| |

The 5 Best Hiking Trails In White Sands National Park

best hiking trails in white sands national park

The White Sands National Park, located in Southern New Mexico contains dazzling white dunes that look straight out of a sci-fi movie. Hiking through the sands is an amazing experience, and there are plenty of trails to explore.

While the White Sands Park looks like just a long stretch of sand that leads to nowhere, it actually contains several trails which hikers explore every year. It’s also one of the most popular national parks in New Mexico.

We’ll be covering five of our favorite trails in the park, which include the Alkali Flat, Backcountry Camping Trail, Dune Life Nature Trail, Interdune Boardwalk, and Playa Trail.

Let’s get started!

5 Best Hiking Trails In White Sands National Park

Playa Trail

Playa Trail - best trails in white sands national park
Image Credit: Alltrails

2.5 miles from the Visitor Center is the trailhead leading to the Playa trail. This trail is short, covering roughly 0.5 miles out and back. This trail is a great introduction to the area and hikers of all skill levels can complete this trail without a hitch.

The Playa trail takes about 10 minutes from start to finish. What’s fascinating about this trail is the view of the playa, which is a dry lake bed. But the cool part about it is the terrain of the playa changes from a dry brown lake bed when it’s dry to a glacial white lake filled with water and wildlife after rainstorms, and a cool icy white during the winter.

This trail is self-guided but isn’t difficult to follow.

  • Length in Miles: 0.4
  • Elevation Gain: 0 ft
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • View Trail Map

Dune Life Nature Trail

dune life nature trail - best trails in white sands national park
Image Credit: Alltrails

Second on our list, is the Dune Life Nature Trail. This trail is also found 2.5 miles from the Visitor Center. To complete this trail, you need to obey Katie The Kit Fox Trailside signs, the official Mascot of this trail. It is close to Alamogordo, and you can complete this trail in 21 minutes. 

The Dune Life Nature Trail is a relatively easy hiking trail at White Sands, but you need to climb two steep dunes to complete it. What sights can you expect on this trail? Beautiful birds, foxes, badgers, and other exotic wildlife call the dunes home.

This trail found at the edge of the dune field has special qualities not present in the heart of the dune, making it an easygoing, family-friendly trail.

  • Length in Miles: 1.0
  • Elevation Gain: 0 ft
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • View Trail Map

Alkali Flat Trail

alkali flat - best trails in white sands national park
Image Credit: Alltrails

The trailhead to the Alkali Flat Trail is about 7 miles from the visitor center. This trail is a loop with a total distance of roughly 5 miles. 

Now, don’t let the name trick you – the Alkali Flat is anything but flat. There are several hills and dunes along this trail that you need to climb. This trail is also considered a moderate to a difficult hiking trail, so be sure you’re up for the challenge before attempting it!

The Alkali Flat trail is one of the most popular hiking trails at White Sands, and it’s easy to see why. The views from the top of the dunes are absolutely breathtaking, and the sense of accomplishment you feel after completing this trail is unbeatable. Pictures of the Alkali Flat really can’t do it justice.

Word of warning – the Alkali Flat is a relatively long trail (because of all the dunes and hills) with no shade whatsoever. So be sure to bring plenty of water and salty foods with you, make sure you are protected from the sun, and try and start this trail early in the day to avoid the heat.

  • Length in Miles: 4.7
  • Elevation Gain: 52 ft
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • View Trail Map

Interdune Boardwalk

interdune boardwalk - best trails in white sands national park
Image Credit: Alltrails

The entrance to this trail is only 4.5 miles from the visitor center. Although the Interdune Boardwalk Trail does not have any elevation gain, the trail itself is an elevated boardwalk. Your view on this hike is the Sacramento mountains and beautiful dune fields.

However, this trail is very short. The total length is about 0.4 miles and takes only 8-10 minutes to finish. So why is it on this list? Well, for starters, the views from the boardwalk are pretty incredible. And secondly, it’s a great resource to learn about the geology, the dune formations, the wildlife, and the plants of the area.

There are a few signs throughout the trail with information about the history and ecology of White Sands. We definitely recommend reading it to fully immerse yourself in the experience!

Lastly, this trail is ADA accessible & pet friendly, so everyone can enjoy the beauty of White Sands National Park – even your four-legged best friend.

  • Length in Miles: 0.4
  • Elevation Gain: 0 ft
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • View Trail Map

Backcountry Camping Trail

backcountry camping trail - best trails in white sands national park
Image Credit: Alltrails

The entrance to the Backcountry Camping Trail is 6 miles from the visitor center. Hiking this trail involves climbing over many steep dunes as well as loose sand. 

