Kelso Dunes Hike Mojave National Preserve California

The Kelso Dunes cover 45 square miles and rise 650 feet above the desert floor. What do you do with such a big pile of sand? Climb it! Even if you have hiked other dunes before, Kelso will be an interesting experience. The 3-mile round trip hike to the top features fantastic views of the surrounding dunes and peaks in Mojave National Preserve.

Kelso Dunes Trailhead
The start of Kelso Dunes Trail

A concentrated trail leaves from the parking area, but dissolves away the farther you go. The wind and sand constantly reshapes the dunes, preventing the formation of a permanent trail. No matter, just aim for the summit and make your own way.

As you start up the steeper slopes, your steps will become strenuous. You will start to create small sand avalanches every time you lower your boot. Don’t be alarmed if a booming sound rises beneath your feet. This is caused by hot surface sand breaking over the colder sand below. The somewhat unique rumble know as “singing sand” actually sounds more like a low-frequency jet engine or flatulence.

Kelso Dunes
Hiking the Kelso Dunes

Spurred on by the curious excitement inspired by the vibrations, make your way up the dune. Ridgelines and old tracks offer slightly more stable footing. As your pace inevitably slows toward the top, remind yourself that it will take you much less time on your way down, when running and sliding are highly recommended. No fee or permit is required to visit Kelso Dunes in Mojave National Preserve, so get out and enjoy!

To get to the trailhead: From Barstow, drive east on Interstate 40. Take exit 78 on to Kelbaker Road. Head north for 15 miles and turn left on Kelso-Dunes Road. Take this refined dirt road 4 miles to the trailhead.

Trailhead address: Kelso-Dunes Road, Mojave National Preserve, CA 92309
Trailhead coordinates: 34.89235, -115.69906 (34° 53′ 3.5″N 115° 41′ 56.6″W)

Elevation Profile
Click or hover over any spot on this elevation profile to see the distance from the start and elevation above sea level at that location, which will be highlighted on the map.
Trail Map

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These photos were taken in February of 2008 and May of 2010. Click to enlarge.
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Tagged with · Free Trails · Off Trail · Sand Dunes
Distance: 3 miles · Elevation change: 470 feet

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6 Comments on Kelso Dunes in Mojave National Preserve

  1. Snook wrote:

    This trail was seriously so much fun!! thanks for recommending

  2. Lisa wrote:

    Is the path clearly marked? Sorry if that is a dumb question but I’m new to hiking and the area in general so I thought it best to ask.

    • Terina wrote:

      It’s very clear! Once you get to the dunes it’s not really a clear trail as you just need to find the best way up, which can change day to day depending on the wind and weather. It’s a good hike! Take the more gradual route up on the right side rather then climbing straight up the middle (unless you want a better workout of course). The views are amazing.

  3. Eric wrote:

    I went about a year ago and it was a really cool experience, and I got to hear the singing sands phenomenon!
    I documented my whole hike in detail here if you’re looking for more info or a first hand account of these dunes:

  4. Elaine Aguirre wrote:

    Will my car navigation system work in the Mojave desert to guide me back to the highway after I visit Kelso Dunes

    • Hannah Lee Murphy wrote:

      You should download all info or bring a paper copy. Service is not guaranteed