Coolest Sand Dunes in the U.S. to Explore

coolest sand dunes in the U.S.

There are many varying sand dunes in the U.S. but the seven I discuss in this post are the absolute coolest (in my humble opinion)! Sand dunes are extremely fun and offer plenty of adventurous opportunities for visitors. From climbing up to ATV-ing down, from sand boarding on to hang gliding off, from watching sunrise in the morning to stargazing at night – there are endless ways to enjoy this country’s awesome dunes! Even more, you’ll marvel in wonderment at how otherworldly and surreal these dune-scapes are in real life! I found myself questioning whether or not I had left this earthly realm and transported into a fantasy film. So magical.

โ„™๐• ๐•ค๐•ฅ โ„‚๐• ๐•Ÿ๐•ฅ๐•–๐•Ÿ๐•ฅ๐•ค:

โžผ White Sands National Park

โžผ Great Sand Dunes National Park

โžผ Grand Sable Dunes

โžผ Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

โžผ Jockey’s Ridge State Park

โžผ Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

โžผ Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

โžผ Additional Sand Dunes in the U.S. to visit!

<strong>Author:</strong> Mindy Michaels, <a href=
Author: Mindy Michaels, mindyonthemove.com

Main Photographer: Doug Michaels

My name is Mindy Rose Michaels and I am an avid adventurer and traveler.  I โ€œwork to travelโ€ (as I like to say) and thus, live a very unconventional life. My husband, Doug, and I are freelancers in the film industry and work on various reality/doc tv shows for a multitude of networks, such as: Travel Channel, Animal Planet, NBC, Discovery, A&E, Starz, HGTV etc.  Our work keeps us constantly moving and constantly on our toes AND, when weโ€™re not working, you best believe weโ€™re still on the move. Always. Because we love to travel as often and as far as possible.
coolest sand dunes in the U.S.

DISCLOSURE

THIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS AND I RECEIVE A COMMISSION IF YOU VISIT A LINK AND BUY SOMETHING ON MY RECOMMENDATION. PURCHASING VIA AN AFFILIATE LINK DOESNโ€™T COST YOU ANY EXTRA, AND I ONLY RECOMMEND PRODUCTS AND SERVICES I TRUST. ALL OPINIONS ARE MY OWN. FOR MORE DETAILS SEE MY DISCLOSURE AND PRIVACY POLICY.


COOLEST SAND DUNES IN THE U.S. TO EXPLORE:

White Sands National Park

  • coolest sand dunes in the U.S.
  • coolest sand dunes in the U.S.
  • coolest sand dunes in the U.S.
  • coolest sand dunes in the U.S.
  • coolest sand dunes in the U.S.
  • coolest sand dunes in the U.S.

Where is it?

White Sands National Park is located in southern New Mexico near the small town of Alamogordo, just northeast of Las Cruces.

What makes it so cool?

This place is AH-MAZING! White Sands are, undoubtedly, my favorite dunes in the entire country.  Never in my life had I known such a place existed within our own countryโ€™s borders, let alone is the largest of its kind on Earth (largest gypsum dunefield).  These expansive sand dunes are pure white โ€“ they sparkle underneath the crystal clear blue skies as the circling mountains provide the most picturesque backdrop.   Uniquely, the sand is composed of gypsum crystals which do not get hot in the sun.  Yes, you read that rightโ€ฆ you can freely walk barefoot on these dunes without melting the flesh on your poor soles.  

My husband, best friend and I played like children all day long among the wave-like sands.  We hiked up and over countless dunes, getting lost in the white abyss.  Running and jumping off the dune cliffs and rolling down the gypsum hills without a care in the world, truly living in the moment and enjoying every second.  

Must-do here:

Adding to the excitement, you can even rent sleds and sand boards at the parkโ€™s visitor center (or bring your own)!  It looks like snow and youโ€™re on a sled, howeverโ€ฆ youโ€™re in the middle of giant sand dunes in the desert of New Mexico: talk about mind bending and surreal!  Check out this link to read more about sledding in White Sands National Monument > Plan Your Visit: Sledding on the Dunes.   Your child-like wonder is sure to pique among this pristine, glistening white expanse.

Think thatโ€™s rad?  Wait until you experience the magic of a sunset here โ€“ all the dunes turn various shades of pink and purple.  Thereโ€™s backcountry camping on the dunes, as well, so after sunset you can set up camp and hunker down under the starry sky for the night.  Itโ€™s an adventurerโ€™s paradise.   Itโ€™s so different from every other place in the country, you canโ€™t miss the chance to experience White Sands National Monument for yourself.  I promise you, itโ€™s a dream.

