The 40-mile stretch of sand dunes on the central Oregon coast can feel like an alien world (and, in fact, was the inspiration for classic sci-fi novel “Dune”). Because the dunes are always shifting with the wind, no permanent trails lead through them, forcing hikers to navigate through the sand.

Whether you’re planning to follow the markers or wander on your own, it’s wise to carry lots of water and a trail map. Sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses are also useful whether it’s sunny or not, as a lot of light reflects off the sand. And bear in mind that hiking in loose sand is a lot more tiring than hiking on a dirt trail.

Most hiking areas in the dunes are marked with wooden posts that show a path through, but it can be easy to lose sight of them. Footprints of hikers who came before you can sometimes be useful, but they’re not a reliable resource. The path snakes around tree islands – remnants of old forests that were swallowed by sand – leading up, down and back up several dunes to the next trail marker.

While you can theoretically walk in a straight line across the dunes, it’s unwise to try to cross the tree islands. This brush can be dense and impassable, and if you don’t lose your way you can at least waste a lot of energy trying to pick your way through.

The silent sand, sun and struggle are all part of the appeal of hiking through this alien landscape. There’s no adventure in Oregon quite like wandering through the dunes.

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