||1 mile roundtrip
||A few hills
||Spring, Fall, Winter
- Being surrounded by white sand dunes
- Child-oriented educational signs
The Dune Life Nature Trail is a staple of White Sands National Monument. On a short, one-mile loop, you'll observe the unique beauty of the white sand dunes while learning more about the wildlife that call this special place home. If you only have time to do one easy trail in the park, this is the one to pick!
The trail begins as a straight, flat walk through a grassy area before climbing the first of two inclines you'll experience on this hike. After ascending the hill, you'll have your first view of the stunning white sand dunes, as pictured below.
The famous bright white dunes with shrubs interspersed
Since the constantly blowing and shifting sand makes construction of a standard trail impossible, 3-foot high trail markers will guide you through the loop, as pictured below. Standing at any marker, you should be able to see one or more in the distance; if not, turn back or you'll risk being horribly lost in endless sand. The remainder of the hike is on sand, which you'll soon find is harder to walk on than a typical gravel or dirt trail.
A trail marker in the white sand and the Sacramento Mountains in the distance
The trail is full of specially-adapted plants like the tall, spiky yucca pictured below. Educational signs throughout the loop will explain more about the plants and animals indigenous to the dunes. Unlike the wordy, often dry signs you'll find on other trails in national parks, these signs were designed with kids in mind. A cute cartoon fox named Katie will guide you from sign to sign using simple language and colorful illustrations. The signs also help pace the hike, encouraging you to slow down and observe the immense natural beauty of the dunes.
Yucca is the most iconic plant in the park
About halfway through, you'll reach an excellent viewpoint of the San Andres Mountains, unobstructed by the dunes. You can also see one example of an interdune area, a flat expanse covered in shrubs (you can learn more about this ecosystem on the Interdune Boardwalk
). This is where most plant life can survive since water flows downhill and collects in this basin.
The view of the San Andres Mountains at the halfway point
Beyond this point, you'll encounter the second and final incline of the hike. Near the top of the hill, you'll see a lonely Rio Grande Cottonwood growing in the sand, as pictured below. This tree serves as evidence of a reliable water source, most likely deep beneath the sand.
A lone tree growing in the sand
At the end of the loop, you'll turn to descend the dunes back to the parking lot. Hopefully you'll have learned some interesting things while taking some beautiful photos and enjoying the serenity of white sand! Let me know what you think in the comments section below and be sure to use #nocoastbestcoast on Twitter
Dogs are allowed on leash (this is one of the few Park Service properties that allows pets). This is the best family-friendly trail in the park since its educational signs were designed with kids in mind and the short looping trail allows for an easy hike to explore the sand dunes. Spring, fall, and winter are the best seasons to visit since summer temperatures are extremely hot and there is no shade. No matter the season, wear sun protection! This is one of the busiest places in the park, so expect to see many others enjoying the dunes.
From El Paso, take Interstate 10 west to Las Cruces. Continue onto Interstate 25 north, then take the exit for U.S. Highway 70 heading east. After about 45 minutes, turn left to enter White Sands National Monument. Pay the fee at the entrance station, and continue straight. Turn left at the sign for the Dune Life Nature Trail and park in the lot at the end of the drive.
Google Maps Directions
Parking, Fees, and Facilities
The entrance fee is $20 per vehicle per day and annual passes for White Sands National Monument are available for $40. Interagency passes are also accepted here. There are pit toilets in the parking lot.