Juniper Dunes Wilderness Area

Juniper Dunes Wilderness Area

The United States Congress designated the Juniper Dunes Wilderness in 1984 and it now has over 7140 acres. The Juniper Dunes Wilderness preserves the northernmost growth of western juniper, some of which have been around for 150 years, along with windswept sand dunes measuring 130 feet in height and 1200 feet in width. Other than junipers, no trees grow in significant numbers here, but many bushes and flowers bloom wondrously come spring, although the mountains that separate western and eastern Washington generally wring the moisture from the air.

The landscape here takes quite a battering; in fact, with strong southwest winds to build the dunes, seven to eight inches of precipitation to moisten them, a foot or so of snow that drifts down in winter, and summer temperatures that occasionally rise above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Elevations range from 750 feet to 1,130 feet above sea level. But plenty of animals thrive despite the extremes: mule deer, bobcats, coyotes, badgers, skunks, weasels, porcupines, pocket gophers, kangaroo rats, several species of mice, hawks, owls, ravens, quail, partridge, pheasants, doves, numerous songbirds, and rattlesnakes.

The entire wilderness is surrounded by privately-owned lands. With permission, you can travel via old jeep trails that end near the boundary. Getting all the way to the Wilderness gate can be risky business, even with a high clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle (highly recommended), and there is a significant risk of getting stuck in the loose sand of the last jeep trail, Wilderness Road, especially in warm months when there is little moisture in the sand. One option is to park at the Off-Highway Vehicle staging area on Juniper Road (also a jeep trail) and walk an additional +1 mile to the Wilderness Gate.

This is absolutely necessary if you are pulling a trailer. You'll find no maintained trails and no water in the Wilderness, and backpackers and horseback riders should also be aware of the likelihood of large temperature variation for overnight stays.

Be sure to contact the BLM's Spokane District for the latest conditions and access to the spectacular Juniper Dunes Wilderness Area!


Wilderness visitors must pack in all drinking water and be prepared for large temperature swings. Proper sun protection such as a wide-brimmed hat is recommended, even in early spring and late fall, along with sun screen lotion. There are no sources of ground water in the Wilderness.

Be aware that road access past the first "P" symbol (for "Parking") on the map when traveling northbound on Peterson Road (where Peterson Road ends and Juniper Dunes Road begins) is typically difficult due to loose sand road conditions and potentially some large roller-coaster like "whoops" in Juniper Dunes Road. Vehicle travel past this point normally requires, at a minimum, a high clearance vehicle, preferably 4-wheel-drive.

It is recommended that visitors to the Wilderness park their vehicles no farther up Juniper Dunes Road than the upper off-highway vehicle (OHV) "Open" area parking/staging area (identified on the map with the 2nd "P" symbol and "?" symbol), which itself is loose sand, and therefore potentially a place where vehicles could get stuck.

Access to the Wilderness Gate is via the one-mile stretch of Wilderness Road where it starts ¾ mile north past the upper parking/staging area off of Juniper Dunes Road. There is a Wilderness Road sign at that intersection but it is easy to miss. Travel on Wilderness Road requires a high clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle to reach the Wilderness Gate in the best of conditions, i.e. in late fall/ winter/early spring or soon after significant precipitation when the loose sand road has moisture and some compaction. As stated above it is recommended that people do not attempt turning off of Juniper Dunes Road onto Wilderness Road to access the Wilderness Gate, especially when sand conditions are dry. If you get seriously stuck it will be very difficult to get towed out.

Vehicles pulling trailers should never attempt driving past the upper OHV "Open" area parking/staging area. Visitors to the Wilderness can hike or ride on horseback across the OHV "Open" area from the upper parking/staging area to the Wilderness, or via Wilderness Road to access the Wilderness Gate.

The area is approximately seven miles northeast of Pasco, Washington. From Ritzville and Spokane, Washington:

  • US 395 South to Pasco. Exit onto Hwy 12 East (towards Walla Walla).
  • Just under 2 miles, exit onto Kahlotus Road (ramp north towards Kahlotus).
  • Continue NE on the Kahlotus Road for approx 5 miles.
  • Turn left onto Peterson Road. First 2 miles is Private Road.***Note: there is a huge yellow mailbox on the opposite side of Kahlotus Road at the entrance to Peterson Rd.
  • Continue straight approx 4 miles on Peterson Road. At the Juniper Road intersection, turn right.
  • Park in this area or continue for approximately 2 more miles.
  • There is a second large parking area with a metal information Kiosk at this point; this puts you next to the play area dunes. Be aware of sandy conditions in this parking area.
  • From here use an area map to get to the Wilderness Gate +1 mile away via Wilderness Road. Please sign in at the kiosk.
Know Before You Go

Visitors can help in protecting this fragile ecosystem by adequately planning and by arriving prepared! Knowledge of the area, weather, terrain, and common sense can help to ensure you have safe, fun, and memorable trip to the wild. Trail junctions are generally unsigned, so you should carry a map and a compass. And always be sure to bring your ten essentials!

Management Background

The Juniper Dunes Recreation Area consists of three adjoining areas comprising a total of approximately 19,600 acres. Each area has different use regulations.

Juniper Dunes Wilderness: The 7,100-acre wilderness area, designated in 1984, is fenced. Motorized and mechanized use (including bicycles and game carts) is strictly prohibited within the wilderness area.

Off-Highway Vehicle "Open" Area: A 3,920-acre off-highway vehicle (OHV) area is designated as "Open" to OHV use. Cross-country travel is permissible throughout the "Open" area.

ACEC: Lastly, the 8,620-acre Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) is designated for "Limited" OHV use. Under the "Limited" designation, travel is limited to designated routes—no off-route travel is allowed. However, no OHV routes have been designated in the ACEC. Therefore, OHV use is not allowed within this area.

Outside of the wilderness area, the primary recreational activity at Juniper Dunes is OHV use in the "Open" area. Other associated uses include picnicking and camping, and some hiking, horseback riding, and hunting are done as well. Helmets, safety flags on whip masts, and current state registration and tabs/stickers are required on all OHVs.

Although Juniper Dunes is open to the public, portions of Peterson Road (the only access road into the area) are privately owned. Public access is contingent on the willingness of adjacent landowners to permit the public to cross their property to reach the BLM public lands. The BLM, Franklin County, and various other partners are working to establish formal public access into Juniper Dunes.