A Guide to Hiking The Panamint Dunes in Death Valley

02/04/2017

The Panamint Dunes is located in the northern end of Death Valley National Park. This place doesn’t get a lot of visitors, probably because it is not as accessible as the well-known Mesquite Sand Dunes inside Death Valley.

Hiking the Panamint Dunes in Death Valley National Park is such a fulfilling one, and here’s why..

THE Terrain

The trailhead is located in the middle of the desert, and you would have to drive 10 miles through an unmarked & unpaved dirt road to reach the parking lot. A high clearance vehicle is recommended because of all the sharp rocks on the road, and also because the path tends to be very muddy when it rains.

Once you reach the lot, you will find no trail. From here, the sand dunes appear to be quite near, but don’t be fooled – it is 4 miles away!  You simply start your trek, aiming for the highest dune. You will then have to make your way through miles and miles of desert land until you reach the bottom of the dunes. The terrain was very rocky at first, and it started to become sandy – which makes it a bit more challenging to walk on.hiking the panamint dunes

The Hike

About 2-3 miles in, you will finally reach the bottom of the dunes, and this is where the trek starts to get more challenging. Continue to fight your way up the first hill, taking breaks in between as needed, and you will eventually reach the part of the dunes which had this view.

panamint sand dunesTo get to the top of the highest dune, just follow the ridge lines and continue on until you’ve reached the top.

It was a long and tiring hike through the desert, but being rewarded with this kind of view at the top was very fulfilling and well-worth it!hike panamint sand dunesdesert hiking in death valley

The Experience

Prior to this hike, we went to the visitor’s center to ask for the directions to Panamint Dunes. The rangers had warned us about a rain coming in the afternoon and advised us to start heading back once it came, so we wouldn’t get our car stuck in the muddy road. Knowing that there is no cell service and that this area is far from where we were camping in Death Valley, we were a bit worried.

It started drizzling when we reached the bottom of the dunes, and at that point we all decided to just take a few pictures of the place and start heading back for the car. We all knew that we would regret that decision, since we were already out there..so the first instinct I had was to just go for it – but to do it fast..so we won’t get rained on. They all agreed, and so we tried sprinting all the way to the top of the first dune, but boy was it hard! haha! We pushed ourselves to reach the top of that dune, and luckily the drizzling stopped and that gave us time to rest our legs, sit around, and enjoy the place.

panamint dunesThe best part of it all was that we had the whole place to ourselves. There were no other footprints in the sand, and the views were so vast and beautiful.

I’m so glad we went for that last push to reach the top. The whole 8 miles would have been for nothing if we didn’t.


NEED TO KNOW

Miles: 8 Miles RT (no trail, cross-country hike)

Hike Time: 4-5 hours

Elevation Gain: 1,115ft

Difficulty: Moderate

Permits/Fees: Free

Other Notes:

The Panamint Dunes is located in a very remote location, with no cell service, so be sure to always hike with somebody, or at least let someone know you’re headed out there. The weather can be very unpredictable, and rainstorms might get you stuck out there. During the summer, temps could reach up to more than a hundred degrees, and the hike offers no shade, so be aware of that. Always bring more than enough water to keep you hydrated.

The road to reach the parking lot is unmarked, so keep an eye out for this entrance. Coming from Death Valley, the road will be on your right side. You will notice a sign which says “Driving Off Roads Prohibited”..which confused us at first, but then realized that it was refering to the other parts of the desert, and not the unpaved path towards Panamint Dunes. A couple meters after this sign is where you’ll see the entrance to the dirt road.


There are a lot more places to visit in Death Valley, and my faves are Zabriskie Point and Dante’s View! Have you seen these places before?

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18 Comments
    1. Wow it looks amazing! We’ll definitely check this hike out. Will be there soon, it would be awesome to see the super bloom here too..

      1. Oh yes, i heard they’re expecting a really big bloom this year! We got to see it last year and it was the most unreal thing ever – to see a bed of flowers in the middle of the desert 🙂 Have fun out there, Karla!

        1. Oh, how beautiful. I’ve never seen a super desert bloom and this seems like a prime location. These pictures are breathtaking.

    1. This looks like a cool place! I don’t know if I could hike for 4-5 hours. I think 1 hour would be my max.

    1. What an experience that must have been! You’ve captured some very beautiful pictures!

    1. It looks absolutely amazing! I visited Death Valley a few years ago but we stayed in the central and Southern parts of the park, so I didn’t get a chance to see the dunes. I hope I can go back soon.

    1. Wow, what an amazing job you did of walking that distance! This place looks beautiful. I would probably get distracted and stop and look at the beauty of the land.

    1. Your picture of Death Valley is breathtaking. It’s is something that everyone should experience at least once in their life.

    1. That’s beautiful! We just moved to AZ and I am looking forward to exploring more of CA including Death Valley, hopefully sometime soon!

    1. Amazing and I admire your full energy for this hike. I guess I wouldn’t make it 🙂 Congrats for reaching your goal!

    1. I’ve only hiked dunes in Namibia before, and it definitely is a totally different experience than regular hiking. Great guide! And wonderful pictures. I am low-key hoping that I can make it up to Death Valley this year, but I don’t know yet.

    1. I have never heard that you could hike in the Death Valley – it sounds like such an amazing activity!

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