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The Best Hikes in White Sands National Park

45 Triplog Reviews in the White Sands National Park
Most recent of 13 deeper Triplog Reviews
5.33 mi • 600 ft aeg
The last time I was on White Sands Missile Range, on which the Monument is resident, was for annual training with the (now deceased) 153rd Field Artillery Brigade of the Arizona Army National Guard. That was on the south end of post, where the dunes are smaller, but have a lot more vegetation. I somehow managed to lose a battery of self-propelled 155s in the dunes. 8-[

Driving in from Las Cruces on Thursday, I had seen a still snow-capped mountain north of Alamogordo, which I am guessing was 11,973 ft. Sierra Blanca Peak. I thought it would make a great background contrast to photos of White Sands’ dunes. Unfortunately, my creative vision was aborted by the 25-35 mph winds that were accurately predicted for Friday in the Alamogordo area. Despite being sand blasted at the Alkali Flat trailhead, I was there to hike, dammit. (No more :pk: ?) So, hike I did.

The park recommends each hiker carry two liters of water. (The French couple who died in 2015 carried 1.2 liters, total, for three people, including their son, who survived.) I carried nearly my normal fluid load, 2.5 liters of water and one liter of Gatorade. I drank one liter of water and 250ml of Gatorade.

I never did see anyone behind me, and passed three pairs of hikers doing the loop clockwise. The first two pairs appeared to be less than properly prepared (shorts, no hats, obviously not enough water).

I fantasized about the Rat Patrol [ youtube video ] flying over the dunes, blasting away with their 50s. When the wind was at its worst, and I could barely see the next pole, I wondered if the Foreign Legion would have to rescue me. Might have helped if I was a fair damsel.

So much sand was in the air, photos were difficult. I was digging sand out of my ears two days later. (Back at our motel in Alamogordo, we could not see the mountains just east of town.)

The next day, it was off to Trinity Site for their semiannual open house!

Hike Video: [ youtube video ]

Wildflowers
Hahahaha. You're kidding, right?
4 mi • 250 ft aeg
My family and I explored White Sands National Monument over Spring Break last week. Let's just say that I found the 275 square miles of white gypsum located in the middle of the desert to be fascinating. The sand was very cool to the touch and my children ran barefoot over the dunes and made delightful sand angels. The day was quite warm last Thursday, reaching over 80 degrees by midday. My family decided to leave me to it to hike and explore the white sands further. I took the backcountry route, clearly marked and easy to follow. Throughout the hike I definitely felt the intensity of the heat and sun on the reflective white sands. I would love to return to this majestic place for a moonlit hike or quick backpacking adventure.

No wildlife to report other than beetle tracks in the sand.
4 mi • 250 ft aeg
This place is amazing!
Had been thinking about checking it out since Chad and Addie went a while back ... thought this might be my last chance before it got too hot. I was wrong - or rather, the weather forecast I used was wrong ... way wrong, by about 20 degrees! Was 87 when I got there.
Back to the beginning. I love a semi-spontaneous road trip, and I love exploring new territory. Right after I got east of Bowie on the I-10 and celebrated entering into new territory, I suddenly realized I forgot to leave food out for my fat cat - crap!! Thought about going back but that would have cost me three hours ... decided Lucy would be okay, and apologized to her in my head.
Stopped at the NM visitor center in Lordsburg and picked up some maps and info as well as free food and pin. Proceeded through Demming and to Las Cruces, where I got a bit thrown by some detours and went about 10 minutes out of the way towards El Paso. Las Cruces seems okay but I do not like the horizontal traffic lights.
Finally drove past the NASA facilities and through the missile range and a Border Patrol checkpoint to arrive at the Monument around 3:30 local time.
Went in the V.C. to arrange my campsite - it cant be done ahead of time since they might have to close for missile testing. They have 10 campsites - that's it, and you have to hike a mile or so to them. They only cost $3 ... plus the Park entry fee of $5.
At long last I drove a couple more minutes and finally saw some white sand! Lots and lots of REALLY WHITE SAND! It really is otherworldly.
I went to a picnic area and ate (wolfed down, really) the delicious chicken Caesar salad from the gift shop while I looked at the brochures and tried to adjust to the bizarre landscape.
I drove the Dunes Loop road twice, stopping at various places to ogle the views, take photos and play in the sand ... didn't sled, but it looks super fun and I want to next time.
About an hour before sunset, I started the backcountry camping trail ... only .9 mile to my site, but wow is climbing sand dunes with a backpack a good workout! Got there in about 30 mins and quickly set up my camp - wasn't much to it - then explored more dunes and enjoyed a spectacular sunset.
It was so intensely quiet that I couldn't even bear to fire up my stove so I ate cold food. The stars were amazing, but it was the absolute silence which impressed me ... no birds, no bugs, no trees to rustle in the wind, heck no wind for that matter.
Very cool place, and I will go back. Next time I will remember to feed the cat so I don't have to rush right home in the morning. And I will take an umbrella for shade.
8 mi • 650 ft aeg
After talkin' 'bout it for 2 years, we finally got our a's out to White Sands!

