Desert Off Road Locations in the UAE

Al Aweer (Dubai)

Al Aweer is well known for its desert safaris. The desert safaris take place in the wider area after which most tour operators go to their Al Aweer camp site where they provide traditional BBQs, belly dancing, etc. The desert is close to Dubai and very accessible, but here you are far from alone. Because of the short distance to Dubai it’s a good place to meet up with friends for a small desert trip, or have a sundowner or BBQ, but we don’t recommend it for a proper desert drive or camping purposes.

Al Quadra (Dubai)

This must be the most visited off-road spot in Dubai and is always one of our favorite places to go for a morning or evening drive. The beautiful yellow sand in this desert can be challenging at times and the dunes are short but spikey. The desert is still quite unspoiled and unpolluted, and while it can get crowded at certain places if you drive an extra 5 minutes you will soon leave the crowds behind you. Follow the D63 to Al Qudra Lakes. Take a left at the roundabout and take the first exit on the next roundabout. This brings you on the road that cuts across the Al Qudra desert. At any point on this road you can access the desert to your left or right. We prefer to access the desert on the right side. Please be careful when crossing the cycle track. The further you drive in SE direction, the fewer crowds you will find. The scenery is perfect for a BBQ with friends at the end of the afternoon.

Akoya (Dubai)

Quite close to Dubai, along Umm Suqeim Street (D63), is an area we like to call the Akoya Desert as it’s situated right next to the Akoya community. This is a little patch of desert that we hit when we do not have time to drive all the way to Al Qudra. Its a 15-20 min drive from Sheik Zayed Road. Due to its proximity to the city, this piece of desert is somewhat polluted, but you can still find some unspoiled areas. To get there from SZR, take the D63 to Al Qudra Lakes and turn left at the roundabout just after the ENOC gas station on your left side before you cross E77. Drive until the road bends left and enter the desert through the trees on your right. There is a lot of open space so you can even try to keep your tires inflated if you feel confident enough. This place is perfect for some quick desert driving action, for an evening BBQ or for a sundowner looking at Dubai’s skyline. The desert is also an excellent location for unexperienced drivers who have caught the desert bug and want to go for a practice round. At times it can get crowded with a lot of adrenaline-seeking off-roaders, so please ensure your kids do not wander too far off in the desert.

Al Badayer (Sharjah / Dubai)

This area is sometimes referred to as the Hatta Desert as it sits along the Hatta Road, and with all its quad and motorbike rental shops it’s probably the most well-known desert driving spot in the UAE. The desert has a wide variety of dunes for both amateur and experienced desert drivers. The area north of the E44 and west of the E55, which is well known for its large sand dune called the Big Red, has been closed by the Sharjah Government. You can still enter the desert from multiple points but we don’t recommend it as you’ll find big signs that you’re entering a restricted area.

The area south of the E44 and west of the E55 is still very accessible. When you drive from Dubai towards Hatta before you reach Al Madam you’ll find loads of shops on the right side of the road from where you can easily enter the desert. This is also a good place to return to as most of these shops have decent air compressors which will inflate your tires a lot quicker than with your own compressor. The area is also known for the ‘Buried Village’ which is close to Al Madam. It’s a small village which was abandoned a few decades ago and since has been taken over by the desert. You will find it on Google Maps.

Although this is a busy area, if you drive far enough in a southern direction, you’ll see it becomes much quieter and you’ll find fewer and fewer tracks. You will be able to find nice camping spots here as well. When crossing the desert from the E44 in southwestern direction you will likely hit a big fence, which is the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (DDCR), a natural reserve in the emirate of Dubai which provides a protected environment for desert wildlife. The area is accessible for visitors, but only through a select number of tour operators. You will not be able to drive your own 4x4 here.

Another place you can go is the area between Lehbab and Margham which gives you an interesting ride if you enter from the northeast corner (close to Nazwa) with moderate dunes, and drive in a southwestern direction towards Al Ain Road where you’ll find smaller and more challenging ‘mogul dunes’. At the point, make sure you stay well away from the Margham gas plant, which is a restricted area.

Al Faya (Sharjah)

A few clicks north of Al Badayer and west of the E55 you will find the Al Faya desert, a beautiful area with high sand dunes well known for its unique rocky outcrops and jebels (mountains) along the east side of the desert. Just like Al Badayer, this area provides dunes for both unexperienced and experienced drivers. It’s probably less busy than Al Badayer but it can get crowded at the weekends and the dunes are typically covered in tracks. A good place to visit in Al Faya desert is Jebel Maleiha, better known as Fossil Rock, which provides a fantastic sunset view.

