Oregon Dunes

Exploring the Magnificent Oregon Dunes

I’ve been to the Oregon Dunes many times throughout my life living in Oregon. This was my first trip to explore the heart of the dunes beyond the beach. They are spectacular!

The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is extensive, covering 40 miles from Florence to Coos Bay. The dunes are part of the Siuslaw National Forest. The Oregon Coast is always lovely, and I enjoy spending my free time there.

Oregon Dunes are unlike any other in the world and are the largest coastal dunes in the world. They have formed with time, wind, and water, and their landscape drastically changes appearance from year to year.

Depending on the activities you want to do and how much exploring you want to plan at least a day to see the dunes. Let’s explore all the fun things to do at the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area.

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Where are the sand dunes in Oregon?

The Oregon Dunes are located on the Oregon Coast, between Florence and Coos Bay. They are about an hour and a half drive from Eugene, three hours from Portland, and three and a half hours from Redwood National Park.

Beach at Oregon Dunes
Oregon Dunes Beach

Entrance Fee and Cost

  • Digital Recreation Passes available through Recreation.gov are 5$ a day.
  • If you’re planning more stops along Highway 101, the Pacific Coast Byway, choosing the Oregon Pacific Coast Passport might be the option for you. It costs 35$ and covers over 15 state and federal fee sites.
  • Northwest Forest Pass is 30$ annually and covers all Forest Service Sites within Oregon and Washington.
  • The America the Beautiful Pass will get you into U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service sites charging entrance or standard amenity (day use) fees. This is the one that I carry with me everywhere.

You get to choose the best option for your travels.

Visitor Centers

Oregon Dunes recreational area has a visitor center in Reedsport, Oregon, about the dunes’ midway point. Here you can get maps, brochures, gifts, and learn more about the dunes. Be sure to check their website for the most current hours.

Oregon Dunes
Sand formations at Oregon Dunes

History of the Dunes

Given the diverse and rare landscape, the 31,500-acre section of the Siuslaw National Forest was designated a National Recreation Area in 1972. The sand in the dunes has been present for about 6,000 years and comes from the Coast Mountain Range, which was displaced 12 million years ago and ground down into sand over time. More geological history can be found on the US Forest Service website.

Best time to visit the dunes

The best time to visit Oregon Dunes for outdoor recreation is late spring to early fall due to the weather. Any time of year is good for ocean and wildlife watching.


The warmest months are from mid-June to the end of September. Always be prepared for wind and have a jacket, as it can be chilly. Winters are wet and rainy, with dryer summers.

Driftwood at Oregon Dunes

Planning your visit

Dangers of Sand and a Word of Caution

  • Visiting the sand dunes can be great fun, but they also carry some dangers. If you plan to venture into the dunes away from the ocean, be aware that they can be very disorienting and easy to get lost in.
  • Dunes can be deceptive; they may not look tall at one angle, but they may be very steep with long drop-offs on the other side.
  • The last word of caution is that walking in sand is hard work and can be tiring, so know your limits when venturing out.

Ocean Dangers

The Pacific Ocean is a great place to surf, watch the waves roll in, and play, but it can be dangerous. Every year, we hear of people who get caught up in rip tides and get injured or pulled out to sea. The ocean waters are also very cold, unlike some beaches. Never turn your back to the water and be aware of what you are doing.

Pacific Ocean South Jetty Oregon Dunes
Pacific Ocean from South Jetty in Florence, Oregon Dunes

One day at Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

Even if you only have one day, you can still see the area’s main highlights. Arriving early is best so you have time to take in the scenery. Go for a walk on the beach and listen to the waves crash on the shore; it’s so relaxing.

Knowing what you want to see ahead of time will help you plan your day and maximize your time. Some tours are best booked in advance. If you’re unsure what to experience, don’t worry—I’ve got you covered.

Activities within Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

Being located with the Pacific Ocean on one side and the dunes with natural lakes and forests on the other, the possibilities are endless. This area offers something for everyone, including photography, hiking, riding off-road machines, horseback riding, canoeing, strolling on the beach, and camping.


