Juniper Dunes Wilderness –A wilderness “sans” trails

 

Dunes rise behind wilderness entrance sign.

Dunes rise behind wilderness entrance sign.

 

Quick Facts

Location: Franklin County, Eastern Washington

Land Agency: Bureau of Land Management

Roundtrip: 2.0 miles

Elevation gain: 200 feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Contact: Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Spokane Office

Notes: All approaches to this wilderness area are currently via private roads and land. The southern approach cannot be recommended due to poor roads and changing ownership stipulations. The northern approach is only permissible from March 1 through May 31 through an agreement (which can be revoked at any time) with the Juniper Dunes Ranch.  No overnight parking is allowed. Respect private property. Watch for rattlesnakes.

Good to Know: snow free winter hike; exceptional wildflowers

Access: From Pasco follow the Pasco-Kahlotus Road north for 24 miles turning left onto the Snake River Road.  After 3.4 miles turn left onto graveled Blackman Ridge Road. Continue for 2.4 miles turning left onto graveled Joy Road. Follow for 2.0 miles to road’s end and trailhead.

 

Enclosed by fences and containing no mountains, no lakes, no rivers, and practically no trails as well, Juniper Dunes is an anomaly among our

Western junipers reach their northern limit at Juniper Dunes.

Western junipers reach their northern limit at Juniper Dunes.

state’s wilderness areas. Surrounded by agricultural lands and adjacent dunes ravaged by off-road vehicles; the 7,100-acre Juniper Dunes Wilderness protects the state’s largest remaining natural groves of junipers and some of its biggest dunes. And while this landscape may appear harsh, it’s actually a pretty sensitive environment. The spring months are best for a visit when temperatures aren’t too extreme and the dunes are awash in wildflower blooms.

This hike begins on private land owned by the Juniper Dunes Ranch. From the trailhead you can see the dunes rising in the immediate distance. Walk through a gate crossing a small corner of the ranch and within .2 mile come to another gate. (Be sure to close both gates after passing through). Now enter the wilderness area, the only one within Washington administered by the Bureau of Land Management and the only one completely enclosed by fences. The fences assure that off-road vehicle riders on adjacent BLM-administered lands don’t encroach upon this protected environment.  The wilderness still sports scars from ORVs that traversed it before it was protected in 1984.

There are some trails of sorts traversing the dunes, but generally the exploring is cross-country across what can be a forbidding land when temperatures soar. Pack plenty of water and sunscreen and note markers so as not to get lost. If you do get disoriented you’ll eventually come to a fence line which you can follow back to the trailhead.

The dunes are awash in blossoms in the spring.

The dunes are awash in blossoms in the spring.

The dunes are fascinating to explore. Check out parabolic mounds and sandy bowls. Lizards and small mammals such as pocket gophers and kangaroo rats leave their signatures in the sand. Bigger mammals too—like badgers, coyotes, bobcats and deer. Flowering plants adorn the dunes in spring. And the dunes support of course their namesake, western junipers.

From the wilderness boundary follow a path of sorts .3 mile up a sprawling dune rising well over 150 feet above the adjacent farmland. Views are good of the Sahara-like terrain before you as well as of the Saddle Mountains to the north and the Blue Mountains to the southeast.  Now, drop down passing by grassy pockets continuing west coming to some nice juniper groves at about 1.0 mile. This is a good area to turnaround giving you a nice taste of this wilderness. However, the biggest junipers within the wilderness are located farther to your south if you feel inclined to locate them.

For more information on this hike including maps and over 125 other hikes in Eastern Washington, check out my (co-Day Hiking Eastn Washingtonwritten with Rich Landers) Day Hiking Eastern Washington.

For more information on things to do and places to stay and eat near Juniper Dunes and the Tri-Cities, consult Northwest TripFinder.

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2 comments on “Juniper Dunes Wilderness –A wilderness “sans” trails

  1. I am planning a weekend backpack at the juniper dunes and wondered about what you said about the southern access. The BLM brochure indicates that the southern entrance is the one to use and that it’s ok to camp there so overnight parking would be ok. Do you think their information is updated since you were there? Thanks for your help.

    • Craig Romano on said:

      Hi Ellen-I haven’t been over there in a couple of years and not sure if they came up with a solution yet-I found this from last June-you may want to call the BLM office to get the latest scoop. Good luck and hope you get to have a good hike!

      http://flh.fhwa.dot.gov/projects/wa/juniper-dunes/

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