Kelso Dunes, Mojave National Preserve, California

Visiting Kelso Dunes in Mojave National Preserve

Updated December 2023, Visiting Kelso Dunes in Mojave National Preserve was originally published in 2023

Kelso Sand Dunes are a sight to behold for those visiting the heart of the Mojave National Preserve being among the only 30 singing sand dunes in the world. 

On my most recent visit, in which I had originally come out to Nevada to see my parents, Kelso Dunes, the Mojave Lava Tube, along with several other stops in the Mojave National Preserve just across the border in California were added to my itinerary as I road-tripped the Desert Southwest.

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What are Singing Dunes?

As I described in my recent post about the nearby Amargosa Dunes in Nevada, singing dunes are a natural phenomenon only found in 30 places around the world.

The dunes seemingly “sing” when wind passes above their peaks, vibrating the sand which creates a low-pitched booming sound.

For this natural splendor to take place the dunes must be sat in an extremely arid location and be comprised of sand of a specific grain size, all of which Mojave National Preserve delivers in the area around Kelso Dunes.

Quick Visit Info for Kelso Dunes

  • Kelso Dunes is open year-round unless there is a road closure into Mojave National Preserve
  • There is no fee to enter Kelso Dunes
  • If planning to hike up to the top of Kelso Dunes, be aware that the trek is 4 miles return and that you will be climbing up 650 feet to reach the top
  • Temperatures can get extremely hot in the Mojave Desert so best to visit spring, fall, and winter, and if planning a summer visit shoot for either early morning or around sunset

How to get to Kelso Dunes

Kelso Dunes are located in the Mojave National Preserve between US-15 and US-40

From either interstate, turn onto Kelbaker Road, you will be able to see Kelso Dunes from quite far away.

Keep driving toward Kelso Dunes until you reach Kelso Dunes Road.

Continue down Kelso Dunes Road until you reach the parking lot and trailhead. 

Note that some of the journey takes place on dirt roads. You should be able to get down them with no problem, even in a smaller car with some caution.

Walking Up Kelso Dunes

Distance: 4 miles return
Elevation gain: 650 feet
Time: 2-3 hours

Don’t let the short distance and 650 foot elevation gain fool you- much of the trek up Kelso Dunes is across and up sand which is not easy to walk in. As you get closer to the summit every step up nearly slides halfway back to where your foot started from. 

From the Kelso Dunes Trailhead, start walking toward the dunes (obviously!).

Eventually, you’ll start climbing smaller dunes to ultimately arrive at the base of the largest of the Kelso Dunes. 

The walk up is pretty straightforward and the footprints of previous hikers to the top will give you some options of route to select from. 

From the top of Kelso Dunes enjoy 360° views of the surrounding Mojave Desert.

Tips for Hiking Safety at Kelso Dunes

  • Hiking at Kelso Dunes in the summer months isn’t recommended due to high temperatures. If you do come in summer it’s best to hike early in the morning or later in the evening. 
  • Bring water. There is no water along the route or at the Kelso Dunes Trailhead. 
  • Make sure to put on sunscreen as there is no shade on the hike up Kelso Dunes. 

Camping at Kelso Dunes

Camping is possible around Kelso Dunes but you will need to be self-sufficient as it is primitive camping and there are no facilities or amenities.

Camping is first-come first-served.

The Best Time to the Visit Kelso Dunes

It is possible to visit the Kelso Dunes year-round. That said, it’s best to avoid summer as the temperatures can boil at temps of 100°-120°F.

Have any questions about visiting Kelso Dunes?

Ask in the comments section below.

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