The name “White Sands” might be a little misleading, but that doesn’t make this national park any less impressive! The shimmering dunes here are actually made of gypsum – not sand. And thanks to an ancient sea and some very fortunate geography, it’s now the largest dunefield in the world! Wondering what there is to do at White Sands with your dog? Let us show you around!
Millions of years ago most of the southwestern United States, including parts of what is now New Mexico, was covered by the Permian Sea. It retreated and left behind deep layers of gypsum, the white powdery substance used to make drywall. Later, the tectonic plates shifted and the mountains rose, carrying the gypsum deposits to higher elevations. In the upheaval, the Tularosa Basin – where White Sands is located – was created.
Gypsum is a common mineral that dissolves easily in water, so in most places rainfall and snowmelt carry it through streams and rivers to the ocean. But here there is no water outlet. The only natural water escape is through evaporation. So, when gypsum from the mountains around White Sands washes down to the valley, the water evaporates, the and gypsum crystalizes. Then they blow into massive, brilliant white dunes, which is what you’ll find at White Sands with your dog!
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The exciting thing is that White Sands has always gone above and beyond when it comes to welcoming pets! Leashed pets can explore the entire park with you – except inside the buildings, of course. And even horses are welcome!
Leashed pets can explore the dunes, hike the trails, and join you at the picnic areas. Pets cannot go inside the buildings.
Pets must be cleaned up after and should not be disruptive.
Use a leash that’s no longer than 6-feet.
Visitors with horses should check in at the entrance station to receive a horse permit and instructions on where riding is allowed.
Horses must be picked up after and are not permitted in the monument during missile tests.
Be sure to pack plenty of water for you and your pets. The combination of dry desert air and high elevation can lead to dehydration if you’re not cautious. The only place to fill water bottles is at the visitors center, which is a bit of a drive from the picnic areas and hiking trails.
You and your dog can have plenty of fun at White Sands without ever leaving sight of your car. The Playa Trail, Dune Life Nature Trail, and Interdune Boardwalk all have interesting exhibits about the geography and plant and animal life. Or you can bring a sled (or buy one in the visitors center) and scoot down the dunes that way.
But to truly appreciate the unimaginable size of the dunefield, plan to hike the Alkali Flat Trail. Once again the name is deceiving – this trail is not flat. It’s a 5-mile loop that runs up and over dunes the entire way. The hiking is strenuous, but entirely worthwhile.
The trail is marked with red posts, and it’s important to always keep the markers in view. Once you’re away from other landmarks, the dunes begin to look the same and getting lost is easy. Don’t rely on your footprints either, because they’ll disappear quickly if a light breeze picks up.
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My best advice for visiting White Sands with your dog is to pack your dinner picnic stay for sunset. The dunes can be blinding on a sunny day, but at sunset the sky explodes in a confetti of colors and the gypsum practically glows.
Just after the sun drops behind the San Andres Mountains, be sure to turn around and enjoy “second sunset” as the sunlight reflects off the Sacramento Mountains to the east.
White Sands National Park is located near the White Sands Missile Range. During occasional missile tests and the park and Highway 70 are closed. Before you visit, can call the national park at 575-479-6124 or check their website to determine if there is a missile test scheduled.
READ MORE ⇒ The Ultimate Pet Friendly American Road Trip
There are several pet friendly hotels and campgrounds in Alamogordo (16 miles northeast of the monument) to choose from, but we opted for a broader selection of pet friendly options in Las Cruces (52 miles southwest of the monument). Our favorite area RV park is Hacienda – it’s convenient, well-maintained, the staff is friendly, and it’s walking distance to the dog friendly patio and superb pizza and pasta at Luna Rossa Winery and Pizzeria!
Located between Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands is the charming town of Cloudcroft. Perched at 8,600 feet in the Sacramento Mountains, skiing is the primary draw here. But with its location in the Lincoln National Forest, Cloudcroft also has some spectacular scenery! We LOVE the national forests for being so pet friendly – and there are miles of great trails here to explore.
In the late 1800’s steam locomotives coming from Alamogordo climbed nearly 4,000 to reach Cloudcroft. Now a Rails-to-Trails has transformed the 65-mile route into a unique path that winds along ridges, clings to ledges, and passes old wooden railroad trestles that spanned the mountain canyons. From the Cloud-Climbing Trestle Trail you can see White Sands in the distance!
Though the trail isn’t very long or technical, remember that hiking at this altitude is a different experience – for you and your pets. Be sure to take plenty of water and don’t push yourself too hard.
Visiting White Sands with a dog or two is a great way to spend a day! We’ve stopped here several times over the years, and always had a terrific time. Seeing the dunes in different light and during different seasons makes each experience special. Hopefully sometime we’ll see it during a full moon! If you can plan your pet friendly trip around the lunar cycles, I’d highly recommend it.
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