Al Faqa (Dubai / Abu Dhabi)

Al Faqa is a small village in the emirate of Abu Dhabi, but the larger part of this desert (west of the E66 – Al Ain Road) is in Dubai territory. Al Faqa desert has a lot to offer. From Dubai it’s not much farther than Al Badayer or Al Faya but it’s a lot quieter, which is why we recommend it as an excellent camping location. You’ll see fewer people, fewer tracks, and you’re less likely to be kept awake by buggy and quad bike fanatics who like to drive at night.

If you enter the desert from the north side of the E66 you’ll find areas with ‘mogul dunes’ (highly frequent and low dunes), which is actually a technically difficult terrain as it’s hard to meander through them and you’ll be forced to take the dunes head-on. If you drive further south you’ll find large desert plains as well as higher dunes. The sand dunes are not as high as in the Badayer or Al Faya desert, but definitely worth a visit and good camping location.

UAQ/RAK (Umm Al Quwain / Ras Al Khaimah)

By some referred to as Al Wadi, this desert consists of longitudinal ‘seif’ dunes. Seifs are parallel dunes which are shaped through dominant bidirectional winds. In contrast to the barchan dunes, which you find in the UAE part of the Empty Quarter, seif dunes can have slip faces on both sides and are known for their sharp crests.

The Al Wadi Desert is located north of the Al Faya desert, with the E55 running through it. In the area northeast of Al Rashidiya village, you will have a fantastic drive and you will find beautiful camping spots.

Sweihan (Abu Dhabi)

It’s about 1.5 hours from Dubai and about 1 hour from Abu Dhabi to the ADNOC Sheiwan, which is a good meeting/fuel-up location. The area where you want to be is east of the E16 and west of the E95. There are quite a lot of farms and industries in the area, but fortunately this desert is big enough to set a trail where you'll hardly run in to anything or anybody.

Sweihan desert is often called little Liwa, referring to the high sand dunes of the Empty Quarter. The fact that it’s quite remote combined with its high sand dunes makes Sweihan a great desert driving location for the serious off-roaders. You might run into a few other off-roaders but you can easily set your own trail without running through other tracks constantly.

When in Sweihan, make sure to visit Nagrah Dune. Where is it? You’ll see it!

Al Khatim (Abu Dhabi)

Another popular driving location in Abu Dhabi which is closer to the city than Sweihan is the Al Khatim desert where you will also find numerous desert safaris. The desert lies along the E22 in between Abu Dhabi and Al Ain and has both small and medium sized dunes which makes this a good practice ground for unexperienced drivers.

A good area to go to is north of the E22 and east of the E75. When driving in eastern direction from Abu Dhabi to Al Ain fuel up at the Al Khatam (975) ADNOC Service Station. Then continue on the E22 in eastern direction for another kilometer and take the flyover. There is a road in northern direction going into the desert. With Google Maps you can’t miss it.

Al Wathba (Abu Dhabi)

Quite close to Abu Dhabi is the Al Wathba cycle track, which is similar to the Al Quadra area in Dubai, not only because of the cycle tracks, but also because it has moderate dunes which makes it a good practice area for less experienced desert drivers. And because of it’s close distance from Abu Dhabi it’s also a great place for a sundowner or evening BBQ with friends.

Rub' al Khali - Empty Quarter (Abu Dhabi)

The Rub' al Khali ٱلرُّبْع ٱلْخَالِي (Empty Quarter) covers a large part of the southern side of the Arabian Peninsula and runs from the UAE to Saudi Arabia (largest part) into Oman and Yemen.  With the Liwa Oasis running along the north side of the desert, people often refer to it as the Liwa desert. It’s difficult to explain how a landscape merely consisting of sabkhas and sand dunes can be so magnificent. This desert, with the highest sand dunes in the world is not only one of the most beautiful sites in the entire Middle East, it’s also one of the harshest off-road terrains in the world. Those who have been here understand its rightful name, the Empty Quarter.

The E90, which is the highway through the Liwa Oasis along the Empty Quarter is reachable through the E65 to Hameem and the E45 through Madinat Zayed. Reaching the E90 is an approximate 2.5-hour drive from Abu Dhabi and 3.5-hour drive from Dubai. But it’s worth the drive, as this is without a doubt the best desert drive location in the UAE. Bear in mind that this is no place for beginners. Even those with plenty of experience will remember the first time they pushed their car over the edge of a 200 m slipface. Our desert driving tips are here more important than anywhere else. Make sure you are properly prepared, bring food and water, bring proper gear, and don’t go alone.

A popular site in the Empty Quarter is Moreeb Dune. With its 300 m height (and 50 degree slipface) Moreeb Dune is the tallest dune in the UAE and a popular place for festivals and hill climb competitions. The site can be found on Google Maps.

Regarding routes and camp site locations we advise to stay in the western part of the desert due to the oil & gas developments which are restricted areas largely focused in the eastern part of the desert.

Where else?

If you have anything to add to the above or any desert driving locations we have missed feel free to share you input with us.