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