By: Dave Helgeson
Ride: Moses Lake Sand Dunes, Washington State
Acres and acres of sand for your riding
pleasure awaits you at Moses Lake Sand
The sand dunes at Moses Lake may not be the most
glamorous place to ride in the Pacific
Northwest, but they do have their advantages.
The first time I rode here was in the late 80’s.
I was in town with a business associate, and he
had brought his motorcycles, a large bore Husky
and his street legal Honda 175. Guess which
machine I was privileged to ride? Well, I
survived and about 10 years later when my
children were old enough to ride and were on
spring break with nothing planned, the Moses
Lake Dunes came to mind. We borrowed some ATVs
from some friends, took an RV, and camped right
on the sand. Everyone had a good time, and we
have been going back a couple times a year ever
Now, what the Moses Lake Sand Dunes
lack in glamour they make up for in comfort and
Close: They are 180 freeway miles from
downtown Seattle, Washington. Other than the
first 15 miles or so, the speed limit is 70 mph.
Once you exit the freeway in Moses Lake and take
your free right turn from exit 179, you are just
minutes from the dunes. We can typically leave
our house in the Seattle area with travel
trailer in tow and be in dunes in about 2 hours
Sunny & Dry: With over 300 days of
sunshine a year, the Moses Lake Dunes are likely
to be sunny. However, when riding areas on the
west side of the Cascade Mountains, it possibly
would be cloudy. Annual rainfall is about 8
inches in Moses Lake compared to more than 60
inches on the Oregon Coast which is the next
closest place to ride on decent sand dunes. We
traditionally take a sunset riding and watching the
sun set over the Cascade Mountains from one of
the higher dunes.
Services: The City of Moses Lake is 10
minutes away with ATV dealers, gas stations,
restaurants, groceries, and yes, a hospital,
with a first-rate trauma staff waiting to serve
you. I speak from experience concerning the
hospital, but that’s another story. So if you
break your ATV, yourself, or you just need a
break, full services are nearby.
No pre-planning needed: There are
endless free places to camp in the sand dunes
without bothersome reservations like some other
riding areas. There is also no limit to the
number of users, so there is never a closure due
to a rider limit. The area is open 24/7 365 days
a year. You can ride your quad at 2 a.m. in the
morning on New Year’s Eve if you want, as long
as you have an operating headlight and are
Swimming & Fishing: How many riding
areas do you know that offer a fresh water sandy
swimming beach where you can legally ride your
quad? Well, the northwest corner of the riding
area borders the south end of Moses Lake. The
beach, of course, is sandy and with Moses Lake
being a very shallow lake, the water warms early
in the season for swimming. The Bluegill are
always hungry, so when you tire of riding, strap
your pole onto your ATV and try your luck with
the fish. Also, between July 1and October 1 an
additional area along the west side of the dunes
opens for motorized recreation. This area
borders on the Potholes Reservoir and the outlet
stream from Moses Lake adding many more
opportunities for water fun.
Now before you start to believe this is ATV
nirvana, there are a few realities I need to
share with you.
There's riding for all ages at Moses
Lake Sand Dunes.
Windy: The wind can blow here, but if
it didn’t, there wouldn’t be sand dunes. Make
sure you anchor your camp when you go out
Dusty: Mount St. Helens scored a
direct hit with her ash deposits here in 1980.
When you travel the trails between dunes, you
will be in the dirt and ash. It will quickly
plug your air cleaner and sinuses if you follow
the rider in front of you too closely. It is
best to spread out when not on the sand and have
the leader cross upwind of the riders behind
him. Since some kind of breeze is guaranteed, it
will blow the leader’s dust away from those who
Size: If you want monster-sized dunes
both in height and overall area, Moses Lake is
not for you. The tallest dunes are 50’ to 60’
high. The total riding area is about 2,000 acres
with the seasonal area (July 1 – Oct. 1
mentioned above) being about a quarter of the
Very few improvements: There is no
potable water, flush toilets or picnic tables
here. The only improvements are pit toilets and
a dumpster for garbage.
An evening ride during sunset is not
only fun, but beautiful as well.
Now if you are ready to go riding in the
Moses Lake Sand Dunes, you will need to know
what you can and can’t legally do there and how
to find them.
Rules and regulations:
for a listing of the do’s and don’ts.
How to get there:
The official instructions to reach the dunes are
to take exit 174 off of I-90 and follow signs
south. However, to save your rig from several
miles of wash-boarded road, take the easy way.
Take exit 179 off of I-90, turn south on Hwy 17,
travel south on Hwy 17 to Baseline Road, take a
right on Baseline Road, proceed west on Baseline
Road to Potato Hill Road, and take a left on
Potato Hill Road. When the pavement ends and
gravel begins, you have reached the ORV area.
Best camping is within the first half mile of
the gravel road.
Have fun, be safe, and I hope to see you
there on your ATV.