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White Sands National Park

Updated: Oct 17, 2023

Location : Southern New Mexico

Parking : Park at trailhead

Trail type : Loop

Trail Length : 4.7 miles rt

Elevation Gain : 52 ft

Difficulty : Easy at first, gets strenuous after climbing multiple sand dunes.

Trails traversed : Alkali Flat Trail

Pro Tip : Download AllTrails trail map beforehand, as there is no wifi in the park. Wear ankle high hiking boots to decrease the amount of "sand" getting inside your shoes.

Located 3 hrs south of Albuquerque and an hour north of Las Cruces in New Mexico, White Sands National Park is one of those places you will never forget and something you will talk about for years to come. As the name suggests it constitutes miles and miles of white dunes, which are made up of - not snow, not sand, but gypsum crystals! It is the largest gypsum dune field in the world and its simplistic white beauty will just take your breath away! These gypsum minerals once lay at the bottom of an ancient lake, which has now dried up, leaving behind these white crystals for us to marvel. You can find more information about the formation of White Sands National Park here.


>> Got a question about White Sands NP that you need answered quickly? DM me on Instagram @SolaraStills and I’ll be happy to help! I only accept DMs from followers, so hit the follow button before sending.


There are numerous trails of varying difficulty in the park. We chose Alkali Flat Trail as it was the best rated on AllTrails, and hiking on dunes was a different experience from our other hiking trips.

This National Park offers some excellent backdrops for photo shoots.

Parking: There is ample parking at trailhead. You will have to pay National Park fee to enter the park, or flash your America The Beautiful Pass for free entry. Restrooms are available at the parking lot.

Black rainclouds contrast well against the white dunes

The Trail : Alkali Flat Trailhead is located at the end of the 8 mile Dunes Drive - the only road accessible by car, so it is easy to find. Once you start hiking, the only way to identify the trail is by red markers found every few yards. So I highly recommend downloading the AllTrails map before entering the park, as you can easily miss the trail markers.

The red trail markers

Obviously, the trail is not shaded, and can get very torturous on a hot day. So carry with you lots of food and water, protect yourself with a hat and sunscreen, and select a day when the temperatures are mild. Feb through May is windy season with sand and dust storms common during the day.

A dust storm in the distance

Summer months can be excruciatingly hot. Fall and winter months are best to attempt this hike. We visited the park during the last week of December and the temperatures were mild and perfect. Try to time your hike to end around sunset, as the landscape is just gorgeous during the blue hour.

The landscape turns spectacular at sunset.

Then red rocks of the San Andreas mountain range in the distance, contrast well against the white dunes at sunset.

The trail takes you over numerous dunes, each looking almost exactly like the other. We did the loop in the clockwise direction, and the "sand" was packed for the most part, except while climbing over dunes. Dont try to skip the dunes to find a flatter route, as you can easily miss the trail marker.

Up and down the dunes we went on a mild December morning

After the first mile, the crowds thin out and you will have the undisturbed, pristine sand dunes all to yourself. As you reach the 2 mile mark, the landscape changes dramatically, and the trail transform into flat, hard land. The loop turns around at the missile launch site with warnings to stay away from the site.

There is little to no vegetation seen along the trail, except for some desert hardy bushes which make great photo ops against the white backdrop.

Desert vegetation

The trail loops around, takes you over newer sand dunes before landing you back at the trailhead.

Photo opportunities abound in this park

In summary, this is one of the most unique hikes I have done and a memorable and fun one at that. I highly recommend visiting White Sands National Park the next time you are in New Mexico or in Western Texas.


>> Got a question about White Sands NP that you need answered quickly? DM me on Instagram @SolaraStills and I’ll be happy to help! I only accept DMs from followers, so hit the follow button before sending.


Shoes filled with gypsum by the end of the hike


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