Pet Travel. Made Easy.

A Pet Friendly Visit to White Sands National Monument

Only 200 miles separate Carlsbad Caverns from White Sands National Monument, however, if you’re traveling with pets, you’ll find there’s a world of difference! But before we get to that, let’s chat about a little ski town that sits in between called Cloudcroft.


Finding a ski town in southern New Mexico was a pleasant surprise. Perched at 8,600 feet in the Sacramento Mountains, this town of less than 700 people lies within the spectacular Lincoln National Forest. If you’ve been following our travels for a while, you know that we LOVE the national forests for being more dog friendly than many of our national parks. Getting the chance to hit the trails with the dogs was just too good to pass up – and there are a lot of trails to choose from!

In the late 1800’s steam locomotives coming from Alamogordo climbed nearly 4,000 in 26 miles to reach Cloudcroft. Now a Rails-to-Trails project is transforming the 65-mile route into a unique path that winds along ridges, clings to ledges, and passes old wooden railroad trestles that bridged the mountain canyons. The Cloud-Climbing Rail Trail is actually where we got our first glimpse of White Sands.

Cloudcroft, NM
Cloudcroft, NM

View of White Sands in the distance

Cloudcroft, NM

Though the trail isn’t very long or technical, remember that hiking at this altitude is a different experience – for you and your dogs. Be sure to take plenty of water and don’t push yourself too hard.

White Sands National Monument

An exhilarating trip down the mountain from Cloudcroft to Alamogordo puts you squarely in the Tularosa Basin. You’ll notice you’re completely surrounded by three mountain ranges, which is what makes White Sands possible – there are no streams or river leaving the basin, so rain water and snow melt can’t escape.

Though it’s called White Sands, the dunes are actually made of gypsum. Gypsum is easily dissolvable in water, so it’s rarely seen in crystalized form, but here in the basin it’s washed from the mountains and, when the water evaporates, you’ve got crystals. These crystals are broken down over time into sand-like particles light enough to be blown by the wind to form the dunes.

As you pass through the park gates, you’re still surrounded by desert. However, hints of what’s coming soon start to appear …

White Sands - Alamogordo, NM

Dunes Drive cuts though the center of the dunes area and runs for eight miles, giving you access to four different types of dunes. And because the dunes move, they have to use snow plows to keep the road clear!

White Sands - Alamogordo, NM

You’re welcome to park your car and walk around anywhere in the dunes, though I’d suggest sticking to one of the marked trails. The wind will quickly erase your footprints and it would be easy to get disoriented. Most exciting to us was that leashed pets can join you for a romp in the dunes – the entire park is pet friendly!

White Sands - Alamogordo, NM White Sands - Alamogordo, NM White Sands - Alamogordo, NM

The park opens at 7am and closes one hour after sunset. Visiting in the morning or evening or on a cloudy day will help save you from the blinding glare. Unfortunately, Buster and Ty don’t have doggles because they would have come in handy here! We were lucky that it wasn’t a windy day, or the sand would have been blowing in their eyes.

White Sands - Alamogordo, NM White Sands - Alamogordo, NM White Sands - Alamogordo, NM

Before you visit, be sure to call ahead – the White Sands Missile Range is right next door and the park closes when they’re conducting tests. The rangers also offer several programs you can sign up for – full moon hikes, sunrise photography and sunset strolls, to name a few. Though the programs sound worthwhile, my boys were more interested in unstructured goofing around.

White Sands - Alamogordo, NM

Rod tries the sled.

White Sands - Alamogordo, NM

Ty’s waving to his fans

White Sands - Alamogordo, NM

Buster, you’ve got a little on your nose.

White Sands - Alamogordo, NM

Buster’s thinking, “Good jump, Dad!”    Ty’s not so easily impressed.

White Sands - Alamogordo, NM

Puppy love.

We’ve been looking forward to visiting here every since our friends, Scott and Jill, blogged about it on 12LegsTravel. Seeing it again when a photo of Buddy was submitted for our Friday Photo Challenge got our engines stoked again. This is a place I’d like to come back to – seeing it in different seasons, at different times of the day, and maybe even under a full moon would make for a completely new experience each time!

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  • You bet – that’s what we’re here for Kristi Clinton! Have a fantastic trip.

  • Great news! Thanks for the tips!

  • The great thing about White Sands, Kristi, is that it never gets hot! It’s so while that it reflects the sunlight. I would try to go on a somewhat overcast day, if you can, because it’s really bright and I wouldn’t recommend it on a windy day, because the grains blow and could get into your dog’s eyes. It’s a wonderful place, and I’m sure you’ll have have a terrific time. Waggin’ trails!

  • What time of year did you visit White Sands National Monument? We are interested in visiting on May 31/ June 1 and curious if the sand was very hot for the paws? We would plan to visit later in the day and possibly camp overnight (and leave just after sunrise.) Thanks in advance for your help!

  • Thanks for the tip, Cathie! We love that area and I really want to go back to White Sands, so we’ll check this out for sure … maybe this fall!

  • Next time you are as far south as White Sands, continue on to Las Cruces. Dona Ana county has miles of hiking trails for dogs – Soledad Canyon, Baylor Pass Trail, Sierra Vista Trail, the 32 mile trail around the city, and random informal hikes on the mesas. We have slot canyons, waterfalls, mountain trails, and, occasionally a river. Many dog friendly restaurants and businesses including the farmers market.

  • It is absolutely my pleasure – helping out is what we’re here for! I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

  • Thanks so much for this post. This is going to be my first stop on our road trip, it will be a perfect 1/2 way point until our second stop in Cedar Hill, TX where we will be teaching our first class. You rock Amy!! ;)

  • Hi Elaine! I think I spoke to your husband (and scratched your dogs) – Cloudcroft was such a neat and unexpected find. That’s one of the best things about traveling … coming across these little places that nock your socks off! I hope you guys have a fantastic time.

  • We have gone to Cloudcroft for two weeks in July for the past few years for dog agility trials. We also visited there when we lived in Las Cruces, NM (and before dog agility). We love the cool weather and the hiking opportunities. Great summertime getaway!

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