Summer winding down doesn’t have to signal the end of camping season, especially if you live in Southern California. Once the extreme heat lessens and we swing into autumn, desert season officially begins. One of my favorite desert camping destinations is Glamis, officially called the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area. It’s located in the southeast corner of California and borders Mexico, and it happens to be an offroading playground with giant, smooth sand dunes that stretch for miles. Keep reading for an explanation of the different camping areas at Glamis and what you need to know before heading out there.
Camping in Glamis is primitive; there’s no running water but there are scattered pit toilets, so your best bet is RV camping, although I did tent camp for the first few years out there and it is definitely doable. I’ve camped at three different areas at Glamis: Gecko Road, the Flats and the Washes.
Gecko Road is the first camping area you’ll encounter when driving east from Brawley approaching Glamis. From Highway 78, make a right hand turn and wind around the paved Gecko Road where there are pull off areas to camp, with pit toilets scattered throughout. I tent camped at Gecko Road on my first trip to Glamis, and yes, sand blew into my tent, it was windy and loud, but oh man, I had a blast.
Directions to Gecko Road
4500 Gecko Rd, Brawley, CA 92227
GPS coordinates: 32.975655, -115.174012
The Flats are the second camping area you’ll pass on the right side off the main road. (And they are literally right on the side of the main road.) This is by far the busiest and loudest area to camp, and if you’re planning on the Flats on a holiday weekend, get there early and bring some caution tape to rope off your area. I tent camped out at the Flats on Halloween one year, and my husband and I roped off a huge area for all our friends with RVs who were arriving one day later than us. And if we didn’t have the area taped off, I’m not sure if we would have been able to save enough space. Campers constantly stream in throughout the night, so there’s no telling who your neighbor will be in the morning. The Flats are located near the food stands and promotional weekend activities, like Camp RZR. And there are pit toilets.
Directions to the Flats
Glamis Flats Rd, Brawley, CA 92227
GPS coordinates: 32.993521, -115.079983
The Washes are my top pick for camping spots in Glamis. Traveling from eastbound 78, make a right on the dirt road directly before the railroad tracks, then start cruising through washes 1-20-ish. (I’m not sure how many washes there are, they are never-ending!) The Washes offer more privacy and space than Gecko Road and the Flats, and they are adjacent to a set of smaller dunes that are less intimidating for first time dune drivers. The last time I camped at the Washes, we had a group of seven RVs, a dozen offroading vehicles, and still plenty of space. The only downside to the Washes is that they are located next to the railroad tracks, and the loud trains seem to pass by only at night.
Directions to the Washes
GPS coordinates for the Washes turn off: 32.997250, -115.071197
Follow the dirt road along the railroad tracks and watch for the numbered signs that specify each wash. There are pit toilets along this dirt road. Drive out past Wash 15 for a less crowded camping experience.
Thinking about heading out to Glamis this fall or winter? Here’s my list of Glamis essentials:
// Glamis Pass – Permits are required from October 1 through April 15 each year. Permits are $35 per week in advance and $50 per week if purchased onsite. Season permits are $150. You can now buy weekly or season permits online: buy your permit HERE. Permits are still available for purchase at these locations. (And yes, the rangers will stop by your camp and ask to see your permit.)
// Fire Permit Requirement – A rip-roaring campfire is a tradition in Glamis, click here to fill out the free fire permit requirement.
// Firewood – Instead of hauling out your own firewood, consider buying it when you get to Glamis. The Big Belly Crew located at vendor row sells truckloads of firewood and will deliver it to your camp in the Washes. On our last Glamis trip we decided to try it out—the price for a truckload of firewood was reasonable and they dumped it out near our fire pit. It was great!
// Water – There’s no running water in Glamis, so be sure to bring your own. These are the water jugs I like to use; you can set them on a table and they have an easy-to-use spigot. Even when we RV camp in Glamis, we bring a few of these extra water jugs. (And if you happen to run out of water while camping in your RV, there’s a mobile water/dump truck that will come out to your campsite and fill you up (or empty out your gray and black tanks). Call the Glamis Beach Store and they will connect you with one of the roving water trucks.
// Map – This BLM map of the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area shows all of Glamis’ camping areas, toilets, and points of interest out in the dunes. Download it on your phone before you head out, cell service is hit or miss once you get there.
// Earplugs – Essential if you are tent camping and want to block out the noise.
// Off-road vehicles with paddle tires – Quads, dirt bikes, dune buggies, RZRs, Jeeps, anything! A whip is required for all OHVs. (If you like night rides, check out these lit whips!)
// Kites – Glamis is a windy place, so if you’re bringing kids along (and you should, my kids love it) plan on packing a kite for those windy afternoons. A huge kite like this is super fun and this single-line parafoil kite flies incredible and comes in a convenient, compact stuff-sack bag.
// Sand Toys – Here’s another must-have for the kiddos. If your kids enjoy playing at the beach, they’ll love playing with their sand toys in Glamis.
// Baby Play Yard – Babies love camping! My kids started camping when they were eight weeks old, and they’ve come along with my husband and I for every desert camping trip since they were born. There’s more prep and planning when you’re bringing a baby, and this Summer Infant Pop N’ Play Foldable Play Yard was one of the most useful baby camping items I ever bought. It folds up to about the size of a standard folding camp chair, and it keeps your baby safe from crawling too far from camp or from eating too much dirt. We always supervised our kids when they were playing in the play yard, and they loved it!
// Extra Fuel – It’s a hassle to leave the dunes and refuel, so plan on bringing a few gas cans so you don’t have to worry about running out.
// Cash – For the ice cream truck and ice, of course! There are several ice cream trucks that cruise around Gecko Road, the Flats, and even in the Washes. So if you’re low on ice or craving an ice cream sandwich, just listen for that memorable song and be prepared to wave them down.
// Comfy Camp Chairs – These KingCamp Moon Saucer Camping Chairs are super comfortable and fold up easily for transporting. I’ve been using these for two years and it has held up really well.
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