The Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Complex is home to a unique dunes ecosystem as well as many endangered and threatened species of plants and animals. To protect the dunes environment, much of the Complex has been set aside for conservation. In addition, it is recognized as a National Natural Landmark.Another portion of the Dunes is utilized for recreation, such as camping and Off-Road Vehicle (ORV) use. The Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes is owned by a number of federal, state, and local agencies, and private companies, organizations and individuals. These include the counties of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara, California State Parks, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County.
Pismo State Beach-North Beach Campgrounds is located at the northernmost part of the Dunes and is run by the California Department of Parks and Recreation. While visiting the North Beach Campground, guests can enjoy family camping, surfing, swimming, surf fishing, and hiking.
Pismo State Beach-Oceano Campgrounds is located further south than the North Beach Campgrounds, near the town of Oceano. The Oceano Campgrounds, like the North Beach Campgrounds, is run by the California Department of Parks and Recreation and also has a nature museum on site.
Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area is located south of Oceano. It consists of five and half miles of beach open for vehicle use and a large area of the sand dunes open for off-highway vehicle use, including quads, dirt-bikes, and four-wheel drive vehicles. It is the only state park in California where vehicles can be driven on the beach. Each year the park attracts 2 million visitors. The park also offers guests the ability to camp on the beach itself. Other activities available at the park are horseback riding and bird watching.
The Oso Flaco Lake Natural Area is a California State Park located north of the city of Guadalupe. Visitors to the Natural Area can walk along the mile-long boardwalk that follows the creek, passing across Oso Flaco Lake, to the ocean.The Dunes Center is an agency developed to promote the conservation of the Dunes ecosystem through education, research and cooperative stewardship. It receives funding from both private and public sources. The actual Dunes Center is located in the city of Guadalupe, in a restored 1910 craftsman bungalow.
The 2,553 acres (1,033 ha) Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is located in the midsection of the Dunes Complex and includes 1.8 miles (2.9 km) of beach front. The NWR was established in 2000 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and includes some of the most remote and least disturbed habitats in the dunes complex. It is home to more than 120 species of rare plants and animals, including La Graciosa thistle, surf thistle, beach spectacle pod, giant coreopsis, California red-legged frog, Western snowy plover, and California least tern. Access is seasonal and requires a long hike. Dogs and pack animals are prohibited.
Rancho Guadalupe Dunes County Park is located at the southern end of the dunes and is owned by the Santa Barbara County Parks and leased to the Center for Natural Lands Management. In comparison to other areas of the Dunes, Rancho Guadalupe Dunes County Park is the least damaged by introduced invasive plant species. For visitors, the Park offers bird and whale watching, fishing, hiking areas, picnic area (no BBQs/cooking permitted), interpretive kiosk and trailer. Seasonal restrictions during the nesting bird season (Mar 1 - Oct 1) apply and are posted on site.
Geography and Environment:
The Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes were formed by a combination of factors including beach sand which was blown inland by the wind and the Santa Maria River which brought sediment to the coast. Dune-building began 18,000 years ago with the Nipomo and Orcutt Mesas. This Dune System has the highest dunes on the entire western coastline of the United States. Among these, Mussel Rock Dune is the highest, measuring approximately 500 feet (150 m). Another rare geographic treasure is Oso Flaco Lake, a freshwater lake located amid the Dunes.