Eureka Dunes in Death Valley National Park
Isolated, beautiful, and pristine, the Eureka Dunes rise from the Eureka Valley floor, a gleaming mountain of sand framed by the rugged dark mountains of the Last Chance Range. The Eureka Dunes cover an area three miles wide and one mile long; they are the tallest sand dunes in California, towering more than 680 feet from the enclosed valley floor. At the Eureka Dunes, everything seems to be broken down to the most basic yet somehow most majestic elements.
It’s hard to resist climbing the dunes—give in to this temptation. From the Eureka Dunes Dry Camp at the base of the dunes, a hike into the dunes may cover 0.5 to 2.5 miles, depending on how far you walk. The climb up is hard, one step forward and then a slide back. You may be climbing 300 to 600 feet, depending on which ridge you tackle. When you reach the ridgeline, you will be rewarded with more sculpted dunes and sweeping views of the valley.
In all this quiet sand and desert, it’s possible that a slight rumbling sound may break the stillness. The Eureka Dunes are singing dunes, and small avalanches of sand sometimes resonate with a deep booming sound. And then there’s the possibility that fighter planes from Nellis Air Force Base, to the east, may be out showing off. On one trip we were treated to an impressive air show directly in front of the dunes that had the early morning campers stopped in their tracks. The planes finally corkscrewed back over the mountains in a series of flashy moves.
In order to keep the Dunes lovely for everyone, there is no sand boarding on the dunes and no off-roading; the sand boards leave tracks that ruin the pristine views for everyone else.
The Eureka Dunes are the northernmost sight in the park, and getting to them requires a special trip—but if anything in the park deserves its own special trip, it’s this. Fortunately, you can easily spend a night or two to soak in this special place. The Eureka Dunes Dry Camp, at the base of the dunes, has primitive camping spots with fire pits, picnic tables, and one pit toilet.
From Scotty’s Castle, the dunes are nearly 50 miles, or two hours away. Take Scotty’s Castle Road southwest for three miles to its intersection with Highway 190. Turn left onto Highway 190 and drive north for 2.8 miles to the intersection with Big Pine-Death Valley Road. Turn right and continue 21.8 miles to Crankshaft Crossing, marked by a sign and rusted crankshafts. Turn left to stay on Big Pine-Death Valley Road and continue 12.2 miles to South Eureka Road. Turn left to reach the dunes in 9.6 miles.
From Stovepipe Wells, the drive is 87 miles, and from Furnace Creek, it’s 97 miles; both drives are just under three hours.