Playa Trail

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

Trip Date: Sunday, February 17th, 2019
Last Updated: Thursday, March 28th, 2019
By Ricky Holzer

Hike Information

Rating ★★☆☆☆(2/5)
Overall Difficulty Easy
Navigation Difficulty     Easy
Distance 0.5 miles roundtrip
Time 30 minutes
Terrain Mostly flat
Best Seasons All
Family Friendly Yes
Dog Friendly Yes
Accessible No


Hike Summary

The Playa Trail is an easy, flat hike that serves as a good warmup for other hikes in the park (partly because it's the first trail along the park road). This short path is lined with educational signs to introduce you to the wildlife both past and present that live(d) here. The entire landscape is amazingly flat and provides some excellent mountain views.

Most of the year, the playa is a flat, white, dry lake bed like pictured below. In the summer, monsoons flood the playas and create seasonal pools that attract wildlife (if I had visited in summer, I might have rated this trail more highly). Though it may be tempting to walk off-trail to see the playas up close, doing so will destroy the cryptobiotic crust that grows on the surface of the desert soil. Comprised of lichens, algae, and other microorganisms, you can observe this crust if you look for brown or blackish areas on the light sandy soil. Cryptobiotic crust is highly fragile, and footsteps can cause damage that takes up to 7 years to regenerate.

The white playa contrasting the blue sky

The flat, white playa contrasting the blue sky

To the east, you can see the Sacramento Mountains rising thousands of feet above the desert. The impressive flatness of the desert here provides one of the best views of the mountain range. If you look closely, you can see the transition from sharp cliffs to pine forest as elevation increases.
The Sacramento Mountains towering over the flat desert

The Sacramento Mountains towering over the flat desert

At the end of the trail, you'll have a view of the playa and the Sierra Blanca Mountains, as pictured below. Just left of center, you can see the snow-capped Sierra Blanca Peak, Southern New Mexico's highest peak at nearly 12,000-feet above sea level. A final educational sign will inform you about wildlife here during the Ice Age.
The flat playa and the tall Sierra Blanca Mountains

The flat playa and the tall Sierra Blanca Mountains

Though it's not as impressive as the other trails through the white sand dunes this park is known for, the Playa Trail is a quieter place to learn more about indigenous plants and animals. Connect with me using the social media links below and share your adventures!

Important Information

Dogs are allowed on leash (this is one of the few Park Service properties that allows pets). This is a family-friendly trail since it is short and flat with educational signs. Summer should be avoided due to the extreme heat exacerbated by the hot sand and lack of shade. No matter the season, wear sun protection! Though the rest of the park may be crowded, this trail is less popular and has a quick turnaround time.


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 until you reach the pullout on the right side signed for the Playa Trail.

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 no facilities at this trailhead, but there are pit toilets at the Dune Life Nature Trail parking area nearby.

Nearby Hikes

The view of the San Andres Mountains at the halfway point
Dune Life Nature Trail Loop
White Sands National Park, New Mexico
The wheelchair accessible boardwalk with dunes on either side
Interdune Boardwalk
White Sands National Park, New Mexico
The San Andres Mountains beyond the blowing white sand
Alkali Flat Loop
White Sands National Park, New Mexico
The white gypsum dunes with the Guadalupe Mountains beyond
Salt Basin Dunes
Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

External Links