Mojave National Preserve – Kelso Dunes


What? : Kelso Dune Field, is the largest field of sand deposits dunes in the Mojave Desert. The region is protected by the Mojave National Preserve.

Kelso Dunes is one of the best dune sites I ever visit in California and top attraction at Mojave National Preserve.

This is Mojave desert popular attraction; I assume you will see here other visitors, especially before sunset, but not as many as in Death Valley NP.


Related blogs:

Mojave National Preserve – Hole-in-the-Wall

Mojave National Preserve – 4x4 Drive from Essex Road to Kelso Dunes

Mojave National Preserve – Kelso Depot

Mojave National Preserve – visit planning, 2 days trip itinerary

Mojave National Preserve – Visit Planning


Where? : The well-marked entrance to the 3 miles road to trailhead located on Kelbaker Road.

15 miles from I-40 exit 78.

43 miles from I-15, exit 245, Baker CA.

Google Map Link


When? : Late fall, winter and spring is the preferred time to visit the Mojave desert, summer is just too hot.


Due note 1: Water - Always take more than what you think you need, this is desert and temperature can be hot, in summer this is extremely hot environment.


Due note 2: Drive with enough fuel, no gas station in Mojave National Preserve


Due note 3: No cellular reception in Mojave National Preserve (you may have receptions near the main Highways). If you are using cellular map with GPS make sure you download the map in advance where you have cell reception (Wi-Fi connectivity is preferred).

I did manage to get reception from the dune hill top.


Due note 4: Although not paved the road from the main road to the parking lot and trailhead is well maintained and can be done by any car.


Due note 5: No fee or permit is required to hike to Kelso Dunes.


Due note 6: At the trailhead roadside parking there is a restroom, no water.


Due note 7: No overnight sleeping is allowed at the trailhead. There is a primitive campground site 1 mile from the trailhead.


Due note 8: Mojave National Preserve does not permit any ATV or other off-road only vehicle and the dunes are completely off for any vehicle.


Due note 9: During winter month, bring with you few warm cloths, you may get warm during the day hike, but you will need them once reaching the dune top at a cold evening.

On the other hand, at summer month the temperatures can be extremely hot.


Due note 10: I highly recommend visiting the dunes for the sunset.

Do not forget to bring flashlight with you. Make sure you see and remember the direction of the parking lot (visible from the dune top). Once getting off the dune hill into the desert below the car parking is not visible and at darkness you can miss the right path in the send.


My thoughts: I visit here several times and I really enjoy my time here, highly recommended place to visit.

Last time when I visit here (Jan 2022) there were only 15 other cars in the parking lot, I stay late after sunset and had the dunes all to myself. The following morning, I wake up early before sunrise and hike in the dark to the top of the tallest dune, sunrise was as impressive as sunset, and I was the only one out there.


The visit:


The Kelso Dunes cover 45 square miles and rise 650 feet above the desert floor. The 3-mile round trip hike from the trailhead to the top dune features fantastic views of the surrounding sea of dunes and mountain peaks far away to the west and to the east.


The hiking trail start from the parking area, the farther you go inside the dunes the trail fork into many directions. The wind constantly reshapes the dunes, preventing the formation of a permanent trail.

No matter how you go, just aim right of the tallest dune hilltop, do not go directly into the summit direction. This dune slope is very difficult to climb, but rather aim your way to a lower section of the sand dune ridge.

As you progress the dune will start to have less vegetation cover and become sandier.


After 20 minutes of walking, you will start up the steeper slopes section of the hike, your steps will become strenuous.

Once you will reach the dune ridge on it lower section you will turn left on the narrow dune ridge and climb to the dune summit above you.

Although only 1.5 mile away from the parking lot the hike to the top of the dune can take you 45 to 60 minutes.


If you stay at the top of the dune until sunset make sure you are heading to the exact direction of the car parking, anyhow if you miss it keep hiking south until you will hit the road, as long as you are not confusing and climbing back on the tall dunes you can’t miss it.



There is no doubt that Kelso Dunes is one of the best attractions in the Mojave National Preserve, do not miss it.









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