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Exploring White Sands National Park with your Dog

White Sands National Park is one of the newest parks to be designated as an official U.S. national park. It was only in 2019 that this national monument was upgraded to National Park status. And of the 5 most recent additions to the list of U.S. National Parks, this one is my favorite.

Protecting 275 square miles of white gypsum sand dunes, White Sands National Park is a beautiful and enchanting area to explore. And, happily, for those of us who travel with our dogs, this national park is extremely dog friendly!

Dog-Friendly Activities at White Sands National Park

White Sands is one of the few national parks that are fully open to dogs (and other pets). Well, at least the outdoor areas are. Dogs are still not allowed inside federal buildings.

But if you keep your dog leashed, ensure they are non-disruptive, and pick up after your dog, then your dog is free to enjoy the scents, sights, and experience of miles of rolling white sand dunes right along with you.

This is especially nice, as there is nowhere to leave your dog unattended within the White Sands park area. And this includes your car. Due to the heat in this region, there are strict rules against leaving a pet alone in vehicles.

Okay, now that we’ve discussed some of the rules and regulations (more details can be found on the official NPS website), let’s take a look at the fun hiking trails open to you and your dog.

Hiking with Dogs at White Sands National Park

There are 5 trails at White Sands National Park, ranging in difficulty from a fully accessible boardwalk that is 0.4 miles round trip to a strenuous 5-mile round trip hike through the dunes.

If you have the time, I highly recommend hiking the 5-mile round trip Alkali Flat Trail. And caution, despite the name, this trail is NOT flat. You will be hiking up and down sand downs throughout your hike.

Since you will be hiking through the sand, there is not a specific path to follow. But the trail is well marked with red trail markers with a diamond symbol. Each time you reach a trail marker, stop and look for the next one. Then make your way however you would like to walk until you reach the next marker. Keep repeating until you have walked the entire loop.

A word of caution – this trail can get hot! We were not able to complete the full 5 miles as it ended up getting too hot out on the sand for the dogs. If you are hiking this trail with your pups, bring plenty of water and try to start early in the day (or go later in the evening). There is no shade or water along the trail!

The park website recommends that you don’t start the hike if the temperature is at or above 85 °F. If you are hiking with dogs, you might want to adjust that a bit further and not start the hike if it is above 75 °F, as most dogs are more sensitive to overheating than people are. Additionally, the sand can heat up quickly and be irritating to paws. Dog boots could protect your dog’s paws, but boots may also trap heat and make it harder for your dog to cool off.

I would also recommend that you brush up on your knowledge of heatstroke symptoms in dogs before starting out on this trail. It is always better to be safe. You can read this blog post for tips on how to prevent heatstroke and keep your dog cool while hiking.

If it is too hot to hike, take the time to drive Dunes Drive, an 8-mile scenic drive that leads from the visitor center into the heart of the gypsum dune field. This packed sand road is suitable for most vehicles, including RVs.

Camping at White Sands National Park

There is no developed camping at White Sands National Park. But if you want to stay at a campground near White Sands National Park, there are state park and national forest campgrounds within 40 miles of the park. On our visit, we stayed at Silver Campground in Lincoln National Forest prior to visiting White Sands and then drove to Leasburg Dam State Park a little further away to spend the next night.

Despite the fact that there is no developed campground at White Sands National Park, you can still backcountry camp with your dog(s). (The backcountry camping is closed as of early 2022, keep an eye on the website to see if/when it opens up again.)

Check out Dogs and Detours excellent review of camping amongst the gypsum sand with her two dogs. Just click the link below.

I would love to go back and experience backcountry camping at this park. It looks amazing!

Dog-Friendly Activities in the Surrounding Areas

There are a lot of dog-friendly recreation options in this area of the United States. Lincoln National Forest has several lovely dog-friendly hiking trails. And much of Lincoln National Forest is at a higher elevation than White Sands National Park, so a hike in this forest can offer some relief from the heat of hiking in the sand.

Also, as mentioned earlier, White Sands National Park is near several New Mexico State Parks, including Oliver Lee State Park, Mesilla Valey Bosque State Park, and Leasburg Dam State Park.

And if you’re up for a little drive, about 4 hours away is Gila National Forest, which is full of amazing recreation opportunities and stunning hiking trails. And then if you want to keep your road trip going and continue driving west, you can visit Saguaro National Park. <– this link brings you to my blog post review of this national park.

Final Thoughts

White Sands is my favorite of the newest national parks, ranked just ahead of New River Gorge National Park. It is well worth the stop and is amazingly dog-friendly. Just pay attention to the temperatures and make sure your dog stays cool and hydrated throughout your stay.

Have you been to White Sands National Park with your dogs? How did you like your visit? Let us know in the comments section below.

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