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If you have ever driven between Phoenix, Arizona and San Diego, California, you have probably gawked at the scenery change. One huge landscape change happens shortly after going over the state line on Interstate 8 from Arizona into California. There, you’ll find the beautiful shifting dunes of sand often referred to as the Glamis Sand Dunes but appropriately called the Algodones Dunes or Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area.
The dunes have been a filming location since the early 1900s and their splendor has been viewed on the big screen in films such as Lawrence of Arabia, Flight of the Phoenix, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, and most recently, Jumanji: The Next Level.
Not only are the Glamis Sand Dunes a popular film spot, but they are also an increasingly popular off-road vehicle location, photography spot, and all-around epic adventure site. We’ve been going to the dunes for years!
Where Are the Glamis Sand Dunes?
The beautiful and towering Glamis Sand Dunes are found in the northern part of the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreational Area, located in Imperial County, California. The dunes are in a unique spot, just a short day trip away from the major cities of San Diego, California (2 hours and 15 minutes), Los Angeles, California (3 hours and 30 minutes) and Phoenix, Arizona (3 hours and 15 minutes).
The easiest way to find the Glamis Sand Dunes, is to either type in Glamis, CA or use the location of the Hugh T. Osborne Lookout Park. which is located at Osborne Park Rd, Brawley, CA 92227.
Map of Imperial Sand Dunes Recreational Area
Snag a PDF map here.
Luckily for you, the Glamis Sand Dunes are open 24/7.
It is free to visit the Glamis Sand Dunes. However, there are some instances when you would have to pay a fee.
If you plan on operating a vehicle or camping at the dunes in between October 1st – April 15th, you are required to purchase and display a permit. You can purchase a seasonal permit for $150. This seasonal decal is valid from October – April. If you do not need a permit for the entire season, you can purchase a weekly pass for $35.
It is recommended that you purchase permits online. If you purchase them in person, they are more expensive. The $35 weekly pass increases to $50 in person.
The Glamis Sand Dunes are under control of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The BLM website discusses the rules that must be followed when visiting the dunes. Check them out here before you go.
Weather at the Glamis Sand Dunes
When you think of sand dunes, you think desert. The weather at the Glamis Sand Dunes is HOT. Hence why the seasonal permits are from October – April.
The average high in October is 90°F and 86°F in April (even cooler during the months in between). It is significantly cooler during that time frame than the at times over 110°F temperatures you can see during the summer months.
Like any desert, the temperature can fluctuate anywhere from 20-30 degrees in between daytime and nighttime so pack accordingly!
When is the Best Time to Visit the Glamis Sand Dunes?
It’s probably not a stretch to say that you guessed from October – April and you are correct! However, if you can get to Glamis during the mornings or evenings, you can go even during the hottest months.
I love going at night too because it is incredibly quiet and the skies are dark. If you remember the comet NEOWISE that seemed to be in every picture on social media, I watched that bad boy here.
PS. Sunsets at the dunes are stunning!
Hotels near Glamis Sand Dunes
There are no hotels located at the dunes. The closest hotels to Glamis are located in Brawley, California which is about 25 minutes away from the Hugh T Osborne Lookout. Brawley is a pretty small town but offers a few hotels (don’t expect anything too fancy). Check out the Best Western Plus Main Street Inn, Brawley Inn Hotel & Conference Center, and Days Inn by Wyndham if you’re looking to stay nearby
Camping at the Glamis Sand Dunes
Good news, you are allowed to camp at the dunes. During the winter months, thousands of campers and OHV enthusiasts flock to the dunes. On Friday, there is no shortage of travel trailers/toy haulers headed to the dunes and leaving on Sunday.
There are plenty of places to pitch a tent, or park your RV or travel trailer. Before you decide to camp here, just know it is very primitive with no running water, pit toilets (if any at all) and at times not the greatest cell reception. Also, the dunes are an off-roader’s paradise so it can get quite rowdy and a bit noisy (you might want to bring some earplugs for sleeping).
Near Glamis, you can camp at Glamis Flats all year long. This spot is one of the most popular and busiest locations in the area. Glamis Flats has hard packed locations which are nice so you don’t end up getting your rig stuck. The other amenities include trash and vault toilets.
There are numerous locations to camp at Gecko Campground which is the largest in the Imperial Sand Dune Recreation Area. This area offers vaulted toilets, a north and south paved loop, and hardened camping pads.
Palo Verde Flats is nearby and is often a quieter location than Glamis Flats. The only amenities it offers are a solid ground to sleep on.
The Glamis Washes are another great spot to camp and the location offers more seclusion than the spots mentioned above.
Before you decide to camp at the dunes, make sure you purchase your permit!
What to Do at Glamis Sand Dunes
1. Ride an OHV
It is a no-brainer that riding an off-highway vehicle is the number one thing to do at the dunes. No matter when you visit, you will see people absolutely ripping it at Glamis. Some of these guys take it very, VERY, seriously.
When we visit, we frequently talk to some of the owners of these impressive machines. They all are passionate about the sport and consider Glamis the Mecca of dune riding.
Recently, we talked to a guy at the Hugh T Osborne Lookout Park who had spent over $200,000 in modifications for his sandrail. His OHV had a LS Corvette motor that can go over 100 miles/hour on the Flats. He offered to give us a ride the following day since it was dark when we spoke to him. Sadly, we couldn’t take him up on his offer.
You don’t have to have a suped up sand rail to ride at Glamis. In fact, you don’t even have to own a vehicle at all. In fact, most of the vehicles you see are your standard ATV’s, dirt bikes, and side-by-sides which, luckily, you can rent.
