Welcome fellow travelers! Thanks for checking out my travel guide on White Sands National Park (New Mexico) – one of the newest, most unique and beautiful national parks in all of the United States. My name is Daniel Coronel (@99daniel) and I was born in Ecuador. I moved to the US when I was just seven years old. I haved lived in Houston, Texas ever since.
I work as an Entrepreneur and Construction Engineer, and love to travel when I get the opportunity. My free time is dedicated to traveling because you get to see new cultures, meet new people, learn about the history of a unique place, and just overall you get to experience the beauty of nature and taste delicious food. I believe travel makes you a well rounded person as you are forced to drop stereotypes and embrace the unknown.
Since I grew up in Ecuador, I have always loved being in nature. Ecuador is blessed with awesome mountain landscapes and incredibly precious islands like Galapagos. Nature and conservation is something that is valued highly in our country. My inspiration to visit White Sands National Park goes back to this passion for nature. A good friend of mine, Paul Cumare, showed me a few photos of White Sands National Park and I said let’s go!
We visited the park in April. When I arrived with my friends, Paul and Sam, we were astonished by the dunes and how white they were. It’s such a rare thing to have a desert full of white sand, especially in the US of all places! The only thing you can see around you is white sand. It truly is a one of a kind experience that every traveler should do at least once in their life.
Day Trip to White Sands National Park
We spent a whole day at White Sands which was plenty of time to check out the dunes, go exploring and take some cool photos. Our goal was to arrive early in the morning and stay until after sunset. We hiked the 5-mile loop trail called the Alkali Flat Trail where you cross over various white dunes and small hills. The name of the trail is misleading as it’s rarely flat.
It was a tough hike due to the heat and the white sand reflecting the warmth from the sun back at you! But it was amazing nonetheless. In the evening, we walked towards the sunset to witness a magical golden hour. We sat on top of the hills just like some of the other people did. It was a unique experience to view the sunset at White Sands. Many people come and pick their own little (or big) white sand hill to view the sunset on.
My favorite aspect about White Sands was the range of hills that the desert offers. Once you walk in and hike for ten minutes or so, all you can see is white sand and white hills in every direction. And the best part? It’s so peaceful. There were no sounds, just the silence of nature in all of its glory. It was like me and my friends had just arrived on a new uninhabited planet.
Best Things To Do at White Sands National Park
Travelers searching for the best things to do at White Sands National Park on a day trip can find inspiration in this list below. I recommend doing at least one of the long hikes because that way you will see more of the landscapes. Also, you should stay for sunset because that time of day – with the colors blanketing the desert – is just enchanting. Read on for more info.
1. Hike the Alkali Flat Trail (5-Mile Loop)
If you only have time to hike one trail at White Sands then it should be this one. The Alkali Flat Trail is five miles in distance and loops around back on itself. As the name suggests, this hike takes you to the Alkali Flat – the most impressive natural wonder of the park. Hikers will follow along a well marked trail with red/orange trail markers and a diamond symbol to guide them. It skirts along the edge of the final remnants of Lake Otero.
Keep in mind that this trail is anything but flat! Most of the walk takes you up and down dunes. The hardest part is the lack of shade and the sun which beams off the sand back at you – making the heat twice as hot. However, if you are a strong hiker and come prepared with protection like a sun hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, etc. then you should be able to make it.
Most hikers finish in three hours. However, the duration depends on how many stops you make. Starting from the parking zone, the Alkali Flat Trail begins right at the sand dunes. At the 2-mile mark, you arrive at the Alkali Flat with views of the San Andreas Mountains in the background. You can stay for as long as you like before returning. An interesting fact is that the dunes are always changing shape, so no two hikes are the same.
2. Climb to the Top of a Small Hill for Sunset
After you have hiked the Alkali Flat Trail, be sure to hang around for sunset to watch the dunes glow as the sun slips behind the mountains in a spectacular fashion. The best way to see the sunset is by climbing up the nearest hill and settling in for a couple of hours. Bring some wine and snacks if you would like to enhance your golden hour experience.
Sunsets at White Sands are renowned for their pink, purple and yellow colors. The shadows cast by the dimming of the light creates this kaleidoscope of different colors, shades and textures – making it a dream setting for all the photographers out there. I suggest picking a spot close to the parking area because the park closes its gates shortly after dark.
My favorite experience at White Sands was definitely watching the sunset. We had an incredible view because we could see the mountains over the horizon as the sun was setting. The white dunes rolled on for as far as the eye could see. All the hills looked uneven yet they seemed perfect in our eyes. This was a moment I will never forget. I can’t wait to go back again!
3. Explore the Mini-Trails at White Sands
In addition to the Alkali Flat Trail, there are four other trails to choose from at White Sands. If you don’t fancy a long hike or if time is pressing, you can always explore one of the mini-trails that the park offers. For example, the Interdune Boardwalk is only 0.4 miles in distance and takes visitors along a boardwalk that is both wheelchair accessible and baby stroller friendly.
This short walk is well worth doing because you get the chance to learn about the various plants, animals and geographic elements that make up the park. There are also shaded areas on this path where you can get some much needed respite from the sun. With a total walking time of 20 minutes, the Interdune Boardwalk is a fantastic option for first-time visitors.
The Dune Life Nature Trail is another great option for those who would like to immerse themselves in the dunes for a shorter period. One hour is all the time you need to complete this 1-mile loop hike. Some areas of the walk take you up steep dunes, so there are a few challenging spots to overcome but this just adds to the thrill of the adventure. This area of White Sands is home to some interesting animals like kit foxes, badgers and birds.
4. Go Sledding Down the Sand Dunes
You are never too old to go hooning down sand dunes. Sledding is a fun activity that the whole family can enjoy. Bring your own sled or buy one at the gift shop located at the park. This activity is permitted in the loop section of Dunes Drive. Here you can find some powdery white gypsum sand that is perfect for sledding. There is hardly any vegetation around so it’s an ideal spot to sled down the hill and get completely covered in sand!
Tips for Visiting White Sands National Park
- If you want to visit the park and stay nearby, I recommend heading to a village called Ruidoso. From here you can reach White Sands in about an hour. There are some decent bed and breakfasts, hotels and airbnb’s at Ruidoso that all come with affordable prices and gorgeous views too.
- When exploring White Sands National Park, make sure you bring lots and lots of water. I suggest taking at least two liters per person. Also, pack some lunch like homemade sandwiches, fruit, bars, mixed nuts, etc. This will give you the fuel to hike a couple of trails and stay from sunrise to sunset.
- Hiking boots or good sports shoes are a must, especially if you plan on hiking the 5-mile Alkali Flat Trail. Sun protection is also vital so items like a sunhat, sunscreen, sunglasses, etc. are all necessary to protect yourself.