From hiking to off-roading to sandboarding, America’s sand dunes have something to offer every type of adventurer.
Sand dunes are completely underestimated. It’s easy to dismiss them as large piles of sand, but in reality, they are mountains of sand that tower up from desert valleys, alongside rugged coastlines, and near epic mountain ranges. Wind constantly shapes and reshapes them to creating ever-changing landscapes: they shift, they sing, they sparkle. Sand dunes are one of the coolest natural phenomena on the planet. Each provides its own opportunities to hike, watch wildlife, board, sled, and camp. From Death Valley’s desert sand dunes to Oregon’s sculpted dunes, here are ten of the coolest sand dune the United States.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
WHERE: Kanab, Utah
Winds in southern Utah are so strong, they can push the dunes up to 50 feet per year. For thousands of years, those same winds slowly eroded red sandstone formations leaving behind an ocean of uninterrupted salmon-pink sand dunes. The Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is as popular with photographers as it is with off-roaders because of the picturesque scenery. Whether you are sandboarding, hiking, riding ATVs, or horseback riding, make sure you schedule your activities for sunset. As you watch the fading sunlight bounce off of the pink sand, you will not be disappointed.
Monahans Sandhills State Park
WHERE: Monahans, Texas
The 3,480 acres that form Monahans Sandhill State Park are just a drop in the bucket of the 200-mile sand belt that extends into New Mexico. The famous West Texas winds continuously create ripples in the sand and sculpt the sand dunes into peaks and valleys, sometimes overnight. Roadrunners, lizards, and other desert animals are a common seen scurrying through the desert.
Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes
WHERE: Empire, Michigan
If you want more than just sand in your sand dune park, head to Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes in upper Michigan. With 35 miles of sandy shoreline, miles of sweeping vistas, 70,000 acres of protected wilderness, bluffs, lush forest, clear lakes, and more greenery as the eye can see, it is no wonder this park is named the most beautiful place in America time and time again. The view from the top of the 300-foot Dune Climb is well worth the calf-burning effort to climb the sandy hill.
White Sands National Park
WHERE: Dona Ana County, New Mexico
New Mexico’s glistening white sands at White Sands National Park are one of the world’s great natural wonders. The miles upon miles of rare, stark-white gypsum sand contrasted with the deep blue sky make the location a favorite on Instagram. If you want to do more than just take photos of the great white expanse, there are several hiking trails and sand sledding available. Don’t be afraid to take your shoes off. White sand does not absorb heat, so even on the hottest days the sand will not burn the bottom of your feet.
Imperial Sand Dunes
WHERE: Brawley, California
The largest sand dune fields in southeastern California’s Imperial Sand Dunes might look familiar to Star Wars fans. Directors used the massive desert as the filming location for the scene in Episode V: Return of the Jedi when Luke Skywalker tries to free his friends. The barren landscape near the Arizona border was also a filming location for Jarhead and The Scorpion King. Stop here to reenact your favorite Star Wars scene, or simply hike, climb, or slide down the sand dunes.
Sand Master Park
WHERE: Florence, Oregon
Sand Master Park is the world’s first park built specifically for sandboarding. The niche extreme sport, similar to snowboarding, has risen in popularity during the last two decades. In 2000, sandboarding enthusiast Lon Beale opened the park with 40-acres of sculpted sand dunes, a 40-foot ramp, and a full-time pro shop. Lessons make the park a great stop for newbie-sandboarders as well.
Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park
WHERE: Mountain Home, Idaho
Visit Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park for the tallest single sand dune in North America and stay for the stars. Climbing the monster 470-foot dune is no small feat, but it is worth it for the views from the top. Rent a sandboard or a sled to get back down quickly. The fun does not stop once the sun goes down. These dunes are protected from light pollution because they are home to Idaho’s one and only public observatory. When it gets dark, it gets really dark, letting you see an explosion of stars, planets, and the Milky Way.
Jockey’s Ridge State Park
WHERE: Nags Head, North Carolina
The western half of the United States has the majority of the country’s sand dunes, but with Jockey’s Ridge State Park, the East Coast still represents. The towering sand dunes here are the tallest in the Eastern United States and make the coastal town of Nags Head look like the Arizona desert. Shifting winds constantly shape and reshape the 420-acre park and make for great kite flying and hand gliding, the park’s two most popular sports. Hang gliding is one of the park’s most popular activities. Although the Wright Brothers flew their homemade gliders five miles north, the smooth wind makes Jockey’s Ridge an ideal location for aviation recreation.
Eureka Sand Dunes
WHERE: Death Valley, California
The Eureka Sand Dunes are not the tallest or the steepest dunes on the list, but they are the loudest. The dunes are one of a handful around the world that experience the auditory phenomenon known as singing sands. If the sand is completely dry, it will make a low rumbling noise similar to the bass note of a pipe organ during an avalanche. Or, after hiking up the dune, shuffle your feet against the sand on your way down to hear the sand sing. Scientists do not know what exactly causes the sand to make noise.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
WHERE: Mosca, Colorado
No list of American sand dunes would be complete without mentioning the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. The 30-square-mile park is known for having the tallest dunes in Northern America. The highest is an impressive 750 feet above sea level. Not only that, the area is the quietest area in the United States, ensuring a good night sleep after all that dune climbing.