By: Dave Helgeson
Places to Ride: Olancha Dunes, CA
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
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
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
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
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
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