I loved this place so much that it even made my ultimate list: The 22 Most Surreal Destinations in the U.S. West. Check out my entire post below for more U.S. travel inspiration.


COOLEST SAND DUNES IN THE U.S. TO EXPLORE:

Great Sand Dunes National Park

  • coolest sand dunes in the U.S.

Where is it?

Great Sand Dunes National Park is in southern Colorado and the closest city is Alamosa, Colorado.

What makes it so cool?

For starters, this park boasts the tallest sand dune in the United States, called Star Dune, towering 750 feet high. Even more, Great Sand Dunes National Park’s elevation, at 8,200 feet, and rural location make it a favorite with dark sky enthusiasts, stargazers and photographers. In fact, it’s so rural that it’s practically in the middle of nowhere as far as the lower 48 is concerned. It’s truly a peaceful and quiet getaway with some unique and quirky stops along the way. For instance, we saw an alien lookout post en route to Great Sands (I guess the middle of nowhere is as good of place as any for alien visitors).

Furthermore, the park’s diverse landscape makes it an even bigger treasure with all its grasslands, wetlands, conifer and aspen forests, alpine lakes, and tundra. After a day of exploring the dunes, take some time to roam about and hike the park’s mountainside with trails such as Mosca Pass Trail and Upper Sand Creek Lake Trail.

Must-do:

Other than climbing Star Dune (you must climb the tallest dune in the country, after all) and hiking throughout the mountains, be sure to rent a 4WD Jeep from Pathfiinders 4×4 and drive the Medano Pass Primitive Road.

If you’re a fan of natural hot springs, be sure to swing by Valley View Hot Springs closeby. Here, many hot springs dot the mountainside and vary in depth, temperature and size. Some even provide spectacular views of the valley below (hence, it’s name). Warning though, there’s a bit of a surprise to this place! Check out my post below to see just what that surprise is…


COOLEST SAND DUNES IN THE U.S. TO EXPLORE:

Grand Sable Sand Dunes

  • coolest sand dunes in the u.s.
  • coolest sand dunes in the u.s.
  • coolest sand dunes in the u.s.
  • coolest sand dunes in the u.s.

Where is it?

Situated amid Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the upper peninsula of Michigan (nearby city: Munising).

What makes it so cool?

The views from atop Grand Sable Dunes are seriously unmatched. Your eyes can stretch as far as the horizon, overlooking the sparkling Lake Superior as youโ€™re surrounded by pine forests and rolling dunes. Personally, I had never seen a mountain of sand so high above crystal clear blue water – so high that itโ€™s above the trees and oversees a massive GREAT Lake 300 feet below. Talk about the perfect place to watch the sun set!

Must-do:

Absolutely watch the sun set on top of Grand Sable Dunes (trailhead coordinates: 46.6668696, -86.0133177). But aside from this, be sure to hike further down the adjoining path (from the Sable Falls parking area) to Sable Falls and Sable Beach. Sable Falls is a beautiful, three-tiered waterfall cutting its way through the forest and running down to greet Lake Superior. The beach, at the bottom, rests at the base of Grand Sable Dunes. Thus, providing a different perspective of these beasts as you stand below them and admire their towering heights. Even more, the beach is full of the most brilliantly colored rocks and pebbles Iโ€™ve ever encountered and has some very cool sand designs.

This should go without saying, but certainly be sure to see the stunning coastline of Pictured Rocks via hiking the Chapel Basin Loop Trail. To find out all the best day hikes and how to explore Pictured Rocks by foot, check out my post below…


COOLEST SAND DUNES IN THE U.S. TO EXPLORE:

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

My husband, Doug, and I go ATV-ing for hours, exploring all over Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area and practically having the entire place to ourselves!

Where is it?

The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area stretches up the Oregon Coast, reaching approximately 40 miles north of the Coos River in North Bend to the Siuslaw River in Florence. Nearby: Coos Bay, Oregon.

What makes it so cool?

To begin with, this dune area is massively expansive and you have all the room in the world for some sandy adventures! Visitors get to experience the Pacific Ocean on one side, a series of lakes on the other with an immeasurable “beach” right in the middle. The wind-sculpted sand dunes rising to 500 feet above sea level provide numerous recreational opportunities and, perhaps we lucked out, but we had these dunes all to ourselves for the afternoon! It’s no wonder this area is dubbed “Oregon’s Adventure Coast“.

