Death Valley, CA
The Eureka Dunes are located in a remote section of the northern part of Death Valley. In my opinion, they offer the best dune photographic opportunities in the southwest. The dunes run about 3.3 miles long (north to south) and 1 mile (east to west), with the highest point 700 feet above the base—making them the second tallest dunes in the country. This location is very hard to get to, but presents many great curves, texture, abstracts, windstorms, and footprint-free dunes compared to other places in the park.
Both sunset and sunrise offer great opportunities here, and the relative isolation of the Eureka Dunes makes it a very appealing location for creative thought for many photographers.
Eureka Dunes is a good location for 2-3 days of landscape photography. But, before considering shooting here, know this place is way off the grid and there is nothing—and I mean nothing—anywhere around. So make sure you bring plenty of food, water, and shelter, as you will be lucky to see more than a handful of people each day.
Trail Difficulty (4 out of 5)
I would rate the difficulty of this trail as a 4 on a scale of 1-5 (with 5 being most difficult). The rating of 4 is based on hiking into and around the very large Eureka Dunes (with up to 6-8 miles roundtrip) and the bone-jarring drive to this location.
The hike from one of the parking lots/campsites is level and not overly sandy until you get to the dunes. As you can image, hiking up a 200ft. sandy dune is very difficult and can zap you of energy. Always be aware of where you are and how to get back to your starting point.
GPS Coordinates & Elevation
Google Maps Birds-Eye-View
Click link above to view location in Google Earth
There are two ways to get to Eureka Dunes – one is from Big Pine, CA, and the other is from Furnace Creek, CA via Scotty's Castle Road (in the heart of Death Valley). At the time of this writing, the road from Furnace Creek had been washed out.
Directions are from Big Pine, CA: Travel east 2.3 miles on CA-168 toward Big Pine Canal. Turn right onto Death Valley Rd./Waucoba Rd. and continue for 27.4 miles. At this point you will be on a gravel road for the next 9 miles until you reach a sign that says S Eureka Rd. Turn right and drive 9.3 miles to the Eureka Dunes Dry Camp. This bone-rattling gravel road has extensive washboards and limits travel to 5-10 mph. Slow down and save your tires, as you do not want a flat here!
You can shoot Eureka Dunes from either the east side or the west. Both have excellent photographic opportunities.
Special Note: The last 20 miles into Eureka Dunes is on a rough gravel road with endless washboards and is known to flatten plenty of tires. I would strongly suggest a high clearance or 4-wheel vehicle with good high terrain tires.
Best Time of Day to Shoot
Sunrise is a great time to shoot Eureka Dunes. However, most photographers shoot the dunes late in the afternoon—late afternoon to sunset—as the soft light and harsh shadows can make for a great composition. Note: The sun sets much sooner than what is listed, as the mountain range to the west blocks the sun about 30-40 minutes before normal. The shot above was taken pre-dawn, just before sunrise.
Best Time of Year to Shoot
I only shoot Death Valley in the late fall, winter, and early spring, as the summers are unbearable. The shot above was taken in January.
What Lens(es) Do You Need
If possible, I would bring lenses/zoom that range from ultra wide to mid telephoto. The compositions are endless on these dunes. The above shot was taken with a 24mm lens.
Once you have paid the entry fee for Death Valley, there are no permits required.
Direction of the Shot
The direction of the shot above is southwest @ 224°.
Special Nuances of Shot
For me, shooting the dunes is about curves, lines, dimension, contrast, shapes, and shadows. You are often looking for an abstract in the middle of the obvious. For this shot, I wanted to show the contrast of colors, shapes, and dimensions of the area. I searched and found this location the day before and marked it with my GPS so I could return pre-dawn for the sunrise.
This shot was taken in January, when the sun was rising from the back left. This location might also work for sunset, as the sun sets to the back right in winter months.
Special Equipment Needed
In addition to a tripod, a hat, and sunscreen, I would strongly suggest bringing a GPS to mark the campsite and your path for easy return. It is easy to get lost or disoriented in these vast dunes.
The hike from one end to the other can be up to 6-8 miles in the desert, so MAKE SURE you bring plenty of Gatorade/water and snacks. This area is also prone to violent windstorms that can happen without much warning.
Number of Other Photographers to Expect
As mentioned, it is rare to see more than 2-3 other tourists/photographers at Eureka Dunes at one time. This is good and bad. It’s good if you like to be alone, and bad if you get in trouble.
As mentioned, I do not go to Death Valley in the summer, as the temperatures are unbearable. In the winter, the days are modest and the nights can dip into the 20s.
I use Verizon, and there is NO cell service anywhere near Eureka Dunes. The closest cell service is when you are approaching the main highway at Big Pine, CA, or when you get to the Furnace Creek area.
The closest towns with lodging are Big Pine, CA (2 hours, 50 miles west) or Furnace Creek, CA (2 hours 45 minutes, 95 miles east and south).
There are primitive dry campsites in Eureka Dunes. These are without water resources, hookups or flushing toilets. The campsites only provide picnic tables and fire pits.
The closest towns with restaurants are Big Pine, CA (2 hours, 50 miles west) or Furnace Creek, CA (2 hours 45 minutes, 95 miles east and south). There are NO RESOURCES in or around Eureka Dunes!
There are no water resources in or around Eureka Dunes.
Other Photography Opportunities Around
The closest major airports to Eureka Dunes are: 1) Meadows Field Airport (BFL) in Bakersfield, CA which is 260 miles (5 hours west and then south) and 2) McCarran International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas, NV, which is 215 miles (5 hours south and then east).
Note: If the road from Furnace Creek to Eureka Dunes is closed, it is MUCH further from Las Vegas.
Area Guides and Workshops
The Photographer's Ephemeris is a very valuable tool for landscape photographers to determine the direction of the sunrise/sunset & moonrise/moonset from any place on earth on any day (past and future). Click here to take you to The Photographer's Ephemeris for this location.