Some folks like driving the wide-open road, but if you’d rather drive where there’s no road at all, you’re going to love Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. The area has more than 32,000 acres (12,950 hectares) of stunning wilderness right on the Pacific coast, stretching for 40 miles (64km) from one end to the other, and much of that is open for off-road adventures. Whether you choose to bring your own all-terrain vehicle (ATV), rent one from a local shop, or take a tour on a dune buggy, there’s nothing like the thrill of the wind whipping through your hair as you fly across miles and miles of the largest expanse of coastal sand dunes in all of North America.
The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is part of Siuslaw National Forest (www.fs.fed.us/r6/siuslaw) and is contiguous to Honeyman State Park (www.oregonstateparks.org/park_134.php). Visitors can find up-to-date information on off-road access and other news at the Visitors Center in Reedsport, or through a number of local stores catering to the ATV crowd. Be aware that there are decibel limits on vehicles (currently set at 93 db), and not all quarters of the dunes are open to off-road vehicles. The three main areas for off-roading are the Florence area between South Jetty and the Siltcoos River, the dunes between Spinreel and Horsfall, and the big, dramatic dunes in the Umpqua riding area.
These spectacular sand dunes are as high as 500 feet (150m) in some places, and there are some wildly steep drops and sharply angled dune crests for catching some serious air. Most tour operators and rental shops will emphasize the importance of safety—a number of recent crashes have filled up local hospital emergency rooms, which are not the place you want to end your vacation (or your life).
If, after sailing over dunes at breakneck speeds, you’re looking for a slower or quieter pastime, the region has plenty to offer. An extensive trail network takes hikers through dense forests of Douglas fir and Sitka spruce, and dozens of lakes and ponds beckon water-skiers, canoeists, sailors, and fishermen. Horseback riding, beachcombing, and camping round out the activities available in this adventure-lovers mecca.
Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, 855 Highway Ave., Reedsport ( 541/271-3611; www.fs.fed.us/r6/siuslaw).
Tours: Sand Dunes Frontier ( 541/997-5363; www.sanddunesfrontier.com). Sandland Adventures ( 541/997-8087; www.sandland.com).
When to Go: Apr–Oct.
Eugene, OR (82 miles/132km).
$ Winchester Bay Inn, 390 Broadway Ave., Winchester Bay ( 541/271-4871; www.winbayinn.com). $$ Salmon Harbor Landing, 265 8th St., Winchester Bay ( 541/271-3742; www.salmonharborlanding.com).