The most popular and accessible dune system in the park, the Mesquite Dunes are an adult sand box where the trail is wherever you walk and you can go as far as your heart desires. Not to be missed, the dunes are an excellent spot to walk the sunrise or set or even enjoy a full moon trek to the highest dune which reaches about 100 feet in elevation.
Location: Death Valley National Park, California, USA
Trailhead: Mesquite Flat Dunes parking lot 2.2 miles east of Stovepipe Wells on Hwy 190; pit toilet
Length: 2 miles roundtrip to tallest dune
Trail Type: Open route
Warnings: Bring sun and eye protection as well as plenty of water. Keep your bearings as you may lose sight of your car once you walk out on the dunes. Take extra precautions to keep track of your location if traveling on the dunes at night.
I haven’t met one person who doesn’t like sand dunes. When I stepped foot on the Mesquite Flat Dunes, I was instantly transported to a seen from Lawrence of Arabia as he traveled across the deserts of the Middle East. Here you can run up and down dunes or walk along their crests. You can seek weak shade among the mesquite trees that dot the dunes and look for animal tracks in the early morning light.
One thing I definitely recommend is to take an early pre-dawn hike out to the tallest dune and watch the sunrise. While it will take a bit of determination to roll out of your sleeping bag and hike the one mile, though it will feel like two, over the sandy dunes where one step forward means sliding half a step back, this experience is something that will stand out when you think about your Death Valley trip in years to come. The surrounding mountain peaks will glow red with alpenglow and a few minutes later the unmarked dunes will turn a golden-yellow. You will be surrounded by a visual feast any direction you turn and the early wakeup will most definitely have been worth it.
Make sure to come back and visit the dunes for sunset too. In fact, don’t even bother visiting the dunes during the middle of the day, if possible. They will be hotter, filled with busloads of tourists, and lack the beautiful contrast and texture created by the low angle of the sun at the beginning and end of the day.