Located on the west side of Kauai, the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands Beach operates the largest instrumented multi-environmental range in the world. Here, operators can support surface, subsurface, air, and even space operations all at the same time, with an incredible 42,000 square miles of controlled airspace. With such versatile operations, it should come as no surprise that this Kauai basis is seen as a premier facility for battle scenarios and trials. But while the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands Beach is excellent for military use, that beach tucked behind it is likewise wonderful for recreational use.
Barking Sands Beach has an earned name thanks to a very odd but cool natural phenomenon that consistently occurs here. This beach stretches out across twelve miles (making it one of the longest beaches in the Hawaiian islands) and includes massive sand dunes that reach heights of 100 feet. These sand dunes and the sands that comprise the rest of the beach have very tiny, microscopic-sized holes. When the wind sends those sands sliding down those towering dunes or whips it along the beach, those tiny holes and the friction of sand against sand combine to create an interesting woofing noise. In other words, the sands themselves start sounding like barking dogs, thereby contributing to the name Barking Sands Beach.
These unique sounds and towering sand dunes are really just the start of what makes Barking Sands Beach a great beach to visit. This beach is bordered by the Polihale State Park along its northern and northeastern ends and tons of agricultural fields on the south and southeastern sides. All of this land with few man-made structures have led to this area becoming teeming with wildlife. This beach is specifically known for being an outstanding birding spot, with many birders coming to see the Pelagic Seabirds and other waterfowl. The more isolated or rather, the roadblocks involved in getting access to Barking Sands Beach also has the big added benefit that you are likely only to see a couple of other groups any given day you head out to this beach.
Of course, those roadblocks are also a big negative about Black Sands Beach. In order to access this beach via the Majors Bay Beach Park at its south (where you will find showers, public restrooms, and available parking), you must first apply for a Guest Card for the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands. To get this card, you must be a citizen of the United States, at least 18 years of age, complete a background application, and agree to a $25 processing fee. This might seem extreme, but remember you are driving through one of the most important operations base in the country. As such, it is required all guests secure Department of Defense clearance.
Note, however, you can visit some of the northern parts of Barking Sands Beach an alternative way — if you don’t mind walking and you are good at budgeting your time. You can reserve a beach visit for Polihale State Park and, once on the beach, can walk southwest along that beach until you eventually hit Barking Sands Beach (recognizable by its much larger and noisier sand dunes).
If you do go through the Pacific Missile Range Facility to get to Barking Sands via approved access, that Guest Card has some other side benefits. You will also get access to the Shenanigans Bar & Restaurant, the separate Shenanigans Beach Access which has its own parking and showers, the coin-operated Mana Car Wash, the on-site Outdoor Movie Theater, access to the outstanding fishing available at Kini Kini Ditch, entrance onto the Waiokapua Bay Trail, and access to the aforementioned Majors Bay Beach Park with picnic pavilion, site showers, restrooms, and parking.
Unfortunately, what all the above-listed beaches don’t have are lifeguards. So swimmers should practice extreme caution and wariness before and after entering the water.
Birding at Barking Sands is truly excellent. If you love this hobby, make sure to print out this chart of what birds you can expect to find here and when.