Almost anyone who loves riding quads enjoys taking them out to the dunes. Sand is one of the safest, most fun and enjoyable surfaces for an ATV. That being said, we want you and your buddies to be able to go out and enjoy the wide world of sand-slinging to your heart’s content.
If you have friends who are new to duning, then take the time to show them the ropes, and what it takes to enjoy this unique form of off-road adventuring. Being prepared, and knowing a few rules of the dunes, will go a long way in making your sand adventure safe, sane, and even more fun.


You will want to limit your ATV rides to the designated sections. One of the biggest problems facing duners is that reckless trespassing and unsafe riding practices effect all of us. Be safe, sober, and always ride with all your safety gear on. Be prepared for the worst.
You will also want to make sure you are riding in areas open to off-highway vehicles. In areas adjacent to sand dunes, stick to designated roads and trails only. Another good idea is to obey all speed limits where posted. It is always a good idea to slow down to around 15 miles per hour near campgrounds, campsites, and people. Nobody likes an idiot who races full-on near their kids and company, when there is a whole desert to explore fifty feet away!


Sand dunes are constantly changing. That is the beauty of riding in the sand. It is swept clean each day by the natural elements, such as the wind. That also means you need to keep your eyes peeled for sudden drop outs (usually called witches’ eyes) which are created by wind gusts and sometimes hard to see. A “witch’s eye” or “blow hole” is a ravine or depression in the sand. It is also one of the most dangerous obstacles you’ll find, mainly because they are so unpredictable and hard to see. Always be on the lookout for them, especially when traveling at a fast clip.

It is not a bad idea to use stationary landmarks or a GPS to help you navigate your way around the dunes (it’s also a lot of fun). Be on the lookout for sudden ravines, depressions (those witches’ eyes again), and steep drop offs.

These steep drops are known as slipfaces, and are formed by blowing sand. Slipfaces occur when wind blows sand over the top of a dune, settling it on the leeward side. This sand becomes piled so steep it “slips” down, creating sharp drop-offs. When negotiating these types of dunes, be wary.

Sidehilling is when you traverse the side of a sloping sand hill with your machine. It’s best to let the back end drop down the dune face and steer the front end with the throttle pinned.

Razorbacks are another dune hazard and are formed when the wind blows sand in multiple directions, and a knife-edge ridge appears on the top. As you approach the top of a dune crest, or razorback, parallel the edge to avoid shooting over the steep drop-off. If you are in a UTV, try to do this on the driver’s side so you have a better view over the edge.

If you like to jump in the sand, be sure to use a spotter. Have a buddy  located at the top of the hill, to let you know when it’s safe, and to let others know when you’re coming up over the top. Before you pin the throttle,  scout out the dune ride areas before traveling at higher speeds.

Heat haze and mid-day “whiteout” can distort the sand. The worst time to ride in the dunes is in the middle of the day, with bright sunlight. There is little depth perception, so it is hard to see the bottom of the hills or anticipate g-outs. The solution? Reduce your speed to allow more time to react. You might also want to try running orange or yellow tinted lenses in your goggles, to help reduce midday glare.

On steep uphills, maintain speed and momentum. You will want to accelerate before the bottom of the hill, to maintain momentum up it. Don’t wait until you dig in and stop. If you start slowing down too much, turn downhill immediately, and try a different route. If you have to get off, get off on the uphill side of your machine, drag the front end down, remount and go at it again.

Another sand riding technique is known as side hilling. When riding along a steep sand slope you let the rear wheels drop down, and navigate the slope with the front wheels along the side of the hill. You want to use the throttle to hold your height on the hill, and turn the wheels out as you ride across the face of the hill sideways. “Side hilling” is a fun technique to master, and requires throttle control and balance to do well.

A hidden danger in the dunes are worm tracks. These are berms created near campsites by repetitive riding, usually by a bunch of kids riding over a track located near their camper. These are difficult to spot and are extremely hazardous. Another good reason to keep speeds low in all camping areas.

No parent should ever let their child take off and go riding alone in the sand, or anywhere else for that matter! Responsible parenting means that you know exactly where, when, and how your son/daughter are riding their ATV.


