5 Best Hikes in White Sands National Park

White Sands National Park Overview

White Sands National Park is located in southern New Mexico and was just recently designated as a national park in late 2019. To state the obvious, the park is known for its massive white gypsum sand dune fields that were formed about 7,000 – 10,000 years ago. Like a mirage, the dazzling white sand dunes shimmer in the tucked-way Tularosa Basin. They shift and settle over the Chihuahuan Desert, covering 275 square miles—the largest gypsum dune field in the world. There are only 9 miles of trails to hike in the park but many other recreational opportunities are available to visitors including: horseback riding, bicycling, and sledding. The trailheads for all 5 of the best hikes in White Sands National Park are located on Dune Drive past the Visitor Center.

StateNew Mexico
Nearest Metro AreaEl Paso, TX
Area Size176,000 acres
EstablishedDecember 20, 2019
Hiking Trails9 miles

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Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Best Hikes in White Sands National Park

Alkali Flat Trail
Alkali Flat sunset
Alkali Flat Sunset, Photo by David Fulmer

This trail takes you through the heart of the sands, up and over steep dunes, to the edges of the Alkali Flat. The Alkali Flat is the dry lakebed of Lake Otero, a lake that filled the bottom of the Tularosa Basin during the last ice age and covered 1,600 square miles. Follow the red trail markers with a diamond symbol through the heart of the expansive dunefield. The trailhead is 7 miles from the Visitor Center.

  • 5.0 mile loop
  • 100′ elevation gain
  • Strenuous
Backcountry Camping Trail
Dunescape, Photo by John Lodder

Though backpackers most frequently hike the trail, it is also open to visitors who want a shorter hike through the heart of the dunes. Follow the orange trail markers with a spade symbol into an area of beautifully varied dunes and vegetation. This trail requires hikers to climb over several steep dunes and loose sand. The trailhead is 6 miles from the Visitor Center.

  • 2.2 mile loop
  • 50′ elevation gain
  • Moderate
Dune Life Nature Trail
Dune Life Nature Trail
Dune Life Nature Trail, Photo by Steve Harbula

Being at the edge of the dune field, this trail has unique characteristics that are not found in the heart of the dunes. This family-friendly trail is a great way to explore White Sands. Katie the Kit Fox, the Dune Life Nature Trail mascot, will join you along the trail in 14 trailside signs. Blue trail markers with a club symbol mark the trail. The trailhead is 2.5 miles from the Visitor Center.

  • 1.0 mile loop
  • No elevation gain
  • Easy
Interdune Boardwalk
White Sands National Park
Interdune Boardwalk, Photo by Jeremy Thompson

The Interdune Boardwalk is an elevated boardwalk that leads you through the fragile interdune area to a scenic view of the dunefield and the Sacramento mountains. Enjoy 10 outdoor exhibits along the boardwalk. Learn about the amazing science happening here; tenacious wildlife that ekes out a living in this harsh environment;and the perfect weather and geologic conditions that created and sustains the world’s largest gypsum dunefield. The trailhead is 4.5 miles from the Visitor Center.

  • 0.4 miles out and back
  • No elevation gain
  • Easy
Playa Trail
Playa Trail overlook
Playa Trail Overlook, Photo by David Fulmer

This short, level, family-friendly trail leads to a small playa. Green trail markers with a heart symbol mark the trail. Five interpretive panels are located along the trail. The trailhead is 2.5 miles from the Visitor Center.

  • 0.5 miles out and back
  • No elevation gain
  • Easy

Featured Image: White Sands, Photo by Woody Hibbard

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