This trek to the Pinto Basin Sand Dunes can be a welcome change of pace from more crowded trails in other parts of Joshua Tree National Park. Although the Pinto Sand Dunes are not proper sand dunes (they’re piles of sand built up against a low-lying ridge of rocky hills), this is an exceptionally peaceful and quiet part of the park that is not visited by many. Hikers should have experience with backcountry navigation here, and we recommend visiting in the spring, when tiny primrose and other wildflowers in the creosote fields provide bonus attractions for keen-eyed hikers.
The hike begins at the Turkey Flats Backcountry Board. According to legend, an enthusiastic farmer in the 1920s thought this spot in the middle of the desert far from any real commercial demand was a choice spot for a poultry farm. Reality had some other thoughts about that plan, though, and although it never came to fruition the name stuck around.
From Turkey Flats, look to the northeast for the high point – Pinto Mountain. Lace up your boots, aim for the low sand dunes in the distance, and start hiking.
Using the landmark of Pinto Mountain will help make sure you’re generally walking in a straight line. Be sure to look backward once in a while to get your bearings for the return trip, too — the trailhead will get lost in the elevation and desert scrub the further you venture out into the Pinto Basin.
If you are in a group, try to hike in a single file line to reduce your impact on the landscape. Many creatures live in burrows in the creosote flats here and would likely appreciate you not crushing their homes.
If you’re traveling in the spring, be sure to keep an eye peeled for tiny little wildflowers that like to make an appearance here. Desert sand verbena and desert calico are gorgeous plants that are diminutive enough to go unnoticed by most — but chances are if you’re out wandering the remote backcountry of the Pinto Basin, you can appreciate the slowed time and attention to small detail of the desert, right?
You’ll hit the first ridge of the so-called sand dunes about a mile in. Feel free to continue to a second ridge or just take a seat here and soak in the wonderful silence of the desert landscape before returning back the way you came.
Nonexistent. This is a point-to-point backcountry route.
There are several campgrounds to the west of the trailhead, most of which are first come, first served.
This hike begins at the Turkey Flats Backcountry Board, 13.5 miles north of the Cottonwood Visitor Center or 16.2 miles south of the intersection between Pinto Basin Road and Park Boulevard.
With wildifres, smoke conditions, COVID-19, and National Forest and other public land closures rampant, please reach out to the land management agency in charge before you head out for a hike to make sure the trail is open and safe to be on.