It’s 7 a.m. on a Friday morning and the sun is breaking over the desert sands of Glamis, CA. I’m standing atop a 400-foot mountain of sand known as China Wall with a clear view stretching all the way down to the Mexico border on my right and the Chocolate Mountains on my left. Apart from my small group of riders, there’s not another soul in sight anywhere over this 60-mile expanse. By the time the sun sets this evening, however, some 100,000 bodies will converge on these dunes. They’re all coming for one thing—the return of Camp RZR.
Some of you have surely heard of Camp RZR, but for those who haven’t, here’s the deal: Once a year, the folks at Polaris throw a massive off-road party in Glamis to kick off the riding season. The party is A) completely free and B) open to anyone—so between food, music, vendors, and raffles, it’s no surprise that Camp RZR draws a considerable crowd.
The event officially started back in 2012, and grew every year until the pandemic put it on hold in 2020. This year marks Camp RZR’s triumphant return after a two-year hiatus. To call this year’s crowd of 100,000-plus riders and attendees “considerable” would be an understatement.
This was my first year in attendance, and while I can usually sniff out a good time with unnerving efficiency, it’s best to find a local tour guide when dealing with a party this big. Lucky for me, Polaris had both Dakar Rally winner Casey Currie and Baja 1000 champion RJ Anderson on hand to point me in the right direction. Here’s what they recommended for the perfect weekend at Camp RZR.
7 a.m. to 12 p.m. Ride the Dunes
I love food trucks, live music, and carnival rides as much as anyone, but it’s not the Ferris wheel or the pulled pork that make Camp RZR such an incredible event. It’s the 118,000 acres of sweeping sand dunes waiting just outside the walls that bring the noise. If you’ve never taken a recreational vehicle ripping through sand dunes before, here’s your new first priority.
Most of the folks who come out to Camp RZR spend the weekend camping in RVs and bring their own toys to play with (side by sides, quads, dirt bikes, etc.), but if you don’t have your own handy, don’t sweat it. There are multiple places nearby that rent the latest equipment, and the experience is worth every penny.
“I’m not a big wild party kind of guy, so for me Camp RZR is about the passion of riding,” Casey Currie told me. “It’s about coming out with your friends and family and going as fast as you can through the sand dunes. The feeling is like nothing else, almost like surfing. The way you can flow through the sand at top speed is just unbelievable. The sensation always puts a smile on your face.”
Currie and a few other Glamis regulars I spoke with all agreed that while cruising the dunes all day is always a good time, the best riding happens in the morning. Temperatures are nice and cool for the first few hours after sunrise, and the folks who were up the night before going hard in the paint are still sleeping it off in their campers, so it’s not as crowded.
12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Hang at Camp RZR
While riding is definitely the most important part of the weekend, there’s no denying the Camp RZR grounds themselves are impressive. Inside the Polaris compound you’ll find custom-built machines to drool over, off-road vendors to shop at, and some of the biggest names in off-road racing to rub elbows with.
Baja champion RJ Anderson was one such racer I ran into around camp. Anderson has been a regular fixture at Camp RZR since it first started in 2012, and he was just as impressed as I was with the spectacle.
“I’ve been to every Camp RZR except one, and it’s crazier every year,” said Anderson. “I’ve come to expect the unexpected. This year I walk in and there’s literally a Ferris wheel. Any other day of the year, this is just a flat patch of dirt. They literally bring a mini-city in for the weekend. You can’t not come here.”
Camp RZR is a great place to hang, shop, charge a phone, or take advantage of free Wi-Fi (a precious commodity out in the desert), but it serves another important purpose: repairs.
As part of their “give back to the off-road community” objective, Polaris has been supplying both parts and labor to side-by-side owners free of change since the event started a decade ago. I spoke with the team outside the garage who said over the course of the weekend they expect to wrench on upwards of 500 machines. Repairs include anything from replacing drive belts and tie rods to serious clutch work, all of which won’t cost UTV owners a single penny.
4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Watch (or Compete) in the Sand Drag Races
From late afternoon to sunset, there’s no better place to be than the sand drags off Gecko Road. This quarter-mile stretch of flat sand is the official proving ground for high-horsepower rigs of all kinds, and also happens to be the ideal spot to post up and have a cold drink after a long day.
The drags are a little off the beaten path, but they’re impossible to miss. Thousands of spectators line up on the strip, stretching down as far as the eye can see on either side. In between the two crowds, you’ll see important things—like 1,500 horsepower sand rails riding wheelies longer than football fields and full-sized trophy trucks hitting 100 mph on the open sand.
Truth be told you could sit here with a cooler all afternoon, but the after-dark shenanigans are just getting started. After 6 p.m., there’s a mass exodus headed back to Camp RZR, and you don’t want to miss it.
6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Free Concert at Camp RZR
Camp RZR shuts its doors at 5 p.m. each night, but it’s only to let the event staff catch a breather and prepare. The gates open back up after six, and the first 20,000 folks to make it back to camp are treated to a free show.
Let’s be clear here: This is a full-sized concert on a full-sized stage. This year the stage was home to SoCal punk favorites Face to Face and Pennywise, and they put on a helluva show. The evening peaks with the weekend’s giveaway of a brand new RZR side-by-side to a lucky member of the crowd, and then partygoers are sent off for the night with a massive fireworks show. It’s quite the gathering, but truth be told, the party is just getting started if you know where to go.
9:30 p.m. to 7 a.m. Nightlife at Oldsmobile Hill
After hours fun in Glamis used to revolve around one place: Competition Hill. Back in 2002, the party got out of hand and authorities had to shut the hill down after dark, but as Casey Currie recalls, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“I remember when Comp Hill was where the party was. It was right off the highway and anyone could pull off the road and come join with a regular vehicle. I remember seeing some 50,000 people out there, cars on fire, UTVs flipped over… Nowadays they’ve moved out to Oldsmobile Hill, two or three miles off the main road, and it’s for the better.”
I’ll agree that the lack of burning cars was a comforting sight, but Oldsmobile Hill is still absolutely nuts. There’s a constant parade of off-road vehicles rolling in after 9 p.m., and the party goes on until damn near sunrise.
All the rigs line up decked out in bright lights, sporting 12-foot safety whips that flop around in the night sky like oversized glow sticks. Watching them race up and down the 300-foot dune is the kind of kaleidoscopic light show you’d pay hundreds of dollars to experience anywhere else. It’s not to be missed.
The rest of the night is all bonfires, loud music, and even louder vehicles—and everyone can hang as long as they want. There’s a noticeable law enforcement presence nowadays, but it’s clear they’re here to prevent another Woodstock ‘99 scenario, not rummage through people’s coolers.
Whether you hang at the bottom of the hill to watch the show or take your rig up to the top for one last epic 360-degree view, it’s a fitting finale to a wild weekend. Clearly, Camp RZR has returned in full force. If this year is any indicator, it’ll only get better.
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