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By: Dave Helgeson

Places to Ride: Olancha Dunes, CA

Sand between scrub areas.
Sand between scrub areas.

With all the big well-known places to ride in the sand in Southern California, I suspect Olancha Dunes is considered the Rodney Dangerfield of sand riding to Southern California residents. From what I could see on a recent visit, Olancha Dunes just doesn’t get any respect--either that or nobody knows about riding ATVs there.

The Olancha Dunes are located 2 miles east of Olancha, California on State Hwy 190. This area is designated as an “Open Area” by the BLM. The area consists of 1,000 acres on sand and desert scrub. On a recent trip through the area I had a chance to ride a majority of the area. The main dune area consists of low rolling dunes. The highest dune is maybe 75-90 feet tall and is the only dune showing any evidence of ever developing a razor back. It is also the only area I witnessed signs of anyone riding here with only a few 4x4 vehicle tracks showing on the lea side of the dune. Everywhere else I rode was free of tracks. After marking up all the sand in the main area, I headed off into the brush.

Largest Dune in Olancha Dunes.
Largest Dune in Olancha Dunes.

In the brushy areas you can pick a path that stays mainly in the sand or travel on the areas more rooted by the brush. The rooted areas are a little rougher to ride, but they present ridges to jump if you want to get a little air as you zip between the bushes. I never did locate an “official” perimeter to the riding area. I think the density of the brush determines the edge of the riding area, as the farther you travel from the main dune, the thicker the brush becomes until it becomes easier to walk. In addition to the desert scrub, the area contains some Joshua trees, which add an unusual element to an ATV ride.  While 1,000 acres is not the largest riding area, the Olancha Dunes do have a couple of other advantages. The Sierra Nevada range is just to the west of the area with Mt. Whitney to the Northwest. This provides some awesome views while you are riding. The mountains also provide a rain shadow to the area which keeps the area dry.

Getting there:

From the intersection on Highway 395 and Highway 190, travel northeast on Highway 190 about 2 miles and watch for the Olancha Dunes sign on your right.

Joshua Trees at Olancha Dunes.
Joshua Trees at Olancha Dunes.


Limited services are available in Olancha. The essentials:  food, fuel, water, and lodging are there if you need them.


Since this is designated as an “Open Area,” dispersed camping is allowed anywhere in the area. However, if you have a two-wheel drive truck or an RV and don’t want to become stuck, you will have to camp near the entrance from the highway. After driving the first 100 yards from the highway, I would suggest parking your vehicle and walking to make sure you can make it before driving any closer to the dunes. Camping is limited to a maximum of 14 days.

Rules and Regulations:

Sierra Nevada Range in background.
Sierra Nevada Range in background.

The area is open year around.

  • California residents: Green Sticker OHV registration is mandatory for ALL vehicles which are not "street legal."
  •  Visitors from outside the state of California must have a valid permit/registration from an off-highway vehicle program in your home state. If there is no valid permit/registration in your home state, you will have to purchase a "Non-Resident OHV Permit" for California.
  •  Vehicles must have legal headlights and taillights if they are used at night.
  •  All vehicles shall be equipped with a whip mast and a 6 x 12-inch red/orange flag.  Flags may be of pennant, triangle, square, or rectangular shape.  Masts must be securely mounted on the vehicle and extend 8 feet from the ground to the mast tip.  Safety flags must be attached within 10 inches of the tip of the whip mast with club or other flags mounted below the safety flag or on another whip.
  •  Pack out all garbage and litter; keep the area clean for your next visit.
  •  Additional Information:  The BLM encourages all recreationists and travelers exploring public lands, not only within southern California but throughout the west, to use a propylene glycol based antifreeze/coolant in their touring and recreation vehicles.  Proven safer, it will have minimal impacts on both the wildlife and the environment should a leak occur.  Please help the BLM protect our desert wildlife and their fragile desert environment.

For more Information, contact:  Ridgecrest Resource Area, 300 S. Richmond Rd., Ridgecrest, CA 93555, (760) 384-5400.

Be safe, enjoy, and I hope to see you on the sand.

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