|Distance||0.5 miles roundtrip|
- Views of the Sacramento and Sierra Blanca Mountains rising above the white playa
- Seasonal ponds forming after heavy rains
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.
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.