Must-do:

Rent an ATV at Spinreel Dune Buggy & ATV Rentals and spend the day zipping up and down these rolling dunes for some high speed thrills! It’s amazing how much you’re able to discover with an ATV rental: go up and down countless dunes, take branching trails towards the sea and through the trees and witness spectacular views from the tops. Even follow animal tracks that you come by in the sand. The possibilities are endless and oh-so-fun! This was one of the stops along our huge honeymoon road-trip and we enjoyed our experience to the maximum.


COOLEST SAND DUNES IN THE U.S. TO EXPLORE:

Jockey’s Ridge State Park

  • coolest sand dunes in the U.S.

Where is it?

Jockey’s Ridge is located in Nags Head along the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

What makes it so cool?

It’s the tallest active sand dune system in the Eastern U.S. and provides breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the sound on the other. You can’t beat its panoramic views anywhere else along the southeast coast. Even cooler? You can see the sunrise over the ocean from atop the dunes OR you can see the sunset behind the sound from atop the dunes – it’s pretty dang spectacular. There is nowhere else like it on the east coast, I promise you that!

Must-do:

Literally learn to fly with Kitty Hawk Hang Gliding! The dunes of Jockeyโ€™s Ridge provide the perfect platform for learning to hang glide. They have plenty of height for beginners, and are soft for landing. Also, how rad is it to go flying where the pioneers of aviation first took flight?  The Wright Brothers launched the world’s first airplane off the sand dunes of Kill Devil Hills right down the road.


COOLEST SAND DUNES IN THE U.S. TO EXPLORE:

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

coolest sand dunes in the U.S.

Where is it?

These dunes rest in the heart of Death Valley National Park, California.

What makes it so cool?

Perhaps I’m a bit bias, but everything in Death Valley National Park feels like another planet. A walk on these silky, rippled dunes will convince you that youโ€™re somewhere far from familiar. The dunes are surrounded on all sides by surreal mountain ranges that – typical of many places in Death Valley – distort distance and depth perception. Moreover, the dune field includes three types of dunes (crescent, linear, and star-shaped) and the Mesquite trees (its namesake) have created large hummocks that provide secure habitats for wildlife.

Must-do:

Death Valley has the darkest night sky in the United States and, thus, is the best place to marvel in awe at the expanse of numerous stars, the Milky Way, the detailed moon and meteor showers. With that being said, take every opportunity to stargaze and to delve into some fantastic astrophotography. Given this is an extremely hot place, the cool night weather makes for a much more enjoyable experience as well (or travel during the winter months).

For astrophotography, we use our Canon EOS R.

Click on the image below to check out the specs and more!


COOLEST SAND DUNES IN THE U.S. TO EXPLORE:

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

Where is it?

Coral Pink Sand Dunes is located in southwest Utah near Kanab.

What makes it so cool?

Uhhh.. it’s PINK! How cool is that? The park features unique and beautiful pink-hued sand dunes nestled beside red sandstone cliffs. After visiting the likes of Moab and Arches National Park (etc), one wouldn’t think Utah’s vibrant reds, oranges and pinks could continue to shock and suprise. Low and behold, this place will leave your mind-blown. Be sure to visit at golden hour for the most vibrant colors.

Must-do:

Other than the obvious (photoshoots, sand boarding and hiking), another cool and fun thing to do in this rad place is geocaching (the world’s largest treasure hunt)! Also, be sure to visit the nearby Moccasin Mountain Dinosaur Trackway and South Fork Indian Canyon Pictograph Site.

Coral Pink Sands is also a prime place to camp for free on a plethora of BLM land. Check out all the dispersed camping available with Campendium.

There’s so much to do in the whole of the U.S. Southwest! However, this particular road-trip was one of a lifetime – check out my full itinerary in my post below.


COOLEST SAND DUNES IN THE U.S. TO EXPLORE:

Additional Sand Dunes in the U.S. to visit

1. Indiana Dunes National Park, Indiana

2. St. Anthony Sand Dunes, Idaho

3. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

4. Dumont Dunes, California

5. Imperial Dunes, California


Have you visited any of the sand dunes that I featured in this post as my personal favorites? If so, which did you fancy the most and what fun sand adventures did you go on?

As always…

Thank you so much for reading and happy travels!

-Mindy

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