This 1.8-mile loop is considered a moderate to a difficult hiking trail. However, the views from the top of the dunes are definitely worth it!

The Backcountry Camping Trail is one of the best hiking trails at White Sands for two reasons: 1) it’s relatively uncrowded, so you can enjoy the peace and quiet of nature, and 2) it has some of the best views of the dune field. Many consider this to be a great alternative to the Alkali Flat trail if you’re short on time.

One thing to be aware of is that the orange trail markers can sometimes be hard to spot, so pay close attention to your surroundings. If you plan on taking on this trail, make sure to download a trail map, just in case.

  • Length in Miles: 1.8
  • Elevation Gain: 6 ft
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • View Trail Map

Tips For Hiking In White Sands National Park

White Sands National Park is a unique place with much to offer, from the world’s largest gypsum dune field to hiking trails with great views. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of your hiking experience in White Sands:

  • Bring plenty of water and snacks, as there is no potable water available on the trails. If you plan on being out most of the day, bring at least one to two gallons of water with you.
  • Wear sunscreen and a hat, as the sun can be intense even on cloudy days. Most trails that you’ll explore have little to no shade.
  • Wear hiking shoes or boots with good traction, as the sand can be loose and slippery, especially on the Backcountry Camping Trail.
  • Be aware of your surroundings and take note of any changes in the weather. Strong winds can create dangerous conditions on the trails.
  • Bring an offline map of the hiking trails, as cell service is limited in the park, and trail markers can sometimes be hard to spot and even blown away by the wind.
  • Plan to hike early in the day or late in the afternoon to avoid the heat of the day. Temperatures can reach over 100 degrees Fahrenheit during peak hours.
  • Check for trail closures before you begin hiking, as some trails may be closed due to weather conditions or wildlife activity.
  • White Sands is surrounded by an active military missile range, and debris from missile tests can sometimes be found on the trails. Do not touch any debris that you may come across. The missiles can still be active — which means they can still detonate.

What To Pack For Hiking In White Sands National Park

When hiking in White Sands National Park, it is important to be prepared for the elements. Here are a few items that are essential to pack for your hike:

Water

Bringing enough water is the most important thing you can do when hiking in White Sands. As mentioned before, there is no potable water available on the trails, so you will need to bring enough water for your entire hike. For day hikes, we recommend bringing at least 1 to 2 gallons per person.

I recommend HyrdoFlask. I typically lug around my 32oz Hyrdo Flask, but you may need to opt for a bigger size water bottle/container if you plan on a longer day trip.

Sunscreen & Hat

There is very little to no shade in most of the trails at White Sands. So the sun can be quite intense, even on cloudy days. Heat stroke is an absolute, real danger if you aren’t protected. Items that protect you from exposure to the sun, like sunscreen and a hat, are essential to pack.

I recommend Sun Bum Original SPF 50 Sunscreen. Can’t go wrong Sun Bum. They go to different levels of SPF protection, including 70, 30, and 15.

Salty Snacks and Energy Bars

In addition to staying hydrated, you’re going to want to bring some salty snacks and energy bars to keep your energy levels, and sodium levels in check. You’ll be sweating a lot, trust me. And water won’t be enough if your sodium levels start to deplete.

My personal favorite energy bar is Cliff Bars. If you haven’t had them before, this is the variety pack that contains a ton of their great varieties like Chocolate Brownie, Crunchy Peanut Butter, White Chocolate Macadamia, and more.

Hiking Shoes or Boots

The sand can be very loose and slippery, especially on the Backcountry Camping Trail. So make sure to wear hiking shoes or boots with good traction. We also recommend wearing socks that come up over your ankles to prevent sand from getting in your shoes.

First Aid Kit and Emergency Items

We always recommend hiking with a first-aid kit, just in case. And in the event of an emergency, it’s also good to have a whistle and a flashlight on hand if you plan on going on longer treks, or hiking during the evening hours.

Map of the Trails

Make sure to bring an offline map of the hiking trails with you, as cell service is limited in White Sands National Park. The map will come in handy if you get lost, or if the trail markers are hard to spot.

Conclusion

White Sands is an absolutely beautiful place to hike, but it is important to be prepared for the elements. By following the tips above, you can make sure that you have a safe and enjoyable hiking experience in always dazzling, White Sands National Park.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.