Alkali Flat Trail
The Quick Stats
Distance: 5 miles out & back
Elevation Change: 311 ft
Type: Trail through large and steep sand dunes with red markers to follow
Restrooms at the Trailhead: yes
Water at the trailhead: no
Dogs allowed: yes
Parking lot: yes, a large parking lot
Hiker’s ledger: no
Overall, we absolutely loved White Sands National Park. It was everything we saw in pictures and more! It definitely met our expectations. We did almost all of our planning using the NPS White Sands National Park website. There are plenty of great resources on their site!
The park is relatively small with only one out and back road, 8 miles in length. However, once on the dunes it’s easy to feel isolated and alone… but don’t get lost! You might not have good cellphone service. Additionally, there is a lot to do at the park, including the quite popular sledding. We didn’t partake, but most people at the park were. Many people, groups, and families set up shop with pop up tents, chairs, and tables. We recommend bringing sandals for walking on the sand, but consider boots for hiking as the loose sand can make you more prone to rolling an ankle.
There is only one entrance to White Sands National Park off of US Route 70. From Phoenix we got on the I-10 heading east towards Tucson and stayed on towards El Paso. Any maps app should be able to provide correct directions. Once you arrive at the park, the visitor center and gift shop are before the entrance fee booths.
When we arrived at 10:30am local time, 2.5 hours after the park had opened, we didn’t know how many were already there nor how many more were coming. With that in mind we drove straight to the end of Dunes Drive near the trailhead for Alkali. Check out the Dunes Drive Map for all the allocated parking spots at the park, there are many! But they can fill up fast if you go on one of the most crowded weekends of the year like us… oops. In our Arizona Camper Van we made sure we had some space to open up our awning after our hike. After getting everything ready and extra sunscreen applied, we were on our way, starting in hiking boots but had our sandals strapped to our bag.
The Alkali Trail is a loop, so soon after the start the trail forks. We went right because it was a short uphill and we were curious. Once up the hill with our pup leading the way and making it look easy the view was stunning. We hope pictures can convey, but it might be difficult. The trail isn’t your traditional trail with marked boundaries. It’s just going from bright orange post to post, but they’re quite easy to spot against the bright white sand.
After a short bit with the temps starting to rise and our dog (Finnick) at our feet, we decided we weren’t going to do the full 5 mile loop. At that point we cut across the dunes, which admittedly was a lot of fun. We captured some great photos and walked across some spots that looked untouched, just shaped by wind and rain. We spotted a trail marker in the distances and worked our way towards it. About halfway into our crosscut, we took off our hiking boots and switched to our sandals. We made sure to keep an eye on Finnick the whole time to ensure he had water when wanted. We eventually made it across to the trail marker on the other side of the loop. After exploring a bit more we started to head back towards the van.
The apex of Alkali Flat Loop leads to a portion of the Alkali Flats (dried lake bed) within the park boundary.