Are you planning a trip to go hiking in New Mexico at White Sands National Park? Here’s what you should know before you go!
Update: When we visited this park in 2017, White Sands was a National Monument. In December 2019, it officially became the 62nd National Park in the United States.
This post has been updated to reflect the new National Park status.
White Sands National Park surprised me.
It’s startling and breathtakingly beautiful.
I’m not sure what I was expecting.
Maybe I was thrown off by the fact at the time it was a National Monument (and not a National Park), or assumed that because I’d never heard of it, that it obviously wasn’t “that cool.”
You should go.
Where is White Sands National Park?
White Sands National Park is a sand dune field near Alamogordo, New Mexico.
It’s also near the Holloman Air Force Base, and occasionally the road into White Sands is closed for missile testing.
Why is the Sand White?
The sand is made from gypsum!
It looks like snow, and is softer than sand you’d find at a beach.
What is there to do in White Sands?
You can do driving tours, ride horses, go sand sledding, bicycle, and of course– go hiking or backcountry backpacking.
We also enjoyed walking around the (somewhat) nearby Valley of Fires— a national recreation area that lets you walk through a hardened lava flow.
Planning your next trip? Check out my favorite camping and hiking gear.
What are the best trails in White Sands National Park?
Most of the hikes in White Sands are relatively short. We went on the longest marked trail– the Alkali Flat trail.
What Should I Bring?
If you go for a hike, especially if you take the 5-mile Alkali Flat Trail, here are some things you should bring along.
- Water: And lots of it.
These are desert trails, and there are no sources of water along the path.
- Electrolytes: Bring tablets, pills, or liquid electrolytes.
- Sun Protection: Bring sunglasses, a hat, and clothing that covers your arms and legs.
If you sunburn easily, bring UPF clothing to help protect your skin. I love this lightweight UPF hoodie.
The white sand acts like a reflector, and you’ll sunburn much more quickly than you normally would.
- Snacks: Bring meal bars (like Clif bars) or trail mix to replenish your energy.
- A Cell Phone: Some areas of the trail have a faint signal, so you might be able to send your GPS coordinates in a text if you need help. (And yes, you can find your GPS coordinates even without access to cellular data.)
- A Trekking Pole with a Snow Basket Attached (optional): The snow basket worked well in the sand, and I was glad to have it when walking up and down extra-steep dunes
How to Follow Trails in the Sand
Here’s the big question: How do you have a marked trail in a sand dune?
The answer is– you follow bright trail marker posts that stick up in the sand.
While you’re still standing at the current marker, scan the sand for the next trail marker. Do not leave the current trail marker until you’ve found the next one.
And of course, as a courtesy to whoever comes along behind you– if you see a trail marker that’s fallen over, pick it up and put it back in the sand.
Enjoy the hike, and if you go, let me know what you liked best!