Field Trip to Kelso Dunes Trail and Kelso Depot

Kids climbing dunes

NPS Staff

Climb giant sand dunes and learn about Mojave Desert geology and ecosystems

Contact: Rana Knighten
Phone: (760) 252-6124 or (760) 221-2829


A hike up the Kelso Dunes, some of the tallest sand dunes in North America, allows students to examine the geologic processes involved in dune-building and the plants and animals that call this unique ecosystem home. The Ranger-led hike up the dunes lasts 1.5 - 2 hours. Then head to the historic Kelso Depot Visitor Center for lunch and Ranger Programs and activities.

Logistics and Planning

By school bus, allow 1.75 hours from Barstow, 1.75 hours from Las Vegas, 2 hours from Victor Valley, 45 minutes from Baker. Route is mostly paved roads, but the road to the dunes is graded dirt. All times and distances are one way. No gas stations are located inside the park, so plan accordingly.

Typically, students arrive at the Kelso Dunes Trailhead between 9:30 - 10:00AM. Students take turns using the available vault toilet facilities before the hike. Students are generally split into two groups and start 10 minutes or so after each other. The Ranger-led hike up the dunes lasts approximately 1.5 - 2 hours and is about 1 mile. Along the hike, students will discover how the sand dunes were formed and what they are made of. The dunes provide a very unique habitat for many plants and animals and we will learn about habitats and animal adaptations that are necessary to live in this harsh environment. We may even spot some wildlife! Kids love running and sliding down the dune slopes! On the hike back to the bus, students can pair up and drag magnets through the sand (provided) to demonstrate the magnetic properties of dunes minerals.

After the hike, we will head to the Kelso Depot Visitor Center (approximately 10 miles, 15 minutes away). The group may eat their sack lunches at the outside picnic area, but the group leaders must clean up after themselves before leaving the area. Restrooms and water are available. After lunch, the group will split up and rotate among two or three Ranger-led activities and programs. These activities may include a hands-on demonstration of dune formation, a scavenger hunt, or programs about geology or animal adaptations. Download the Kelso Depot Guide to Programs (101KB PDF).

Closed toed shoes, long pants, shirts that cover the shoulders, water, hat, and sunscreen are required - no sandals, shorts/skirts, or tank tops permitted. Wildlife in the park is protected, so participants should be advised not to pick any flowers or disturb any animals while they are in the park. One adult chaperone/teacher per every ten students is required for the guided walk.

Dunes hike is not available during the summer months.

Last updated: February 28, 2015

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

2701 Barstow Road
Barstow, CA 92311


(760) 252-6100

Contact Us