For fun along the Oregon sand dunes, you can slide on a sandboard, hop on a dune buggy, operate an ATV, ride a horse or just take a hike. The opportunities for year-round recreation are endless.
In the Sahara or the Southwest, sand dunes may conjure up an image of a thirsty man crawling on his belly desperately looking for water. That image does not apply to Oregon, where the dunes stretch for 41 miles along the Pacific Ocean and have pockets of freshwater lakes.
The dunes rise nearly 500 feet in some areas, making them some of the highest dunes in the U.S. They stretch up to 2.5 miles inland and are a major landmark along U.S. Highway 101 between Coos Bay and Florence. Those two cities and Reedsport, which is known as the “Gateway to the Dunes,” provide accommodations and restaurants. There are campgrounds at state parks, on forest service land and at private RV parks in the area.
To the uninitiated, the dunes may seem like an empty expanse, but for others, this is a family playground that can be enjoyed with a variety of toys.
Sandboarding is similar to snowboarding in that a board is waxed, feet are placed in binders on the board, and you slide downhill. Almost any age can run a slope. But it seems the older you are, the harder it is maintain balance and to climb back up the sand dune. The sand is soft and putting on the brakes is as easy as letting your butt drag into the sand. You will get covered with sand and have uncontrolled laughter after a few spills. Renting a sandboard for half a day is easy, and you can get free advice on how to wax the board and what dunes to use. Sandboarding is best when the sand is dry—you will go downhill faster.
You have a choice here. Several sand buggy operators will take visitors onto the dunes. You can choose a scenic drive through the dunes, or another possibility—and highly recommended—is a heart-pounding, adrenalin rush type of run. After you are buckled into a seat at the waist and shoulders in a buggy with four roll bars, your driver will head for dunes that are tall, steep and bowl-shaped. As you approach the steepest dunes, the engine will roar and lift you on a near vertical climb to the top, with sand flying. Then will come a quick turn and a drop into the side of a sand bowl. Centrifugal force will press your body against the seat as the buggy circles halfway up the bowl. After several more dunes and similar routes, you will be screaming like a little girl and laughing from the experience. It may not be for everyone, but if you like rollercoaster rides, you will love it.
All Terrain Vehicles
All terrain vehicles (ATVs) on the dunes can have three or four wheels. The four-wheel variety is the most commonly used by tourists. The use of an ATV is in a word, freedom—freedom to go wherever you want in the dunes, as fast or as slow as you want, and take the stress out of your life. The outfitter will provide a helmet and operating and safety instructions. All ATV operators are required to have an ATV rider permit in Oregon. You can get a temporary permit when you rent the ATV, but you can speed the process by going to the Oregon ATV safety training website at rideatvoregon.com.
Jeeps also can be rented with or without a guide. It is recommended that riders new to the dunes rent a Jeep with a guide. The guide can show the main routes across the dunes and how to handle the Jeep in the sand. The Jeep’s advantage is that it is enclosed, keeping the sun and sand out.
The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is managed by the U.S. Forest Service, which has put some trails off limits to motorized vehicles. Maps are available at local ranger stations for those who want to enjoy a quiet hike across the dunes to the ocean.
The dunes are open year-round, but summer is busiest, with vacationing families arriving and festivals at neighboring towns drawing thousands of participants. The remainder of the year, visitors can have the dunes to themselves and find solitude.
Because of the evening winds, the sand in the dunes seems fresh each morning, with no tracks from the day before. It is a huge sandbox, where everyone can come and play.
Mike Brodwater is a writer who lives in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
IF YOU GO:
The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is part of the Siuslaw National Forest. For information, visit fs.usda.gov/siuslaw.
For tourist information, visit florencechamber.com, reedsportcc.org, OregonAdventureCoast.com and coastvisitor.com.