Dunes and desert close to Salt Lake City

By the staff of Dirt Wheels

Utah’s Little Sahara Recreation Area attracts 300,000 visitors a year for good reason. You can see famed Sand Mountain and the Sand Mountain camping/staging area behind our cars.


For those of us in California where two of our major dune playgrounds require driving through some of the most desolate desert around, reaching the Little Sahara Recreation Area (LSRA) is a treat. From Salt Lake City, the nearest major population and transportation hub, the trip to Little Sahara is around two hours with a trailer. Along the way you’ll see lakes, rivers, mining towns and rolling prairie.

LSRA records more than 20,000 visitors on the busy Easter, Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends, and 300,000 visitors annually. All fees collected are used to keep the site clean and open to the public.

We are used to seeing sand with rocks that are becoming sand again over eons, but this sand has migrated with the wind from ancient Lake Bonneville that dried up 15,000 years ago.


The 60,000 acres of sand dunes, trails and sagebrush flats of LSRA are managed by the Bureau of Land Management and designated and managed as an off-highway-vehicle open area. The recreation area is about 12 miles long (north to south) and 10 miles wide. The draw for most off-roaders is Sand Mountain. Found near the south end of the area, Sand Mountain is a wall of sand nearly 700 feet tall.

The sand dunes near the northern part of the area have plenty of riding, including the bowls we all love so much. The low-lying dunes southwest of Black Mountain provide good terrain for beginners or for those who just want to get away from the crowds. Black Mountain provides a network of dirt trails up, over and around a peak, offering excellent trail riding for just about any kind of OHV. You won’t want paddle tires there.

LSRA is located in the northeastern part of the Sevier Desert in western Utah. That is within the northern half of one of Utah’s largest dune fields (about 220 square miles). According to BLM literature, the dunes at Little Sahara are remnants of ancient Lake Bonneville, which receded about 15,000 years ago.

Winds that flow across the Sevier Desert deposited the sand near what is now Sand Mountain, creating 124 square miles of free-moving dunes. The dunes are still moving to the north and east between 5 and 9 feet per year. The elevation ranges between 5000 and 5471 feet. When we went to LSRA, the temperatures were a little milder than they had been in Salt Lake.

Little Sahara’s dunes are still migrating, so the sand wiggles around and over the mountain to make these dune areas, but they have natural rock formations breaking up the sand corridors.


Visitors to LSRA can hike in the protected 9000-acre Rockwell Outstanding Natural Area, try fat biking (off-road bicycles with wide, high-flotation tires) on the dunes, attempt sandboarding or sand-skiing down Sand Mountain and wildlife viewing. Two children’s sand play areas are available. One is in White Sands Campground and the other in the Jericho Picnic Area. Motorized vehicles are not permitted inside the play areas or the natural area.


There are several small towns in the area (Nephi, Delta, Eureka and Lynndyl) with lodging, fuel, supplies and food, but none are adjacent to the LSRA. As a result, many visitors camp in one of the 255 improved campsites. Improved camping areas are located within four campgrounds: White Sands, Oasis, Jericho and Sand Mountain.

White Sands has campsites nested among the juniper trees. Immediate access to dunes makes this a popular destination. There are 99 campsites, flush toilets (vault in winter), drinking water and a fenced play area.

Little Sahara is famed for its juniper trees, but none are more famous or visited than this one near the Sand Mountain end of the dunes.


Oasis is the most developed camping site in the recreation area with paved pads for trailers and motor homes. Ready access to the dunes, 114 campsites, flush toilets (vault in winter), an RV dump station and drinking water make it a desirable location.

The Jericho camping area is across the main paved road from Oasis. It was originally a fenced picnic area but now serves as an overflow and group camping area. It has a paved parking access road, 41 picnic tables with shade, flush toilets, drinking water, amphitheater and a fenced sand-play area for kids.

Sand Mountain is at the end of the paved road. It has primitive camping, and it acts as a staging area. People here want to be in the heart of the dune action more than they care about the camping. This place really rocks during popular holiday weekends. Three paved parking loops, vault toilets and drinking water are all that is available. Dispersed camping is permitted throughout the Little Sahara Recreation Area. In addition to campground amenities, LSRA has a visitor’s center and a fire station.

There are a lot of UTVs at LSRA, but there were a good number of quads and motorcycles out having fun as well.



The visitor center is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Thursday through Monday. It is closed Tuesday and Wednesday. On Easter weekend, Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend, the visitor center stays open until 9 p.m. Admission is $18 per vehicle per night, but frequent visitors can buy a $120 annual pass. It is only $60 for seniors and persons with disabilities. Visitors pay at a self-registration station located on the entrance road when the visitor center is closed.

If you’re under 18 years of age, helmets are required, but we think everyone should wear one while off-roading regardless of the vehicle type. Drinking and driving is prohibited, and whip flags are required by state regulations in sand dune areas.

This is shot from the top of Sand Mountain looking down at the Sand Mountain camping and staging area and the road in from the visitor center.



27020 W Sand Mountain Road

Eureka, Utah 84628 (435) 433-5960


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