Imperial Sand Dunes Hiking & ATVing:
Want to feel like you are in the middle of Africa’s Sahara Desert? All you have to do is take a quick detour to the Imperial Sand Dunes (Algodones Dunes) southeast of the Salton Sea. The dunes are 3 miles wide and 15 miles long, and sitting at over 400 ft tall will make you feel like you are in Egypt.
Recreation Pass & Cost:
A Recreation Pass is required is you intend to hike for an extended period of time or operate an ATV. The cost is $25 if you buy it ahead of time or $40 if you wait to buy it when entering the park; passes are good for 7 days. A one year version is $90 early or $120 at the entrance. Passes can be purchased ahead of time by calling (800) 832-7664 or visiting the park’s ticket website. You can park to hike for free for up to 2 hours.
Hiking & Parking Off Highway 78:
If you are just looking to walk or hike out onto the dunes there are a few great spots where you can park for up to 2 hours with no fees required. The best spot is the Osborne Overlook sitting half way through the dunes. It sits on the top of the crest of one of the highest dunes which provides for some unbeatable views even if you don’t have time to hike. If you do plan on hiking make sure you are in one of the day hiker 2 hour spots to avoid a ticket. From the parking lot you simply walk right onto the dunes!
The only bathroom off Hwy 78 is a group of out houses about a mile East of Osborne Overlook. The only place to buy water, ect is the small convenience store at the far Eastern edge of the dunes which has no bathroom. If walking/hiking, please remember that this is a desert with little rain, no shade, and temps in excess of 100°F. If you are getting off of the crests of the dunes also keep an eye out for noticeable holes in the sand as they can contain spiders and snakes.
Hiking & Parking Off Highway 8:
If you are traveling along Hwy 8, there is a great spot to take a nice hike and experience the dunes first hand without having to buy a recreation pass. Just east of the public rest stop, take exit 156 and you will find yourself on the frontage road called Grays Well Rd which runs parallel to Hwy 8 on its south. The road itself will dead end but you can normally park next to the park host’s RV and take a great hike on foot in the dunes. Even on a short hike bring plenty of water and make sure to test the firmness of the ground off the road before you park to avoid getting stuck. Note that the Rest Stop lies between the two lanes of the Highway and does not provide dune access, you must exit Grays Well Rd to hike. If you continue down to the end of Grays Wells Rd you’ll run into the old floating, wooden plank road that was built across the dunes in 1916. In 1926 the plank road was replaced by the current highway.
ATVing At The Dunes:
The main activity at the dunes is all-terrain vehicle riding. From trucks, to buggies, to Jeeps, to dirt bikes people bring it all, but the most popular are 4-wheelers. There are races at the dunes from time to time, and a number of shops in the area will rent 4-wheelers and dune buggies to the public. Permits are require people who are camping or ATVing.
If you plan on exploring far from the road, we would recommend carrying a GPS device because once you get off the road the park is mainly just a 15×3 mile wide sandbox with minimal markers. While the giant dunes, and signs will keep on course once to get to the park, just make sure not to cross any marked military barriers as there are a number of military bombing sites located around the dunes. See map to the left for more park details and limits before starting your trip.