While Nevada’s mighty Basin and Range brims with more mountain ranges, hot springs, and ghost towns than anywhere else in the country, the Silver State’s pristine, unfenced, and still-wild landscapes also encompasses more singing sand dunes than any other place. Along with Sand Mountain and Amargosa Big Dune, Tonopah’s Crescent Dunes rounds out Nevada’s singing sand dunes scene, beckoning off-roaders, geologists, and everyone in between to experience this natural phenomena first-hand.
Singing sand dunes, sometimes called booming dunes, are a big deal because there just aren’t a whole lot of them in the world, let alone the U.S. With only about 30 singing sand dunes on the entire planet, three of them are found within Nevada borders, crooning you to pull over the car and experience this rare, natural phenomenon for yourself. Turns out Nevada’s very dry conditions are the perfect backdrop for this geologic fantasy to go down, considering singing sand can only happen with a very particular grain size and very arid conditions, each producing its own specific pitch.
Despite lookin’ like a real-deal lunar landscape, you won’t find any crescent-shaped dunes within. With super soft sand rolling miles and miles into the desert, dip those paddle tires into steep climbs and descending jumps, natural bowls and basins, desert trails and beyond to make those grittiest UTV, Mad Maxin’ dreams come alive. The dunes complex stretches an impressive 3,000 feet into the foothills, with the biggest dune around 300 feet tall, which just so happens to have the best singing acoustic characteristics compared to the rest. Remember that the sand here on this particular type of dune is super soft, which makes riding fun so long as you’ve got a powerful enough rig to make it up, over and around the dunes without getting stuck.
Know Before You Go
Crescent Dunes Camping & the Best Times to Ride
Situated on the edge of Tonopah, off-roaders rip Crescent Dunes all year long, though it’s most enjoyable from late March through early May, and September through October with temps in the mid 60s. Safely tow your camper to the outskirts of the dunes, or set up primitive camps surrounding the dunes, away from OHV traffic. No amenities or services lie within—remember to bring any and everything you might need, and pack out everything you plan on bringing in.
From Tonopah, head west on US 95 North, then make a right between mile marker 55 and 54 onto Poleline Road. From here, travel about 9 miles further, then keep an eye out for the Crescent Dunes complex in the distance on the right. Just before the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy project—trust us, you’ll see this tower from a long ways out—make a right on Crescent Dune Road. Follow this 2 miles of unimproved dirt road directly to the Tonopah Dunes Off-Road Vehicle Park, but keep in mind that the road will slowly start to become more and more sandy as you approach the dunes. Do not attempt to drive this road without 4×4 access, and even then, 4WD-equipped vehicles can get stuck easily in places surrounding the dunes. Crescent Dunes’ super soft sand makes riding here extra fun, but be sure to keep trailers, motorhomes and all other street-vehicles too close to the dunes.
When traveling Nevada backroads, be sure to live by the Dirt Road Code and travel with 4×4 access and a spare tire. Carry plenty of snacks and water, be sure to let someone know where you’re headed and when you plan to return, and practice Leave No Trace methods whenever possible. Before you hit the dirt, remember that all OHVs must be registered, and be sure to ride only within designated areas. Ride safe and smart!
Crescent Sand Dunes, sometimes called Tonopah Dunes, are managed by Nevada BLM and open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The only thing preventing you from accessing Crescent Dunes would be related to a seasonal, weather-related closure. For more info on Crescent Sand Dunes, get your hands on a map, and to check conditions before heading into Nevada’s unblemished backcountry get in touch with the Nevada BLM Tonopah Field Office at (775) 482-7800.
Crescent Dunes are protected by the Nevada Bureau of Land Management (BLM), making free public access available to all.