A trailless hike through Death Valley’s most famous sand dunes.
|Total Distance: 2.2 miles out & back||Elevation Gain: 260ft. (-37ft. to 88ft.)|
|Difficulty: Easy||0-5 Mile Difficulty: Moderate|
|View Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0 stars||Author’s Rating: 3.0 out of 5.0 stars|
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|Pets: No||Horses: No|
|Best Seasons: November to April||Special Permits: None|
|Water Availability: None||Overnight Options: None|
|Trailhead Amenities: Restrooms||Crowd Factor: Moderate to Crowded|
|Trailhead Access: 0.6|
Mile-by-Mile: Mesquite Sand Dunes
0.0 Mesquite Sand Dunes Trailhead (-31ft.). Walk out toward the sand dunes. There is no official trail, so just do your best to head for one of the taller dunes. (36.606263°, -117.115450°)
1.1 Top of high dune (88ft.). This is the top of one of the taller or possibly the tallest sand dune. Enjoy the views of the surrounding area before walking back to your vehicle. (36.619898°, -117.113271°)
History & More
I don’t consider the Mesquite Sand Dunes to be the most fun of the sand dunes in Death Valley, but its easy-access location makes up for the lack of height and prominence in the dunes. You can go here at sunrise or sunset and still not be too far from your lodging, stop on your way between two parts of the park, or just hang out for a bit in the cooler times of year.
Sand dunes such as these form as windblown sand and dust hit the mountains – and drop. Over time, the sand accumulates to create dunes.
The Mesquite Sand Dunes have been used as the backdrop in many movies and television shows, including Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope and Star Wars Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi. In the latter, the dunes were used as the filming location for C3PO and R2D2’s desert walk through Tatooine.
In 1948, park ranger and songwriter Stan Jones ( “Ghost Riders in the Sky”) supervised the filming of John Ford’s “3 Godfathers” movie. The ranger was on-site to make sure no park rules were broken in the process of filming. Stan also informed John Ford that he wouldn’t get any water out of the cactus he was using for survival on-camera. At first rather offended by the park ranger’s interruption, John became friends with Stan and the two conducted profitable business for many years.
If you want a destination – rather than just wandering around the dunes, which is what most people do – you can hike about a mile out to the sand dune that appears to be the tallest one. The sand dunes are sort of like ridges, expect to go up and down quite a bit as you walk. I also found it difficult to walk in bare feet due to the abundance of desert plants that somehow find their way through the sand to water deposits below.
Once at the tallest dune, enjoy the extreme silence. They say that Yellowstone in the winter and the middle of a dune field are two of the quietest places in America – the sand (and snow) absorbs all sound, and you’re left alone hearing almost nothing.
Note that the top of the tallest dune may move – the shifting sands are constantly windblown and sculpted into different shapes, positions, and ripples.
Download Trail Map
Take CA-190 1.8 miles east of Stovepipe Wells or 22.4 miles northwest of the Furnace Creek Visitor Center to the marked Mesquite Sand Dunes parking area.
Leave No Trace Principles are enforced
Drones and model aircrafts are prohibited
Camping is permitted only in designated sites or in areas open to dispersed backcountry camping
All park rules and regulations
12 Month Pass: $55/Death Valley Annual Pass (valid at Death Valley National Park). $80/America the Beautiful Annual Pass (valid at all national park and federal fee areas). $20/Annual Senior Pass (62 years or older US citizens; valid at all national park and federal fee areas). Free/4th Grade Pass (Valid Sept. 1-August 31 of the child’s 4th Grade school year). Free/Military Pass (valid for all active military personel and their dependents with a CAC Card or DD Form 1173).
Lifetime Pass: $80/Lifetime Senior Pass (62 years or older US citizens; valid at all national park and federal fee areas). Free/Access Pass (available to all US citizens with perminent disabilities). Free/Access for Veterans and Gold Star Families Pass (valid for all military and veterans with a CAC card, Veteran HJealth Identification Card, Veteran ID Card, or veteran’s designation on state-issued drivers license or identification card.)