3/21 - Departed Safford at 5am. After 2 stops along the way in Lordsburg & Las Cruces, we pulled into White Sands at 11am. First stop was at the visitor center to secure our backcountry camping permit. We then drove the entire monument road checking everything out before stopping at one of the picnic areas to get our day packs ready for the Alkali Flats trail.

Alkali Flats trail - Arrived at the trail-head, signed the register and off we went. We headed out with several others clockwise, but by mile 1 we were all alone the rest of the 5 mile loop. By far the most unique "trail" I have ever hiked following trail markers up & down white sand dunes. Beautiful, surreal, one of a kind experience, etc .......... It was Awesome!!!

After our hike, we headed back to the picnic area to rest and prepare our backpacks for the hike in to our backcountry campsite for the night.

Backcountry Camping Loop - Arrived at the camping trail-head, signed the register and off we went again. Only a .8 mile hike in to our site (#10). Being such a short hike in, we overstuffed our packs with some comforts including a propane heater and beach chairs (yolo). We finished setting up camp as the sun was going down, climbed up to the high dune to photograph the sunset and then set out for a nice 98% full moon hike for about an hour. Again ..... Beautiful, surreal, one of a kind experience, etc .......... It was Awesome!!!
Bed came early along with a night chill, great first day.

3/22 - Awoke early beating the sun up and spent the beginning of this new day atop another high dune photographing a very nice sunrise. We broke camp, hiked back out to the car & headed out stopping at the visitor center once more to purchase a few souvenirs of our stay.

White Sands exceeded my expectations!
Already can't wait to go back for some off-trail hiking further into the dunes.
Very rewarding trip with my most crazy, hilarious bad pumpkin partner !!!
:D
15.4 mi • 1,550 ft aeg
nice steady pace around and across the dunes... most of the down time was shooting pics! Sand textures interesting, as usual. Cold clear morning... late start with Winter gate opening at 9am, but fine for our mileage... finished before sunset. Three other hikers out for their first off trail dunes ramble... very nice day!

Full Picture set over on Google+...
6 mi • 400 ft aeg
I may have done far more elevation, but the mileage seems about right. By far, the best thing about this area is White Sands. The Organs are accessible, but are over in Las Cruces, Sierra Blanca is visible, but 2 hours away by car, and the local mountains outside of town are boring all the time and really mediocre hikes compared to stuff in places like Tucson. The sands are the premiere destination of the area. Where else can you enjoy the views of the local mountains and walk barefoot on white sand? Don't know how long I'll be here, but I have to get out here at least monthly, maybe weekly.
6 mi • 150 ft aeg
I don't know how far we went, or how long it took, or what the AEG was, but it was a refreshing change of pace, a beautiful hike, and a fun afternoon. I have been going through withdrawal from the bright sun and white snow on a blue bird day as I have experienced over the last 5 years in Arizona, but today gave me what I was looking for. Even got in some true barefoot hiking. Only put my minimal shoes back on after my fee went numb due to cold.
4.7 mi • 600 ft aeg
I had a couple days off of work so I figured I would escape my family for Thanksgiving and drive out to Las Cruces to enjoy White Sands. Started hiking Alkali Flats Trail around 3:30 and came back just after sunset. Although there was a long line to get into the park, the majority of the people congregate within the first 1/4 miles of the roadway. After hiking only 30 minutes I had the entire trail to myself.
4 mi • 250 ft aeg
Took a few fine folks from the ABC to New Mexico - a part of my 2011 pledge to spend more time south of the "AZ Line" (hypothetically located between Casa Grande and Picacho Peak). Not only did I LOVE the White Sands, but the Organ Mountains really called to me, and I felt as though Ruidoso was teasing me with it's lights high on the mountains. Hmmmmm.....

