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“Great Hike” 5 of 5 stars
Review of Kelso Dunes

Kelso Dunes
Mojave National Preserve, Essex, CA
760 255 8801
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Ranked #1 of 6 Attractions in Essex
Type: Geologic Formations, Outdoors
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Attraction details
Owner description: One of the areas in California where one can view the unique aspects of sand dunes.
Provincetown, Massachusetts
Top Contributor
225 reviews 225 reviews
75 attraction reviews
Reviews in 82 cities Reviews in 82 cities
81 helpful votes 81 helpful votes
“Great Hike”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed December 18, 2014 NEW

The Kelso Dunes are located about 8 miles from Kelso Depot. They are majestic, towering sand dunes created by winds that funnel between the Granite and Providence Mountain Ranges. The prove an unusual hike as they are made up entirely of loose sand and no rock surfaces. The tallest of the dunes provide a breathtaking and panoramic view of the entire area. They are more difficult to climb due to the sand. Supplies can be picked up at the Kelso Depot. Day trip or detour, it is surely worth looking into. One word of caution, Kelso Dunes Rd is not paved and can be a bit treacherous.

Visited December 2014
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17 reviews from our community

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Salt Lake City, Utah
Top Contributor
167 reviews 167 reviews
47 attraction reviews
Reviews in 56 cities Reviews in 56 cities
52 helpful votes 52 helpful votes
“Unique, Difficult Walking, Bring Water--and Lots of It!!”
4 of 5 stars Reviewed December 2, 2014

During a relatively quick drive through the Mojave Desert Preserve, we stopped to hike the Kelso Dunes. It looks deceptively simple, but actually it can be challenging and tiring.

You drive down the passable but bumpy dirt road (no clean cars left here) and then park at a trailhead. There is a restroom there, which you should use, as you can expect a minimum of 2 hours, but more likely 3, depending on who is hiking.

We were there on a relatively cool day in November, but full desert sun is quite hot. Use plenty of sunscreen, wear a hat and sunglasses, too, as the sun is strong and can damage your eyes.

The biggest caution is to bring a lot of water. I actually recommend a backpack bladder of 1 1/2 liters or more per person--really. If you can be here at sunrise or sunset, especially in hot months, that will be better for you, and the light on the dunes will be beautiful.

The path starts off simply--straight and sandy, packed gravel. That changes rapidly to just soft desert sand, which makes for difficult walking. I prefer hiking boots, as my hiking sandals let in too much sand for my comfort. While i still got sand in my boots, the socks protected my feet and I had no blisters.

As you start climbing the steeper grades, the steps get harder. It felt literally that for every three steps forward, I slid back down two steps. The sun made it harder.

But, the good part is that you should stop and look at the beauty, and listen. We did hear the unique sand dune noises when one man near us ran down a dune into a gully. The undulating sand waves are beautiful and the vegetation is different than most of us usually see. There are also many wildlife burrow holes--unfortunately we didn't see anything even peeking out.

We're not really young, and found this challenging but rewarding. I'm also quite short, and my legs tired on the uphills, trying to make forward progress. That was harder than keeping even breaths.

The day we were there wasn't really hot--probably only in the 70s--but in the desert it feels warmer.

The views are amazing, and appreciating something unique and different is what it's all about.

Before you get on the trail, I suggest a stop at the Kelso Depot visitor center. It has exhibits about the desert. We managed to see a beautiful photography exhibit which showed a lot of beautiful images of not only the Dunes but other parts of the preserve. There is a snack bar here, and also picnic tables if you've brought a cooler along.

This isn't a hike to rush through, in my opinion, although you can set a course to reach the top quickly. Lots of changing views as you go along, that you can savor with a moment.

I must say i found it a bit disconcerting that some beautiful wind ripples in the sand were disturbed my human footprints. While I find them a beauty of nature, many people I guess see a challenge to leave their footprints where none are now (and their's will be gone soon, too).

Visited November 2014
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Imperial Beach, California
5 reviews 5 reviews
3 attraction reviews
Reviews in 2 cities Reviews in 2 cities
2 helpful votes 2 helpful votes
“Quite the hike, bring more water than you think!”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed October 18, 2014

On our way back from the state parks in UT, we stopped by to see these singing dunes. We arrived around 1pm ish...heat of the day. The hike to the top of the dunes was longer and more difficult than I expected. Glad we went this time of year, the temp was in the low 80's. Bring LOTS of water, we were afraid we were going to run out...(family of 5 including a 4 year old!) But alas, it's worth all the efforts...beautiful views and the singing!!! Sooo cool! When someone slides (or rolls) down, the dunes groan. A little scary if you didn't realize that this is normal! An anomaly that is heard only a few other places on earth. Seeing all the different animal prints left in the sand was very neat too. We walked barefoot, it was easier than with shoes.

Visited October 2014
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South San Francisco, California
Top Contributor
162 reviews 162 reviews
90 attraction reviews
Reviews in 55 cities Reviews in 55 cities
122 helpful votes 122 helpful votes
“beautiful dunes”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed October 16, 2014

I arrived here just before sunset after a 2-hour drive from Las Vegas.

The roads leading to the dunes aren't the most comfortable for driving. Lots of dips and incompletely filled potholes. And then you still have the teeth chattering 2-3 mile unpaved dirt road which is the final stretch to the dunes.

But it was definitely worth it.

The dunes are beautiful, and I saw only a few other people there.

Moreover, it was cool enough that I could take my flipflops off and walk barefoot to the base of the dunes. The sand felt incredible. Finer sand than any beach I've ever visited. (Yep, I was keeping an eye out for snakes and scorpions!)

I plan to stop again and hike to the top of one of the dunes the next time I'm passing through the area.

Visited October 2014
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Victoria, Canada
1 review
“Very Memorable”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed September 25, 2014

Kelso dunes look great from the bottom but make sure to hike all the way to the top - very worth it! It's about a 2-hour round trip hike (at a slow pace). We did started it early in the morning and saw the sunrise as we were hiking up (that way it's not too hot and experience is amplified). Be sure to bring lots of water!

Visited September 2014
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