One of my favorite things to do is walk on the beach. Take off your shoes and feel the sand under your feet. It is easier to walk in wet sand than in dry sand. Staying on the beach with the ocean in sight is a safe way to help prevent getting lost. Just remember you have to walk back as far as you walked to get there. I always tend to go farther than I thought I did and have a long way to walk back.

walking at Oregon Dunes

Go with a Guide


Are you worried about navigating within the dunes? Hiring a guide is a great way to see the “inside” of the dunes and not worry about navigating. I would do this as I get disoriented in the sand quickly. Wavecrest Discoveries offers half-day walking tours.

Ranger Guided Hikes

Rangers also offer guided tours. They are held most weekends in different locations throughout the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. Check with the visitor center to find out when those are occurring.

Oregon dunes
Inside the heart of the Oregon Dunes

Dune Buggy Tours

Taking a dune buggy tour can be a fun way to explore the heart of the dunes while allowing someone else to do the driving and navigation. Our family recently did a giant dune buggy tour with Sandland Adventures in Florence, and it was a lot of fun. Spinreel is a company out of North Bend, farther south, that also offers tours.

If you are visiting in the winter, Sand Dunes Frontier, out of Florence, will be your best bet.

Giant Dune Buggy our family rode on!


Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is home to over 400 species. With such a diverse ecosystem, you are guaranteed to spot one of the many animals that live here. On the beach, you will see sea birds, sea lions, and maybe, if you are lucky, a whale. Inland, keep your eyes peeled for larger birds of prey such as bald eagles, elk, and deer.

Roosevelt Elk

When passing through Reedsport, stop at the Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area, just a few miles inland from Reedsport. This spot allows plenty of room to pull off the road, park, and gaze upon the elk.  You can often see many elk in this spot, and they are magnificent.

Roosevelt Elk | Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management


Harbor seals and California Sea lions are very popular on this stretch of the ocean. We saw them swimming off the jetty just the other day.


This is a popular way to experience the dunes. It’s like snowboarding but with sand. If you want to slide fast in the sand, check out Sand Master Park in Florence. You can learn how to sandboard and rent your boards for the day here.

Canoeing and Paddleboarding

Many people enjoy canoeing and paddleboarding here, and there are many lakes and streams within the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. If you are looking to rent equipment, check out Oregon Paddle Sports.

Horseback Riding

C&M Stables offers horseback tours of the dunes and beaches. They have adventures for all levels of riders, from beginning to advanced. 

Seabird Oregon Dunes

Dune Closures

Oregon Dunes close in sections throughout the year. Be sure to check the Visitor’s Center for closures on sections of the dunes for Western Snowy Plover nesting. Their nesting season is from March 15 to September 15.

Where to Eat

One of my favorite places to eat in Florence is Homegrown Public House Brewery. They offer homemade options, are dog-friendly, and have good food. The only downside is that they can get busy, and there are sometimes long wait times to get seated.

My nieces like Mo’s, but I feel like there is better seafood around. Most of their options are fried, which I dislike.

Where to stay

Know that lodging accommodations can fill quickly, and it is best to book in advance to ensure you have a room for the night.


Hotels are available from Florence to Coos Bay. Depending on your budget and room desires, you will have many options.


Camping is a great option to get out and enjoy nature. Honeyman State Park is a popular camp place right in the dunes’ heart. Campsites book fast and can fill quickly; be sure to get your reservations as soon as possible. They become available six months in advance. 

Dogs on the Beach

Dogs are allowed within many areas of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. There are specific areas dogs can’t go to, especially during Western Snowy Plover nesting season. My dogs love to swim in the ocean. Always check the Forest Service website for restrictions.

Oregon Dunes
Heart of the Oregon dunes seen from tour.

Other nearby attractions and National Parks

Crater Lake National Park 4 1/2 hours

Redwoods National Park 3 1/2 hours

Olympic National Park 6 hours

Mt. Rainier National Park 5 1/2 hours

Multnomah Falls 3 3/4 hours

Important Reminder for Your Trip

The area contains spectacular beauty, flora, and fauna. It is up to all of us to do our part to protect the area. Please follow leave no trace principles; if you pack it in, please pack it out! Leave things where you find them, and take only pictures and memories.

sitting at beach on dune
Soak up the views from the dunes!