We arrived at the park at around 3:30pm, after a very fun road trip from Tucson (including hat shopping at the truck stop in Lordsburg and stuffed hotdogs and sopapillas in Las Cruces). They told us that if we arrived after 4:20 that we'd be out of luck for camping permits, because they didn't want us out "wandering the dunes" in the dark. Well - their estimate of an hour from the visitor center to the campground would not have been at all accurate if we had spent a little less time carefully packing our gear, but ended up paying off. Laden like we were on a week-long trek through a waterless wilderness, we set off from the parking area at about 4:30, only to stumble upon our assigned camping depression less than half an hour later. It really was a breeze of a walk, but long enough to make us feel completely isolated from anyone else in the world. Fantastic.

Although the moon was nearly full, hiking at night turned out to be more difficult than you'd imagine. First, it's cold out there - our first night saw temps in the low twenties. Second, moonlight doesn't give you the same depth-discerning abilities as the sun. It's all a big, white, featureless blanket. It's very disconcerting, but also quite fun (suddenly, you're going up hill, oops, now down, oops, that spot's not going to support your weight!).

Day 2 we split into two groups: the football fans who drove into Alamagordo to watch the Bears game at Applebee's, and the group who actually came to camp and hike, who wandered about the park doing various hikes, hitting the tops of a few tall dunes and generally misbehaving (spelled s_l_e_d_s).

Night 2 was about 10 degrees warmer, which certainly helped a lot, but still made for a chilly morning. We talked about heading out and doing the Alkali Flat trail, but most of us just wanted to head home. Interesting...Phoenix folks sure do talk up that "extra 2 hours" of driving time when they come down south :? Too bad they don't calculate it in MY travel time when I head north!

A few things to note if you're wanting to camp/backpack/explore the beautiful gypsum dunes of New Mexico:
  • Although none of the brochures or rangers will tell you so, foxes can be a problem in your campsite. They don't just steal your food, they steal the pot you cooked it in, the bag you stored it in, the plate you ate it from. You will never see these things again. Looking is futile, and they leave mysterious footprints just to mislead you. Better to store your food in your tent or better - at the bottom of your sleeping bag.
  • The sleds at the visitor center, with a little wax and human ingenuity, make excellent cargo sleds. Just don't let them hit you on the heels as you descend the dunes.
  • Gallon jugs stored out in the open on 22deg. nights tend to freeze solid, and thus do not make very good coffee in the morning.
  • If you are a fan of small, local restaurants with vegetarian fare, good beer and TVs to watch a Bears game, Alamagordo is evidently not the place to be on Sunday morning.
  • You do need to get a new permit each night that you camp on the dunes - which means that you will have to visit the Visitor Center each day of your stay. Not a big deal, since you'll probably want to walk out to the parking area to use the bathroom anyway (the dunes don't offer much in the way of cover).
  • Ben and Jerry's Coffe Heath Bar Crunch tastes freaking awesome at the top of a gypsum dune, and I think that a $5 cowboy hat and aviator glasses improve it even more.
  • The best way to ensure that people sled or tromp all over the pristine dunes and write rude messages in the sand is to put up a sign saying "This area is for nature study - please drive to the south end of the park for sand play." This way you save the south end of the park from these silly activities.
  • Leaving your camera on the dining room table before a trip to White Sands is only minimally more idiotic than leaving your shoes on the same table before hiking in Sycamore Canyon. All of my pictures came from either Tiffani or Derrick - thanks for sharing guys!

3 mi • 400 ft aeg
Photo amble in the dunes at about the 4 mile mark on the road. Plan was to hike ALkali flats trail but the windstorm the day before had the roads closed :(. Did some sledding,photos and walking ...had a great time on foot print free dunes :y:
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