Guidebook

Hike White Sands NP: The World’s Largest Gypsum Dunefield

Explore the stunning gypsum dunes of White Sands National Park on one of these 5 designated hiking trails.

Brendon Voelker

Description

Bordered by the San Andres Mountains to the west and the Sacramento Mountains to the east, the gypsum sand dunes of southern New Mexico are widely considered to be one of the world’s greatest natural wonders. Totaling nearly 275 square miles, White Sands National Park is home to a large portion of the gypsum dunefield, plus its unique and diverse ecosystems that thrive in the harsh environment.

There are five designated hiking trails in White Sands National Park, and Playa Trail is the easiest and best place to start when planning a visit. This short hike explores a “low-lying area that fills temporarily with rainwater from storms,” though it is often reminiscent of a dry lakebed. Passing several interpretive kiosks along the way, those who venture to the end of the trail will be welcomed with “an Ice Age scene filled with ancient giants that once roamed this area,” the NPS boasts!

Just across the road, the Dune Life Nature Trail is another excellent self-guided hike perfect for the entire family! Here, the “desert scrub community and the gypsum sand dunes meet and form one of the most diverse ecosystems in the park,” according to the NPS. Though most of the wildlife is nocturnal, you may notice tracks from foxes, badgers, or many of the numerous reptiles that thrive in this habitat.

Not far away, the Interdune Boardwalk is White Sand’s only fully-accessible hike open to both wheelchairs and strollers. This is a must-do hike with expansive views of the snow-white dunes. Signs along the way even highlight “the science, geology, plants, and animals that make White Sands an unequaled natural wonder.”

If you want to plan a night under the stars, look no further than the Backcountry Camping Trail. The sweeping views awarded on this hike only get better around sunrise and sunset. There is no water, shelter, or restrooms on this hike, however, so plan accordingly. This two-mile loop also doubles as a short hike without having to venture far from the parking lot.

The most challenging undertaking in White Sands National Park, the Alkali Flat Trail is anything but flat. If you yearn for “spectacular views of endless dunes with few footprints,” this hike is for you. The trailhead is the largest in the park, and vault toilets are located nearby. Even better, the nearby dunes offer opportunities to sled down the soft sand – a must-do activity if you’re vising the park! If you plan to venture this far into the park, stop at the gift shop on the way and grab a waxed sled for the full White Sands experience! More information on sledding can be found here.

Before planning a hike in White Sands National Park, first read these published Hiking Safety Tips.

Source:
NPS

Interdune Boardwalk

Interdune Boardwalk

0.6 km
2 m
2 m
A fully-accessible and pet-friendly short hike highlighting "the science, geology, plants, and animals that make White Sands an unequaled natural wonder."
Easy
Private
Backcountry Camping Trail
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Backcountry Camping Trail

2.7 km
21 m
21 m
A quiet 2-mile loop with numerous opportunities to pitch a tent under the stars.
Moderate
Private
Dune Life Nature Trail

Dune Life Nature Trail

1.6 km
20 m
20 m
An easy self-guided hike perfect for the entire family!
Moderate
Private
Playa Trail Overlook
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Playa Trail Overlook

0.7 km
0 m
0 m
The easy, level hike through a playa with an ever-changing habitat fueled by rain and summer monsoons.
Easy
Private
Alkali Flat Trail
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Alkali Flat Trail

1 - 2 hrs
7.8 km
61 m
61 m
A challenging hike with endless views as you wander through snow-white sand dunes.
Difficult
Private