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If you do only one thing when driving down the Oregon Coast then make it a sand dunes tour. It was one of the coolest experiences of the whole trip and even now, almost a month later, I’m still thinking about how much fun it was.
The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is the largest area of coastal sand dunes in North America stretching from Florence, Oregon, where we were staying down south to Coos Bay. They developed as a result of of millions of years of wind and rain erosion. Dunes are as tall as 500 m above sea level and the dunes are constantly shifting and moving around depending on the wind.
A couple of my coworkers had recommended that we go for a tour of the sand dunes opposed to actually renting ATVs to drive around. Yes, renting our own would mean more freedom and it would be so thrilling to drive our own, however what if you get stuck? Or worst, got lost? I never thought about it until they pointed it out. Going with someone else who knew the terrain and how to maneuver in the sand would make it so easy. They’re able to take you over the sand dunes at the right speed and right angle so that it’s fun and all I had to do was sit back and relax.
Driving out for the first time onto the sand dunes was stunning. Stretched out before you for as far as you can see is sand, sand and more sand. Dotting along the landscape are small islands of trees and rock breaking up the stretches of sand. I can see driving around in the dunes being incredibly disorienting. I was trying to figure out where we were the whole time during the tour, but it was impossible. Everything looked identical.
The weather was a bit strange though. Inland, in the waiting area, it was bright and sunny and really hot. When we drove a little into the Sand Dunes National Park to wait for our tour, it got cloudy. Once we got out into the sand dunes a bit of sun came out, but for the most part it was overcast.
Essentially the whole tour was like being on an amusement park ride for an hour. You’re out in the open, going up and down these massive nature made hills. Wind and hair in your face. I was initially a bit apprehensive about how intense the ride would be. In reality, there were only a couple of stomach in throat moments. I actually wished there were a few more. They were just too much fun!
We spent the majority of our time on the sand dunes, but then our guide also took us to a flatter area and let the buggy loose. It’s incredible how fast it can go. Without the protection of a windshield the wind is nipping at your cheeks and nose and it was so cold. The tour was more than just driving around in the buggy though. Every so often, our guide would stop the buggy and tell us a little about the surroundings and what we were looking at. He happily helped us take photos and answered any questions we had. What an awesome job! You get to drive around the sand dunes all day.
He also took us to the beach that runs along the park. While the dunes proper were a bit overcast, there were breaks in the cloud which made for great shots of sand against the blue sky, but along the beach it was foggy and you could barely see a couple feet ahead of the buggy. This coastal Oregon weather still continues to mystify me.
Be prepared for sand to get everywhere. I would recommend wearing a zip up hoodie and zipping it all the way up. Put your hood up for extra protection and avoid getting a whole lot of sand in your hair. They offered helmets to those 18 and under but I wonder if that would be a good solution to preventing sand getting everywhere in your scalp. Otherwise, tuck in everything and pull up your pants to avoid sand getting inside.
All this said, regardless of how zipped up and covered you are, you will get sand everywhere. For the rest of the day, I was discovering bites of sand all over the place. The worst was the ears. I was so thrilled to finally be able to shower that night!
When you’re zooming around, its exhilarating. Whenever there are sudden turns or stops it may be your instinct to open your mouth and want to scream, but this is the last thing you want to do. All you’re going to achieve is a mouth full of sand. Believe me. I know this from experience. The first time it happened, it was utterly shocking and so so disgusting. I spent the rest of the tour with my mouth firmly shut, resisting the urge to open it even slightly for fear of sand.
In the end I’m glad we decided to book a tour instead of just renting. I had a blast with our tour guide. He provided information and history on the park. We didn’t get lost and had a lot of fun getting driven around. Despite the poor weather, I had a blast. It was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. Here is a video that a friend of mine shot using her GoPro:
Have you ever been on a sand dune tour? Did you like it?
All photos with people in them courtesy of my travel buddy Irving. Check him out on Twitter!
Good To Know
Dress warmly. Even in the summer it’s going to be really really cold. Layers are so important.
They tell you that if you want to bring cameras with you to make sure that they’re stored in a zipped pocket. I put my phone in my jeans pocket and I was fine. I probably could have held onto it too as long as you’re not likely to get too excited and accidentally drop it.
We booked with Sandland Adventures, but there are plenty of other tour companies. Our tour guide was great. Our sandrail tour was $55 per person for an hour. There is also an option for riding a giant buggy if you’re not interested in going super fast and whipping around the dunes. Reservations are recommended especially if you don’t have much flexibility in your schedule. You need to arrive early to sign all your paperwork, but their system is seamless. They also have a lot of random activities at their meeting area like bumper boats which were a lot of fun.