Location: Imperial Sand Dunes Recreational Area (150 Miles / 2.5 Hours East of Downtown San Diego)
Open Daily: Open Year-Round (October – May are the Main Months)
Cost: $25 per Vehicle and Up. (See Fee Information Below.)
Features: World’s Most Popular Sand Dunes; Off-Roading; Hiking; Horseback Riding; Camping
Note: The Glamis Dunes lie in Imperial County, east of San Diego. They are covered on this web site because San Diego is the closest major city to provide distant travelers access to these world famous sand dunes. (You can also fly to Yuma, AZ but flights are much more limited.) There are also tours of the Glamis Dunes that leave from downtown San Diego.
Over 1 million visitors make the trek out to this remote location each year to enjoy the spectacular sand dunes. Rising several hundred feet into the air, the sand dunes provide great views and exhilirating launching pads.
Managed by the Bureau of Land Mangement (BLM), the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreational Area (ISDRA) stretches north-south for about 40 miles and east-west about 5 miles. (Read more about the history of the ISDRA Sand Dunes.) ISDRA, and in particular the Glamis Dunes, is very popular for people who want traverse the sand dunes on motorcycles, dune buggies, 4WD, and ATVs. (Rental and tour information is provided below.) There are also areas where motorized vehicles are off-limits, providing opportunities for those who want to go hiking and horseback riding.
Imperial Sand Dunes Map – View the most recent visitors map of the Imperial Sand Dunes. The map is adjusted over time depending on regulatory changes, including protection of environmentally sensitive areas. The map includes park ranger stations, stores, campground sites, sand dune landmarks, and restricted areas. You will see the Glamis Dunes near the middle of the map.
Glamis Tours & Rentals - You don’t have to own equipment and live within driving distance to enjoy the Sand Dunes. There are San Diego companies that will drive you out to Glamis and provide all the lessons and equipment you need to have fun. Others will set up rental campers and off-road vehicles on-site for you to use. Here are a few vendors to help you get started:
- California Motorsport Advenutures (Glamis Tours from Downtown San Diego)
- Dezert Adventures (Camper and ATV Rentals set up on-site + Customized Tours)
- Academy Rentals (Camper and ATV Rentals set up on-site)
Offroading FAQ – Out-of-state visitors and first-time users can learn to fit in with regulars who have been enjoying the dunes for years and follow California laws that deal with off-roading by reading the ISDRA Regulations and FAQ pages.
Hiking & Horseback Riding – Hiking and Horseback Riding are allowed in the North Algodones Dunes Wilderness. This 25,000 acre area is off-limits to any motor vehicles. To access it, follow the directions for Glamis provided below. Glamis is on the south side of CA-78 and the Wilderness is on the north side. You may park along the road. There are no set trails, as these are shifting sand dunes. Once or twice each winter, the BLM offers a free organized hike of the North Algodones Dunes Wilderness.
Help Information – Considering the vastness of this territory and its remote location, you should print out the attached flier that includes phone numbers for the park rangers and emergency services. The Park Ranger Stations are generally only open weekends from October – May.
Camping – Reservations are not taken for camp sites. You can access these “parking spots” with nearby toilets on a first-come, first-served basis. There are no camping fees. Open camping is also allowed. For extensive pictures of campgrounds and off-road activity at ISDRA, visit the Dune Guide web site.
Hotels / Motels – Brawley, CA (about 20 miles away) is the closest town to provide lodging for the Glamis Dunes and the North Algodones Dunes Wilderness Area. For those visiting the Sand Dunes along the I-8 near Buttercup Valley, El Centro, CA and Yuma, AZ will provide the closest lodging.
Military Activity – Chances are you will see military aircraft flying overhead, including the Blue Angels, while spending time at ISDRA. There are military bombing areas along the borders of ISDRA, which you can see on the attached Sand Dunes Map. (So, make sure to stay within the designated area.) The Blue Angels make their winter home just west of ISDRA at the El Centro Naval Air Facility. You can catch their first performance of the year in the month of March.
Information on Visiting Glamis & The Imperial Sand Dunes
Fees: (Costs are Approximate)
- Vehicles entering ISDRA require weekly or seasonal permits. You will save money if you buy your permits online or from designated retailers. If you buy your permits “offsite”, they will cost you $25 for the week or $90 for the season. If you wait to buy your permits when entering ISDRA, you will have to wait in long lines and pay $40 for the week or $120 for the season. Even if you visit during the very hot summer months, you will be required to have a permit.
- Nightly Camp Site fees range from $5 for tent spots to $25 for full hook-ups.
Directions to Glamis from Google Maps to the intersection of CA-78 and Gecko Road. (Follow signs.) To avoid the crowds camping near Gecko Road, you can continue east on SR-78 past the Glamis Beach Store. Make a right on what is known as the Wash Road (not on Google Maps) just before you reach the train tracks. The farther south you go on the Wash Road the less crowded it becomes.
Directions to Dunebuggy Flats from Google Maps to the Gordons Well Road exit off of the I-8. (Google Maps does not show the name Gordons Well. It only notes it as Exit #151. Turn north and follow signs once you get off of this exit.)
Directions to Buttercup from Google Maps to the Grays Well Road exit (#156) off of the I-8. (Turn south and follow the signs.)
Traffic – Travel to the ISDRA and the Glamis Dunes is relatively easy, as most of it is on highway I-8. If you travel during the evening rush hour, you will have heavy traffic heading eastbound on highway I-8 between downtown San Diego and El Cajon. Also, listen for Strong Santa Ana Winds in the weather forecast. On occasion (usually limited to the fall and winter months), the winds may be strong enough that the I-8 is shut down to any high profile vehicles, such as RVs and Campers from the Sunrise Highway eastward to the Desert.
Transit - There are no transit options that provide regular service into the desert.
Weather – Check the current Weather Forecast for the Imperial Sand Dunes. The Desert’s high temperatures average over 100 degrees from June through September. Even during the winter months you need to bring a lot of water.
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