When people think of sand dunes they think of harsh desert climes—triple-digit temperatures, blinding dust storms, and no water for thousands of miles. But what if we told you these picturesque sand mountains could be found somewhere else—somewhere, say, a little more climatically comfortable? Along the Oregon coast sits the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area—a 40-mile area of sand dunes stretching from Coos Bay to Florence that runs along the Pacific Coast. There are several parks within the recreation area, including Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park (popularly known as Honeyman State Park). In addition to camping and dune access, the park is a popular area for ATVs, swimming (the park has two freshwater lakes), and the unique sport of sand boarding (think snowboarding on sand). If you’ve never experienced the wonder of these massive sand dunes and don’t feel like trekking all the way to the Sahara, add Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area and Honeyman State Park to your list.
What: Honeyman State Park is part of the 27,212-acre Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area—the largest area of dunes in North America. The spot is ideal for hiking, dune buggies, ATVs, sand boarding, and picnicking, and with two freshwater lakes—Woahink Lake and Cleawox Lake—it also serves as a great fishing and swimming destination. There are two miles of sand dunes separating the entrance of the park from the Pacific Ocean, but ocean views are available from the top of any dune. The park also has the second largest campground in Oregon, constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps back in the 1930s.
Where: About three miles south of Florence off of the iconic coastal highway US-101, and about an hour and a half from Eugene.
How to get there: From Eugene, take route US-126 West to Florence. Take a right on US-101 South and follow for three miles before the big sign directing you to Honeyman State Park. Park will be on your right.
When to go: The late summer months are your best bet for the dunes, typically between July and September. The Oregon coast is temperamental, so rain is a distinct possibility, but the summer months offer up a number of sunny days. Also, the water is much more agreeable in the summer months.
What to bring: Before entering the park, stop at one of the stores just to the north and rent a sand board for the day. Five dollars will get you four hours on the board and wax. Make sure to return the boards on time, as there is a hefty deposit associated with it. Also remember your swimsuit because hiking up the dunes can get a little hot and sweaty—a perfect excuse to jump in the lake.
Do: Camp! For only $21, Honeyman Park camping spots offer premier access to the recreation area without breaking the bank. Park the car and stay a night or two in one of the area’s 200 campsites. Located in a deep forest grove next to the dunes, the camp areas stay cool, shaded, and comfortable throughout the day.
Don’t: Bring too many unnecessary electronics. Sand really does get everywhere, so why risk ruining your smartphone or new DSLR? Try to opt for something a little more durable if you’re going to document your adventures; Contour and GoPro cameras are always a safer bet.