Pets allowed
Allowed with Restrictions
Guided tours
Backcountry camping
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

Buttercup Sand Dunes is a subsection of the larger Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area, the largest mass of sand dunes in California. The Imperial Dunes, also sometimes called the Algodones Sand Dunes, stretches from the Salton Sea region down to, and across, the Mexican Border.

Buttercup Sand Dunes, located off of Interstate 8, contains dunes that rise to around 300' tall and stretch of a width of about 5 miles. The area's winds constantly resculpt the dunes, creating surreal landscapes. While the draw of the isolated and empty nature of the landscape can be a draw to hikers and photographers, the challenge with Buttercup Dunes is finding them at a time when they aren't covered with tracks and ORV riders, as the dunes are a popular area for the community to camp and ride from.

Visiting the dunes mid-week, during the summer season, or very early in the morning will increase the chances of finding the dunes free of ORV riders and tracks.

Imperial Dunes Recreation Area requires a use permit if visited from October 1st-April 15th. Permits cost $50 for one week, and can be purchased at surrounding vendors. Visiting the dunes is free the remainder of the year, however visitors during these seasons should be warned that temperatures can easily hover around 110 degrees during the summer months. 

There are vault toilets available near the parking area for Buttercup Dunes. There is also a ranger station that keeps limited open hours that has some interpretive signage about the area.


Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)




Parking Pass

Seasonal Permit

Open Year-round



Surreal visual landscape.


Heavy ORV traffic.


Vault toilet
Backcountry camping
Sand Dunes
Family friendly
Big vistas




Nearby Adventures

Western Sonoran + Colorado Desert, California
Imperial County, California


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