Buddy up with two or three riders when duning. Riding solo can leave you vulnerable if you have an accident or breakdown. Never, ever ride alone. It’s a good idea to designate a meeting spot, in case you get separated from your buds. Make sure the last rider in your lineup to always check back to see that the person behind them is still with the group.


Get a map of your destination and determine which areas are open to motorized vehicles. Then make a realistic plan, and stick to it. Always inform someone where you are going, and when you are coming back. Also, be sure and check the weather forecast before you go. Who wants to sit inside their trailer waiting for a wind storm to die down?

Everyone who rides in the dunes should prepare for the unexpected by packing a small backpack full of emergency items. It should go without saying that a Dirt Wheels reader would always wear a quality helmet, good eye protection, riding boots, gloves, and even a roost deflector, and other safety gear, when riding their ATVs in the sand.

If you have a UTV always buckle up when riding sand and always wear eye protection and a helmet when driving or traveling as a passenger in these type vehicles. Just because it has a roll cage, don’t think that your head can’t hit it. The false sense of safety of these machines can lead some riders to think about riding without a helmet. Don’t. The life you save will be your own, and perhaps someone else near and dear to you. It’s also a good idea for UTV drivers to carry a fire extinguisher with them.


Nobody likes waiting for a buddy who is always breaking down and causing everyone else to wait up. Go over your OHV before every ride. Be prepared with tools, supplies, spares and a repair kit for trailside fixes.

Take a tow rope, spare tie-downs (which can also be used as tow ropes), zip ties, a good tool pack, some spare spark plugs, and a tire repair kit with you. The great thing about ATVs is they have plenty of areas to store these items, so you don’t have to wear a cumbersome tool bag like a dirt bike rider might.

Another thing you will want to do is to avoid sensitive areas such as lakeshores, wetlands and streams, unless they are located on designated routes. This protects wildlife habitat and sensitive soils from damage. While it might look attractive and fun, avoid riding on dunes next to rivers, streams, and lakes, unless they are part of the dune environment. Also, don’t run over native plants; it doesn’t help our cause when it looks like we’re out ripping up the local vegetation.


Tread Lightly!, Inc. is an educational program dedicated to increasing awareness of how to enjoy the great outdoors while minimizing impacts of recreational use. This non-profit organization emphasizes responsible use of off-highway vehicles, other forms of travel, and low-impact principles related to outdoor recreational activities. It is a long-term, informational program designed to increase the public’s awareness that special care of the outdoors must be exercised by recreationists if opportunities to recreate are to continue.

Individual Memberships can be obtained for a tax-deductible fee of $20, renewable annually. Tread Lightly! offers Individual, Retailer/­Outfitter, Dealer, and Club memberships as well.

Each category varies in benefits and contribution levels. After joining as an individual member, you will receive a window decal, a product catalog, a copy of Tread Lightly! Trails, their bi-annual newsletter, and tips applicable to your areas of interest.

Dirt Wheels highly recommends supporting this worthy organization and the good works it does in helping promote responsible off-road use. For more information contact Tread Lightly at


The more we show we respect where we ride, the better. Make sure you pack out all your stuff, as well as any you find out there. Carry a few rabid trash bags with you at all times. If we can show the anti-ATV crowd we are as much stewards of the trail as any environmentalist, then the odds of keeping our ride areas open are greater.
Practice minimum impact camping by using established camping sites and camping 200 feet from water sources and trails. Social bonfires are common in some sand duning areas. Check with local land managers for specific restrictions on what you can burn in them. Many areas prohibit or discourage burning objects which contain nails, hinges, and other metallic items. Who wants a flat tire anyway. Always clean fire pits and pack out the ashes.

In areas without public toilets, pack solid waste out. Sand has no viable microorganisms, which break down human solid waste. So don’t leave anything buried you wouldn’t want to find yourself.

Always have a properly working spark arrester on your quad, as these are required on all OHVs traveling on public lands. Sound is also one of the major issues with a lot of sand dune riding areas these days. You can help to prevent unnecessary noise created by a poorly tuned vehicle or by over revving your engine without need. Use the right silencers on exhausts, which meet the local regulatory decibel levels. Contact your local ranger to see what these sound level requirements are. A loud, or extensively modified exhaust system will not pass muster at most sand dune riding areas. Of course, one of the most important rules for duning and ATVing is to never mix riding with alcohol or drugs.

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