should first get to know the area. Riding a new dune area for the first time at night is a recipe for disaster. One thing about a dune area is; it can have elevation changes with little or no notice. If you’re cruising along and suddenly have a 2-3 foot (or more) drop-off and not ready for it, you can wind up upside down within seconds. When you’re climbing a dune at night, it’s not that easy to see the top in some cases, so you don’t know how high it is or how far up you’ve gone. It’s always best to ride the area in daylight before trying it at night.
  6. Bring all you’ll need
    Like we said before, there are no gas stations near most dunes. So if you’re going to need it while you’re there, take it with you. This means everything from water to electricity. Both dune ride spots have limited vault toilets in some areas, but neither of them have running water. If you want to shower, you’ll need an RV or take sponge baths.

A couple of websites that can be helpful are: and And if you’re a resident of the east coast, you may not know it, but there is actually a magazine, dedicated to sand duning, called Sand Sports. You can find out how to get a copy at  We hope these helpful hints will come in handy for those who might be planning a trip to a dune ride area. Something else to remember is packing out all your trash. Their dune motto is, if you bring it in, pack it out. Enjoy your trip and ride safe.  


If you were to come in the middle of the week, sometimes you’ll see guys who arrive in big trucks with names like Honda or Suzuki on the sides of them.

In the bigger open areas and on the big dunes, you’ll see the big V8 sand rails rippin’ it up. Some of these vehicles have 600+ horsepower!

From a distance of a half mile away, Comp Hill (on left side) doesn’t look that tall. But when you at the bottom looking up…it’s a little different story. If you want to make it to the top, you’ll need either a lot of power or paddles.

A nice thing about Dumont is, the camping area is flat and will allow you to stay very close to the dunes. Those traveling in large groups often make these “wagon wheels” to form an inner circle for camp fires and fellowship.

Comments ()