Where can you rent ATV’s, Side-by-Sides, and Dirt Bikes at Glamis Sand Dunes?
If you are interested in renting a badass Polaris Rzr or Can-am, check out America’s Extreme Off-Roading Adventures. They are located at Glamis and offer daily rentals from October 15th – April 15th.
Jet Rent in Yuma, Arizona also offers rentals. They have both side-by-side and ATV rentals and are open 365 days of the year. Check out their website here.
Hiking in the dunes is unlike anywhere else. In fact, it is not really like hiking at all. I find the dunes as a spot to wander around. There are no set trails or specific spots to see.
The safest and best place to hike is in the North Algodones Dune Wilderness north of State Route 78. No vehicles are allowed at this location, and it offers up some incredible beautiful views of pristine dunes and the Chocolate Mountains.
You can park at the Hugh T. Osborne Lookout and cross Hwy. 78 to enter the area. Just be careful. It is incredibly easy to get lost wandering the dunes and there isn’t much for shade or water.
If you opt to “hike” around other areas, be cognizant of OHV riders. They often travel at a high speed and could be dangerous to hikers, especially if you are at the crest of a dune they are climbing.
The dunes are absolutely beautiful and are incredibly photogenic. If you are looking for a unique place to boost your Instagram game, definitely give Glamis a visit! You can’t miss it at sunset.
Glamis is one of my favorite places to fly my drone and get aerial videos and photos. It is a challenging location because it is often windy, and the vehicles move at such a high speech, but it’s so worth it!
I’ve also witnessed many photoshoots here from weddings and engagement photos to pet photography to legit swimsuit modeling. You never know what you are going to get and the opportunity for great shots is endless!
If you do plan on taking photographs at the dunes, be incredibly careful with your gear. Sand is ALWAYS flying around and gets into everything. Consider bringing an air blaster or a cleaning kit to ensure you don’t have sand ruining your shot. Also, if you have an expandable tripod, be sure to clean it after use or sand will affect its movement.
Disclaimer: I haven’t actually sandboarded or sledded at the dunes, but I know it can be done. I tried going down a dune on the sunshade from my car (you know, the silver reflective one). It didn’t work out too well. I have also barrel rolled down the dunes and almost thrown up. I also don’t recommend that.
However, I have seen kids slide down the dunes on boogie boards and sleds. I’m planning to try it out soon. Alex was able to go sandboarding while visiting Peru and had an absolute blast!
5. Be a kid with your kids
What I mean here is just have fun. Glamis is a HUGE sandbox. Bring some sand toys and bury a kid (maybe not where the off-road enthusiasts ride), make sand angels, run down the dunes and see how fast you can go before the soft sand catches your fall. Honestly, the opportunities for fun at the Glamis Sand Dunes are endless.
Frequently Asked Questions
How big are the Glamis Sand Dunes?
The Algodones Dunes (including Glamis) range more than 40 miles with bands as wide as 5 miles. It is the largest of its kind in California and reaches south into Baja California, Mexico. The dunes are ever shifting due to wind. However, the tallest dunes average approximately 400 feet tall.
Are dogs allowed at the Glamis Sand Dunes?
Dogs are allowed at the Glamis Sand Dunes. They must, according to the rules, “be kept on a leash.” (We suggest just being smart about it.) We bring Samson, our Golden Retriever, to the dunes every time we go, and he absolutely loves charging up and down the dunes! We certainly have a sleepy pup every time we leave.
Do you need a permit to camp at the Glamis Sand Dunes?
Yes. If you plan on camping at the dunes between October 1st – April 15th, you are required to purchase and display a permit. You can purchase a seasonal permit for $150. This seasonal decal is valid from October – April. If you do not need a permit for the entire season, you can purchase a weekly pass for $35.
There are camping limitations, and you are only allowed to camp in the same spot for a 14 day period.
Do you need a reservation to camp at the Glamis Sand Dunes?
You do not need a reservation to camp at Glamis. You only need a permit.
Can you have a fire at Glamis Sand Dunes?
You are allowed to have a fire at the Glamis Sand Dunes. You do, however, need to get a permit. Get one here. It is always a good idea to check the California fire restrictions before you light your fire. Do so here.
What is the best place at Glamis Sand Dunes for photographers?
The best place for a quick picture is the Hugh T. Osborne Lookout Park. The views from the parking lot are stunning. If you are looking to get engagement photos, wedding photos or any other portraits done, I recommend the North Algodones Dunes Wilderness because you have pristine dunes, a backdrop of the Chocolate Mountains and the added benefit of not getting run over by a side-by-side.
What do you wear to the Glamis Sand Dunes?
In order to be safe and comfortable during your visit to the dunes, it is important that you wear/pack the right clothes. Be sure to bring the following:
1. A hat (when you aren’t wearing a helmet)
2. Sunglasses (to keep the sun and sand out of your eyes)
3. Flip flops if you are just walking on the dunes. I find it easier to just slide them off and walk barefoot on the dunes. If not, you’ll have a shoe full of sand. Disclaimer: don’t do this in the summer months or you will burn your feet.
4. Colored clothing (This way you stand out from the color of the sand and are easily visible to passing vehicles)
5. A bandana or face covering (If the wind starts whipping and sand starts flying, this is never a bad idea)
The Flight of the Phoenix: A Gripping Story of Survival. Part of the movie (which is not near as good as the book), was shot in the Glamis Sand Dunes.