Growing rapidly in popularity, sandboarding requires just two things: a large sand dune and a rideable surface—this could be a sled made specifically for dunes, a regular boogie board or a professional-grade sandboard (which resembles and is used like a snowboard). Fans of this activity generally look for the highest dunes, which normally aren’t found on beaches, but instead exist in desert areas, mountain ranges and other environments that invite harsh winds and have eroding rock formations. The following destinations might seem uncommon for outdoor recreation, but have gained attention in the sandboarding community for exciting drops and unique views. Pack up the family or friends and introduce yourself and your loved ones to some thrilling dune rides.
Dune height: ~600 ft.
Drive about a half hour east of Fallon on Highway 50—nicknamed “The Loneliest Road in America” due to its large swaths of uninhabited land—until you reach the Sand Mountain Recreation area, where a two-mile dirt access road heads north toward a large, impressive sand dune. Thousands of years ago, much of western Nevada was covered by a deep lake; with time, powerful winds eroded and moved pieces of quartz into towering slopes, now used for research and recreation. Locals travel to Sand Mountain for activities like motocross and off-roading, but with sandboarding rising in popularity, more visitors come to manually ride the dunes. Toilets are available at the site, but bring plenty of water. Day use fees are $40 (valid for seven days), although entry is completely free on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Dune height: ~10 ft. maximum
One of many naturally beautiful places in Utah, this state park along the southwestern border gets its pinkish hue from the wearing down of nearby Navajo sandstone. Getting to Coral Pink Sand Dunes takes around 40 minutes from Kanab via Highway 89 and Hancock Road, yet the roundabout journey redeems itself once you spot the sprawling, pine-tree-lined desert oasis and its unique rock formations. Along with small dunes for beginner sandboarders, the park provides a wonderful playground for ATV enthusiasts, hikers and photographers; consider stopping by the Tiger Beetle Conservation Area near the main road, where off-roading is prohibited and rare bugs thrive in coarse sand (and bury themselves at night). Amenities, including showers, restrooms and the visitor center are clustered next to the southern parking lot. Day use fees are $8 and $3 for local seniors, with camping at $20.
Dune height: ~750 ft.
At the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range in southern Colorado lie the tallest sand dunes in North America; after a 16-mile drive north on Highway 150, prepare to experience a spectacular mountain view while sailing down hundreds of feet of sand. Though this high desert an d its nooks and crannies tend to be very quiet, powerful winds can sometimes be overwhelming. Once you or others tire of sandboarding, hike to Zapata Falls, accessible through a cave near a campground on the other side of Highway 150. An array of plants and animals dwell in the hillier areas and hunting is permitted during the fall season in Great Sand Dunes National Preserve (on the same side of the highway as Zapata Falls). To rent a proper sandboard, visit Great Sand Dunes Oasis in the adjacent town of Mosca, but do not sandboard during snowy weather to avoid damage and beware of powerful heat stored in the sand itself in high summer. Depending of the size of your car, park entry fees are between $7 per person and $15 per non-commercial vehicle (fees aren’t charged simultaneously). Campgrounds are located up at Piñon Flats and cost from $20 to $80 per night.
Dune height: not specified
Michigan’s Silver Lake is the easternmost destination in the United States to allow private ATVs on its dunes between April 1 and October 31, making it a very popular spot for sand-related sporting events of every kind, including monster truck rallies. The state park faces Lake Michigan, but the areas where visitors come to enjoy the dunes overlook a very tiny Silver Lake, used for swimming and fishing during the summer. Out-of-towners jealous of the vehicle action or those looking to sandboard can rent equipment at local businesses like The Sand Box, Wild Bill’s ATV or Silver Lake Buggy Rentals. After playing in the sand, take a stroll down Lighthouse Drive to Little Sable Point Lighthouse, a 108-foot brick tower built in 1870 that looks elegant with Lake Michigan in the background. Entry to Silver Lake State Park is between $20 and $29, depending on the season.
Dune height: ~100 ft.
