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By: Dave Helgeson

Places to Ride: Moses Lake Sand Dunes, Washington State

Acres and acres of sand for your riding pleasure awaits you at Moses Lake Sand Dunes.
Acres and acres of sand for your riding pleasure awaits you at Moses Lake Sand Dunes.

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 since.

Now, what the Moses Lake Sand Dunes lack in glamour they make up for in comfort and convenience.

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 45 minutes.

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 sober.

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.
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 riding.

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 are following.

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 total.

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.
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:
Visit 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.

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