The Eureka Sand Dunes are the highest sand dunes in California and contain a towering mountain of sand spread out at the southern end of Eureka Valley near some beautiful Last Chance Range cliffs. Difficulties encountered on the hike include driving long distances on gravel roads in an isolated area of the park to get to the starting point and hiking (or sliding) up and down steep sections of sand dunes. A Google Earth map of our hiking route (turned to the west for better viewing) can be found by clicking on the button above. GPS coordinates for Eureka Dry Camp are 37° 6.719'N, 117° 40.854'W. GPS coordinates for the starting point which we used for our hike are 37° 5.422'N, 117° 39.247'W.
The Eureka Sand Dunes (also called the Eureka Valley Sand Dunes) are the highest sand dunes in California and the 2nd highest sand dunes system in North America. The dunes rise 680 feet in height above the Eureka Valley floor and may have been even more majestic in past times before increased visitation took place. The Eureka Dunes are considered to be one of the crown jewels of Death Valley National Park because of their great height, the 3 endemic plants -- Eureka Dunegrass, Eureka Dunes Evening Primrose, and Shining Milkvetch, the 5 endemic beetles, the "booming" or "singing" aspect of the dunes, and the dramatic background landscape with the Last Chance Mountain Range. A HC (high clearance) vehicle is usually recommended to reach the dunes. I have seen cars driving out to the dunes (and, in fact, we took a car at one time), but a high clearance vehicle is better suited to the heavily washboarded road. Those wishing to access the eastern side of the Eureka Dunes will need a 4WD vehicle to get over there due to deep sand. The Eureka Dunes can kind of be divided into two halves. The front half (or northern end) is made up of one giant mountain of sand. The summit ridge along the top has various bumps to hike up and down, with two main peaks at each end providing the best views. Reaching these peaks is usually accomplished by most hikers by starting out at one of the camping areas along the northern end of the dunes. Because this area is heavily traveled, it is likely that you will be following in the footsteps of others on your way up. This detracts from the natural beauty but there isn't much you can do about it except to show up right after a windstorm or rainstorm. The back half (or southern end of the dunes) consists of several smaller peaks and a widespread area of sand hills and flatter areas. The advantage of visiting this part of the Eureka Dunes is that human footprints are less prevalent and it is easy to photograph beautiful sand patterns and animal tracks. At the same time, you have an outstanding view of the large mountain of sand in the distance.
Our groups have visited the Eureka Sand Dunes many times through the years. And we have had some interesting experiences there. For instance, one time we had the unique privilege of seeing the Aurora Borealis (or Northern Lights) from near the Eureka Dunes. It happened on a beautiful night with bright stars out everywhere. All of a sudden, red swirls started to appear in the sky. Upon noticing this mysterious phenomenon, we stopped what we were doing and stared intently at the dark sky. It wasn't long before an entire part of the sky was glowing red in color. We had never seen anything like this before, so we wondered what could be causing it. One incorrect theory we came up with was that there was some kind of military testing going on, since we knew of several bases in the area. After admiring the sky for quite some time, we finally called it a night. The next day, when we were in Furnace Creek, a park employee happened to ask us if we had seen the show in the sky last night. We told him that we had seen the red swirls of glowing light, but didn't know what it was. The park employee then informed us that we had seen the Northern Lights. Apparently, a geomagnetic storm in the atmosphere had caused a reflection of the Northern Lights to appear over California and the western states, something which rarely happens. Friends back home in the Bay Area had all missed this because thick clouds had been in the sky that night. On another trip to the Eureka Dunes, a massive windstorm was blowing through the area. But we decided to hike up to the top of the dunes anyway. When we got to the top, we entered into what was almost like a sand wind tunnel. Sand was blowing in a counterclockwise direction in a large circle. While standing outside of the sand tunnel, I filmed some video of my group standing inside it with hardly any visibility. All the while, everyone was laughing and continuously rubbing the sand out of their eyes. I will have to upload that video at some point if I can get it transferred from videotape onto my computer.
The pictures showcased within this report were all taken during my January 2015 visit to the Eureka Sand Dunes. A brand new report on the dunes was long overdue for this site, thus my brother Jim and I decided to camp at the Eureka Dunes for two nights in below-freezing temperatures. During our first day there, we hiked Eureka Peak in order to enjoy a very special view of the Eureka Sand Dunes (see the report elsewhere on this site). On the second day, we woke up and began hiking at sunrise with the temperature outside being a frigid 28F. Rather than taking the usual tourist route straight up to the top from the campground, we circled around to the eastern side and parked about halfway down the length of the dunes. We first hiked out toward the back half of the dunes to explore that area. It was a good decision because we found very little evidence of human visitation and were able to get excellent photographs of sand ripples and patterns, along with animal and bird tracks. We hiked to one of the higher small peaks in the back half and then began following the main ridge line toward the mountain of sand found in the front half of the dunes. As we began climbing slowly up to the top of the sand mountain, we eventually joined up with tracks from other people, which took a little bit of the beauty away from the hike. But it was still amazing as we gained elevation and found ourselves towering over the valley floor. The advantage that we found to hiking this direction from south to north is that we had continuous views of the striped limestone patterns of the Last Chance Range which stood in stark contrast to the white sand of the Eureka Dunes. During our full morning hike, we never encountered any other hikers. The full set of pictures linked to below showcase our entire hike. Our hike took place on January 25, 2015.
Many more photographs taken during our visit are available for viewing for this destination. To see all of them, choose one of the two options presented below. The two options are Slideshow viewing and Trip Report viewing. The Slideshow option allows for viewing larger images with an autoplay option and a full screen option (available on most browsers). This option works very well for large computer screens and tablets. The Trip Report option allows for viewing smaller pictures in a standard scroll-down format and enlarging of any panoramic photos taken during our visit. Click on the option of your choice to view all of our photos from this destination. The Slideshow format opens in a new browser window and the Trip Report format uses the same browser window for viewing.
TRIP REPORT FORMAT