Kelso Dunes, located in the heart of Mojave National Preserve, are one of the largest dune fields in the west. They cover about 45 square miles and the tallest dune is about 700 feet tall. They are also very unique as they’re one of only about 30 dunes in the world that are “booming dunes.” At times when the sand avalanches down a steep side of the tallest dunes a low, resonant booming noise is created. It is caused by the extreme uniformity of the sand grains and the dryness in the air. And to experience these booming dunes, to hear them and to feel the vibrations through your body, is quite simply one of the most unique and spectacular outdoor experiences I have ever had!
You can take I-15 or I-40 to the Kelbaker Road exit. From I-15 head south to Kelso Dunes; from I-40 head north to Kelso Dunes. The Kelso Dunes Trailhead is off of a well-marked graded dirt road just a few miles south of Kelso Depot. The trailhead has pit toilets and a large parking area. Hike north approximately 1.5 miles to access the tallest dunes.
There are numerous ways to get to the top of the tallest dune. I recommend going up the less-steep way and coming down the steepest way so you can attempt to create sand-avalanches and the "booming" sound. It's awesome! And not only do you hear the “boom”, you feel it vibrating up through your feet and your legs. It is one of the neatest things I’ve ever experienced! You have to try it!
No permits are needed to hike the dunes. Please Leave No Trace
of your visit other than footprints.
Other rules and regs:
Backpackers traveling on foot must camp at least 0.5 mile from any developed area or road and 200 yards from water sources.
Backcountry camping is limited to a 14-day stay.
Roadside car camping is permitted in areas that have been traditionally used for this purpose. Camping tramples vegetation; by picking sites that have already been used for camping, you help protect desert plants from further damage.
Not all sites can accomodate multiple vehicles; please don't enlarge sites.
Do not camp along paved roads or in day-use areas, and stay at least 200 yards from springs and other water sources.
Driving off of designated roads is illegal.
No camping is allowed at the trailhead but to the west a couple of miles is a dispersed camping spot under a few trees. Dispersed camping is allowed most places in the Mojave National Preserve at places that have traditionally been used for such a purpose. See red tape section above. Or there are also a couple of developed campsites near Hole-in-the-Wall.
Surrounded by sculptured volcanic rock walls, Hole-in-the-Wall Campground is at 4,400 feet elevation. It's a good base for hiking and exploring nearby Mitchell Caverns.
Facilities: vault toilets, picnic tables, fire rings, trashcans, drinkable water, dump station. No utility hookups. 35 campsites are large enough for motorhomes and trailers. Two walk-in tent sites are also available.
Fees: $12 per site per night, $6 for Golden Age/Access Passport holders.
Reservations: not accepted. Campsites available on a first-come, first-served basis. Campground rarely fills.
Mid Hills Campground
A fire swept through here in June, 2005, burning over much of the area. Unburned campsites are surrounded by pinyon pine and juniper trees. At 5,600 feet in elevation, Mid Hills Campground is much cooler than the desert floor below. The road to the campground is not paved and is not recommended for motor-homes or trailers.
Facilities: picnic tables, fire rings, vault toilets, trashcans, and drinkable water. 26 campsites.
Fees: Currently there is no fee due to the recent fire. In the future, the fee will be $12 per site per night, $6 for Golden Age/Access Passport holders.
Reservations: not accepted. Campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Campground rarely fills.
Black Canyon Equestrian & Group Campground
Located across the road from Hole-in-the-Wall Information Center.
Facilities: vault toilets, water, a picnic shelter with tables, fire ring, grill, corrals.
Fees: $25 per night for the group.
Reservations: call (760) 928-2572.
External LinksMojave National Preserve Website
More info about booming dunes
San Bernardino County Deserts Weather Forecast
February 2006 Trip Report
Kelso Depot Visitor Center
Kelso Depot Visitor Center
Open every day except Christmas, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
Entrance Fee: Free
Phone: (760) 733-4456
Location: This visitor center is just a few miles from Kelso Dunes. From Interstate 15, exit at Baker, California. Kelso is 35 miles south of Baker. From Interstate 40, exit on Kelbaker Road. Kelso is 22 miles north of I-40 on Kelbaker Road.
Exhibits: The renovated Kelso Depot is now the Visitor Center for Mojave National Preserve. Most of the former dormitory rooms contain exhibits describing various aspects of the surrounding desert, from tortoises to sand dunes to desert mining and ranching. The old baggage room, ticket office, and two dormitory rooms have been historically furnished to illustrate life in the depot in the first half of the twentieth century. A 12-minute film is shown in the theater.
Available Facilities: Restrooms, water.