Hiking across sand dunes is an experience that should be on everybody’s bucket list. There’s something so surreal about climbing up a massive hill of sand and seeing only sand and more sand for miles. For one, the serene and peaceful beauty is disarming. You can’t help but be grateful that our planet has beautiful sights like this for us to enjoy. Secondly, it feels really good to walk barefoot through the soft, powdery sands.
The Imperial Sand Dunes are amazing for another reason—they’re convenient to access! Located only about two hours outside of San Diego, these dunes are accessible to anyone in Southern California or Arizona.
About the Imperial Sand Dunes
The Imperial Sand Dunes National Recreation Area is a beautiful desert park located in Imperial County. As the name indicates, the park is famous for its picturesque sand dunes that stretch on for miles. In fact, the sand dunes within the park are the largest mass of sand dunes in all of California.
Located in the southeast corner of the State of California, the sand dunes also border Arizona. The closest nearby cities to the Imperial Sand Dunes are Yuma, AZ and Mexicali, Baja California.
Directions to Imperial Sand Dunes
The Imperial Sand Dunes are located along Gecko Road, which can be accessed via Route 78. Once you turn onto Gecko Road, you’ll start seeing the sand dunes on the left hand side of the road.
The Dunes get larger as you drive further down the road, so feel free to drive for a while before you park your car to get out and explore. Do note that Gecko Road is a dead end, so you will have to turn back at some point.
Once you’re in the park, it can be helpful to view this Imperial Sand Dunes Map to get your bearings.
Planning Your Visit
Since the Imperial Sand Dunes are located in a desert region of Southern California, it can get very hot in the summer. It is often over 100 degrees (!) in summer months. This means that you’re better off visiting in autumn, winter, or spring if you don’t want to melt like a human popsicle.
Another thing to take into account is the time of day that you visit. We got up very early to catch the sunrise over the sand dunes, which was incredibly beautiful. If you’re able to get up super early to see it for yourself, we highly recommend it.
Camping & Recreation
Camping in recreational vehicles is allowed at the Imperial Dunes National Recreation Area. There were a ton of RVs parked in the various lots along Gecko road when we visited. Permits are required from October 1 through April 15 each year. Permits are $35 per week in advance and $50 per week if purchased onsite. Season permits are $150. You can get your permits here.
Dune buggies are also very common. We saw multiple people enjoying the sand by cruising around in dune buggies during our visit. Having never been on a dune buggy before, we can’t attest to the quality of the sand for driving around. However, it did look like the people in dune buggies were having a pretty stellar time.
As we were leaving the Sand Dunes, we accidentally stumbled upon Osborne Overlook. It’s a really great place to get scenic views of the dunes without having to walk too far. Plus, there are bathrooms!
To get to Osborne Overlook, head back towards Route 78 on Gecko Road. Then, turn right onto Route 78. Osborne overlook will be on your right hand side less than a mile down the road. There are big signs for it–you can’t miss it.
We had a blast visiting the Imperial Sand Dunes. Here are a few things we would recommend based on our experience.
- Wear layers. Deserts are known for their extreme temperatures. This means that it can be really cold at night but really hot during the day. Layer up to ensure you can be comfortable—regardless of what weather comes.
- Bring a blanket. It’s so relaxing and serene spending time on the dunes, so bring a blanket so that you can sit down and take a breather. We wish we would have brought something comfortable to sit on.
- Wear sandals. If you wear any type of sneakers, the sand will just fill up at the bottom of your shoes. Sandals allow you to walk around quickly with your feet somewhat protected, but sand isn’t able to stay trapped in your shoe.
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