ATV & Offroading

Once known as a place of death and misery to the Spanish explorers in the 1700’s, now the Dunes are where many Yumans and out-of-towners head to have a blast off-roading and camping. On major winter holidays, as many as 150,000 people visit in a single weekend. Now called Imperial Sand Dunes Recreational Area, this six-mile wide by 42-mile long stretch of Dunes is among the six largest deep sand dunes in the country for ATV’ers and off-road enthusiasts.

Most people bring their own rigs, from basic to tricked out. Pop-up “shops” under tents or in RVs in the camping areas offer gear, repairs and food during the busier winter season. Even though you’re remote, you can still look stylish and eat well! 

If you’re visiting and you want to get out in the sand on your own, you can rent an ATV, Razor or Rhino and join in on the fun.

Vehicle camping is permitted in all areas open to vehicle use, with sites available on a first-come, first-served basis. The two main camping areas are Buttercup, Midway and Gray's Well campgrounds along Gray's Well Road south of Interstate 8 and Gecko and Roadrunner campgrounds along Gecko Road south of Highway 78. All offer parking pads, toilets and trash facilities.

Use permits are required within the recreational area for "primary vehicles" - the street-legal vehicle that gets you there. Permits are available for the season or for a seven-day period.  Season permits run from October 1 through September 30 of the next year.

Permits are also required for vendors, filming or special events like weddings, races or organized group activities.

You may save money by buying your permit offsite, by phone, online or from an authorized dealer in Arizona or Southern California.

For more information, click here for the Bureau of Land Management (El Centro office) or to buy a permit.

Besides the Dunes, other areas which allow offroading and ATV riding include King Road and Castle Road, Laguna Mountain Ridge, McPherson Pass and the route of the Butterfield Stagecoach. Also check out trails at Plumosa Mountains, Palm Canyon and Sand Bowl OHV Area.

Want to make your mark on the world? Join thousands who’ve done just that by arranging rocks to spell out names or fanciful designs in the Valley of the Names northwest of Yuma. Since World War II G.I.s who trained in the area started decorating what they called Graffiti Mesa. This unique attraction has now spread across nearly 1,200 acres of public land. Please note that desert etiquette demands that you bring your other rocks rather than snitching from existing “signatures.”  (GPS@ 32.8732685, -114.6844447, take Picacho Road from Winterhaven and bear left at the fork (Barney Oldfield Road.)

Looking for more adventures in wide open spaces? In the Desert is a fun, noncommercial website with all kinds of interesting resources. The site’s Desert Day Trips page features lots of nearby expeditions in both Arizona and California, and you can download the GPX topo tracks from the website and then load them into CalTopo or Google Earth maps.

As with any wilderness area, please respect public lands. Remember to pack out what you pack in and don’t burn garbage. Yuma doctors have tales to tell about ATV accidents at the Dunes. Keep it safe out there and maybe keep the gonzo dangerous stunts to a minimum; this increases the need for Search and Rescue and stresses local emergency resources. Respect who those are seeking a quiet encounter with nature; move to a different location if you’re there to turn up the volume and party on. Do your part to leave no trace and leave it better than you found it for the next person to enjoy. Keep the Dunes pristine and wild.

Arizona Peace Trail

The Arizona Peace Trail is a 650-mile Off-Highway Vehicle Trail in Western Arizona, running between Yuma and Bullhead City to the north. The trail features a variety of recreation opportunities for off-roading enthusiasts. The trail system loops through Yuma, La Paz and Mojave counties.

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