This article also appears on Destination Riyadh June 2013 Issue!
Lake Kharrarah Park and Hifna Waterfall
A lake and a waterfall in Saudi Arabia? Yes! Believe it or not such gems do exist and of all places, in the middle of the desert. The magnificent red sand dunes outside Riyadh’s city limits hide this surprising secret little known to the expat community.
Amidst the endless ocean of sand dunes lies “Lake Kharrarah” National Park. The valley actually transforms into an actual lake only after the heavy rains. The massive surge of water rushes down the steep dunes into the valley below forming a lake which at times can be deep enough to swim in. When there’s no water the lake bed becomes an unexpected contrast to the surrounding red sand dunes. The valley becomes a pleasantly green pasture where migratory birds and other wildlife can be spotted, especially in early spring when the lake bed is in full bloom.
Kharrarah Park is popular among locals for picnics, dune bashing, sand boarding and dune buggy riding. On weekdays the park is practically empty of visitors while on weekends larger crowds gather in the afternoons especially in the cooler months. Most people come to the area with SUV’s and other vehicles compatible for the desert. However normal cars are able to reach the edges of the park because it’s paved almost all the way down to the lake bed. The best places will only be accessible with a 4x4 though.
The lake bed makes for a picturesque picnic spot, acacia trees surround the edges and the deeper end has more lush vegetation year round. The waterfalls can be found after a short drive along side of the lake. Water gushing down from the arid sand dunes is truly a sight to behold for those lucky enough to witness it.
The red sand dune area is huge; they seem to continue endlessly to the horizon billowing like a mass of waves.
The scenery becomes even more astonishing in the afternoons and cloudy days when the shadows begin to color the dunes in a multitude of colors. It’s worth exploring this area further beyond the fenced lake bed valley. There’s a paved road that goes behind the dunes around to the other end of the lake. There are numerous off road spots that can be explored with a 4x4 from here.
Climbing the dunes by foot is certainly a strenuous effort, but well worth the struggle. Going up is a great exercise too! The views from the top of the highest dunes are spectacular. On a clear day you can see all the way to the Tuwaiq escarpment and the farms far out in the valley.
Coming down the dunes is the most fun part! Some people run, roll, jump, or slide down the soft sand on various items. Special sand boards can be used the same way as snow boards would to ski down the hills.
Taking a car out to the dunes needs an experienced driver; getting stuck is a common occurrence even among the more experienced drivers. The tires should be deflated before entering the soft sand and a sand shovel and ladder will be essential in getting the stuck cars out of the sand. Luckily there will always be friendly locals around ready to lend a helping hand!
To get to the Khararrah park from Riyadh take the Makkah highway west (route 40) proceed passing the check point and follow the road down the escarpment. Continue on this road passing the exit to Dirab and Dhurma until you reach exit 7 Jau, take the exit and make a U-turn. You are now headed back towards Riyadh and will take the first service road on the right, then you’ll pass by a pink gas station called ZamZam gas station.
After the sign in English and Arabic for Kharrarah Park, turn right onto a road in rather poor condition. This road becomes a Tarmac road after a few hundred meters and then passes by some camel farms circling its way into the dune area. As the road winds up and takes a sharp turn to the right about 4 km from the main road, you’ll see a small white mosque on the right side of the road. The entrance to the lake valley is directly opposite from the mosque.
GPS co ordinates for Lake Kharrarah: 24° 24' 20.63" N 46° 14' 43.45" E