Death Valley has a lot of ‘must-see’ locations, but one of my personal favorites is the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. These dunes are well-known and very easy to visit so, if you are planning on checking them out, I recommend getting there early (sunrise is ideal) to make sure you see them before they are disturbed by the footprints of hikes and tourists.
Mesquite Flat is located in central Death Valley near Stovepipe Wells. There is a campground at Stovepipe Wells that provides extremely easy access to the dunes (about a 5-10 minute drive) although the campsite itself is…lackluster, to say the least. It is more of a glorified parking lot. I would personally try to book a site at Furnace Creek which, while quite a bit further (30-40 min drive) is well worth it compared to the flat, RV dominated sites of Stovepipe Wells. However, if convenience is key and you don’t mind a very boring place to pitch your tent, it’s hard to beat the proximity of Stovepipe.
Access to the dunes is from Hwy. 190 or from the unpaved Sand Dunes Road. Off of highway 190 there is an easy-to-find parking directly off the road, that has a porta-potti style rest room available.
Once you’re parked, venturing out into the sand is just a few steps away – there is no formal trail out into the dunes. From the parking lot you will see the highest dune, which rises a little more than 100 feet above the ground. This is relatively small compared to some other dunes which rise to over 600 ft in other areas of the park; but the entirety of Mesquite Flat covers a vast area which makes you feel like you have stepped onto another planet. If you’re looking to summit the 100-footer, it will take you about 30-45 minutes of hiking through very soft sand. The trek is broken up by a few peaks and valleys of smaller dunes, as well as stretches of spongey, cracked clay from an ancient lakebed that makes up the floor (these stretches are lovely and help to alleviate the difficulties of the hike if you are not used to wading through sand).
Mesquite Flat are an incredible site both in the early morning and at night. When there is a bright moon, I highly recommend a stroll through this amazing area of DVNP. The stars, deep blue sky, and eerie glow on the dunes is something you will not soon forget. If, however, you are more of a lark than a night owl, sunrise is absolutely stunning as well – heck, why not check it out at both times and decide for yourself. I assure you, the Dunes will not disappoint.