At this unconventional Texas park, adults and kids alike can – quite literally – dive into the 70-foot high Monahans sand dunes. With over 3800 acres of state park land, visitors are welcome to explore, play, ride and sand surf to their hearts’ content. For horseback riders and hikers, Monahans offers a respite from the beaten path, with acres of territory open to wander as you please, without requiring visitors to adhere to marked trails.
Located in West Texas between Odessa and Pecos, Monahans is over 5 hours away from the larger cities of Dallas, Austin and San Antonio, making it a long weekend or summer camping destination for metropolitan visitors. The wide open spaces with little shade coverage and desert-like conditions mean that the Sandhills are best enjoyed all day long in the spring or fall. Still a popular destination in the summer, prepare for an early start to make the most of the cool sand before the Texas sun reaches its peak, then come back in the evening after the temperatures have dropped.
For overnight guests, Monahans Sandhills offers 26 campsites with available water and electric hookups. Each spot can hold up to 8 guests, and is complete with a picnic table, shade shelter to get out of the sun, and nearby restrooms. No primitive camping is available.
Monahans Sandhills is not the destination for the long-distance backpacker looking to hit the trail loop. Instead, it offers more of an unstructured hike up and down sand dunes. Still a great workout after hours of trekking on unstable sand, most trips are more relaxed, punctuated with frequent stops for sliding, jumping, digging and other sandbox-reminiscent activities. Whether or not kids are included in your party, the allure of jumping off a dune is tough to resist at any age.
For the equestrian fan, four-hoofed visitors are welcome, with 800 unmarked acres open for horses and their riders to roam as they please. The park offers trailer parking and a corral where guests can unload and water their horses.
Plenty of equipment rentals are available to help visitors make the most of the sand dune experience. For a few dollars, sand disks, toboggans and other sledding paraphernalia are available. Guests are also welcome to bring their own beach or snow gear to try out on the sandhills. Expect plenty of wipe-outs, but in the soft sand, no one seems to mind.
Know Before You Go
Monahans is a popular stopping point on the way to Big Bend National Park. If you are driving south to Big Bend and are looking for an afternoon pit stop or a cheap overnight stay, a stop at Monahans is worth it (especially for state park pass holders).
The dunes are HOT in the summer and exposed to the elements. Do not plan a day trip in mid-afternoon in August. No matter when you go, bring plenty of water for each person. While potable water is available in the park for animals, it is not offered at regular intervals, so plan to bring a little extra water for Fido.
Tent campers: all campsites are located directly on sand, and many first time guests have trouble staking their tents effectively. Plan ahead of time on how best to secure your shelter in a windy environment on a loose-sand foundation.