The string of barrier islands in North Carolina known as the Outer Banks sees a lot of windy weather, making places like Jockey’s Ridge State Park prone to changing sand elevation. Unlike most of the U.S. parks on this list, Jockey’s Ridge does not charge for entry, but the area is strictly day-use with no room for camping. Along with hiking, kiteboarding and hang gliding (lessons are offered near the visitor center), guests may sandboard from October 1 to March 31 in the designated area; those using sandboards with foot binding must get a free permit from the park office. To learn more about the long history of Jockey’s Ridge and surrounding area, peruse the exhibit hall in the visitor center for stories of pirates, colonial rule and weather records.
Dune height: not specified
Poland’s Baltic Coast might not immediately conjure up images of rolling sand dunes, but Słowiński National Park, established in 1967, defies what we traditionally think of as European. July is typically the warmest month here; locals and visitors alike come to ride horses, frolick in the water and take part in sand-related activities. Sandboarding has not quite become as popular as in the other countries listed, yet this pastime is growing to the point where tourists might find a fellow person partaking in the growing sport. Among the swamps and moors of Słowiński are peat bogs with aquatic birds, such as black storks, eagle owls, ravens, crows and cormorants. Bring bug spray before coming to the site, which is only open between May 1 and September 30. The entry fee is 6 zloty per adult and 3 zloty per child.
Dune height: ~1000 ft. from the crater
Though sandboarding usually communicates a beach or desert activity, Nicaraguans and tourists enjoy the same pleasures on the slopes of an active volcano almost an hour from the Pacific coast. Don’t worry—there haven’t been any eruptions since 1999. Local hikes take visitors to the top of the steep, rocky volcano starting from the standard entrance fee of $5; around the crater, be aware of potentially toxic smoke and gas. From there, careen down a series of volcanic rock until you reach the lush, rainforest-topped base of Cerro Negro. Tours ensure that you won’t get lost—book an adventure with companies like Vapues Tours, El Perezoso Agencia de Turismo Responsable or Eco-Camp Expeditions—all based in León.
Dune height: ~300 ft.
Japan has many interesting tourist attractions—one of them being a cluster of sand dunes in Tottori Prefecture facing the Sea of Japan. An unlikely geographical feature, this overlooked beach sees Asian visitors in the millions each year as a feature of the larger San'in Kaigan Geopark. Here, crowds gather to watch others slide down the dune toward the water, surrounded by a pine forest and paragliders. If necessary, try out a sandboarding course across the street at the Rakudaya Omiyage to hone your skills with professionals. After being out on the dunes and in the sun, visit the open-air Sand Museum, a gallery of temporary sculptures made of Tottori sand. Inclement weather makes official “sandboarding season” from April 15 to November 30—Japan gets quite cold and wet in the winter.
Dune height: ~200 ft.
Traditionally, travelers in western India’s vast Thar Desert view its breathtaking, endless dunes by taking a camel ride around sunset. A more modern and exciting method of enjoying Sam Sand Dunes—boarding—takes you down the hills of the ancient Indus Valley in a manner that doesn’t require a guide. While out in the dune area, consider spending time in a reasonably priced desert residence, an accommodation option flanked with local vendors, live music and folk dancing. Each village has its own flavor and set of amenities; however, don’t forget to visit the mid-sized walled city of Jaisalmer only 25 miles east, nicknamed the “Golden City” for its brassy, centuries-old sandstone architecture. Other much-talked-about highlights are the must-see sunsets (crowds form every evening) and available 4WD tours of a nearby oasis. Before planning your trip, note that the dunes absorb too much heat during the summer for comfortable desert activities.
Dune height: ~170 ft.
Australians have a reputation for enjoying outdoor sports and recreation; unsurprisingly, this huge country loves sandboarding and has quite a few established locations for dune surfing. New South Wales’ lush refuge of Hat Head National Park is a haven for protected birds and butterflies, and between May and November whales pass by on the coast. Sandboarding can be just one part of a fun getaway in Hat Head in addition to several worthwhile trails and lookouts around the park. Once you’ve seen the splendid Smoky Cape Lighthouse a couple miles up the North Coast, go to Hungry Head and see how high your sand vessel can travel across the dunes, or just play around with beginners closer to the beach. Entry fees are $8 per vehicle with parking at the Hungry Gate Campground.
This article was written by Juliana Cohen