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Alkali Flats

Distance*2.6 miles
Elevation Gain20 feet
*I only hiked about a third of the loop
My Time1 hr 12 min
Closest TownAlamogordo
Food NearbyHi-D-Ho

Alkali Flats

The Alkali Flats Trail in White Sands National Park is a unique and beautiful hike across a series of sand dunes. There isn’t a trail per se but a series of red trail markers set in the sand to keep hikers on the right path. This is a moderately difficult hike as the sand can be hard to walk on and the sun and heat can be overwhelming. If you are going to hike here you will need to bring plenty of water and sun protection.

Getting Started

The Alkali Flats trailhead is located in the northwest section of Dunes Road right after you make the turn around the loop. There is a large parking area for the trailhead. I went in the morning and after taking in the sunset the night before, decided to take the hike barefoot. Most others I saw were wearing shoes.

The start of the trail is just at the end of the parking area and is marked by a large sign warning of the dangers of hiking in the sand. It is important to have plenty of water and protection form the sun and heat. Past the sign you can head either clockwise or counter-clockwise. I spotted the red trail marker to the right but you can also hike up the dune to the left to find the trail in that direction.

The mountains and dunes on the Alkali Flats trail at White Sands National Park.
The mountains and dunes on the Alkali Flats trail at White Sands National Park.

Either direction that you head the most important thing to get the hike started is finding one of the two starting markers. It may seem easier to hike on the flat area but that will just make it harder to find the proper trail and see the markers.

Dunes, Dunes, and More Dunes

Once you find your first stake at the top of a dune you should be able to look in the distance and see the tops of several dunes. Some of those dunes will have the stakes visible and you will be able to plot your course to the next one.

As you make your way up and down the soft sand it all starts to look alike. Footsteps are seen all over the sand and usually can follow along to find the best path around the sand. The dunes are roughly the same height but have different sized valleys. Some of the valleys are flat like and hard like concrete and then the trip back up the next dune is softer and feet will dig in with each step.

A long field of dunes on the Alkali Flats Trail at White Sands National Park.
A long field of dunes on the Alkali Flats Trail at White Sands National Park.

The best way to judge progress on the hike are the mountains inching closer with every dune crested. The mountains are a good landmark but other than that the area looks pretty desolate. It is not completely void of life though! There are a few plants around but I got to see a single Darkling Beetle running across the sea of sand.

A Darkling Beetle running across the sand on the Alkali Flats Trail in White Sands National Park.
A Darkling Beetle running across the sand on the Alkali Flats Trail in White Sands National Park.

The Loop

The entire loop around the dunes is 4.7 miles. While that doesn’t sound like a long challenging hike, the sand really does make this harder than expected. The consistent up and down the dunes also wears out the legs at quick pace. I did the hike barefoot and each step I found my foot sinking down into the sand. All this said to say that I didn’t finish the entire loop.

I made it about a third of the way down the dunes. While I was physically able to continue the hike was taking a lot longer than I expected and I had to get back and checkout of the hotel. I was sweating pretty good and the sun takes its toll even when hiking in the morning.

One of the red trail markers on the Alkali Flats Trail at White Sands National Park.
One of the red trail markers on the Alkali Flats Trail at White Sands National Park.

If you decide to continue the full hike, the key is to follow the red trail markers. Several can be seen from the top of the dunes and it helps to get a feel for how much further the trail goes. It can also be a bit daunting to see how little progress you have made!

No matter how far you make it on the loop, you are bound to have an enjoyable and unique experience. The sand is remarkable. Being surrounded by it can help you get lost both literally and metaphorically. Combined with the mountain peaks in the distance the contrast of the white sands, blue sky is an experience to never forget. Whether you hike the first mile or the entire loop.

Video of the Alkali Flats Hike

I put together this time-lapse video of my hike on the Alkali Flats. The video is not on repeat, it is just might look that way! I put this together to give hikers a feel for what the trail is like. If you enjoy the video, make sure to subscribe to my YouTube Channel. It is free to subscribe and you will get the latest updates as soon as they are posted.

Distance and Elevation

As a note, I only made it about a third of this hike. Hiking in sand is really hard.

If you don’t have the AllTrails app you might want to check it out, I really love mine. It records your progress and is a great way to search for hikes that are nearby and gives you difficulty measurements. According to AllTrails today’s hike was around 2.60 miles and had a total elevation gain of about 20 feet including undulations. That put the high point at around 3,996 feet. I was also moving for a total of 1 hour 12 minutes.

I am a Pro member of Alltrails and love it. If you are interested in the platform, please consider using my affiliate link for AllTrails. It gives me a small commission with no extra cost to you.


What looks like a relatively easy hike, mostly flat on soft soil, was anything but. Hiking in the sand is a way bigger challenge than I was expecting. The sand makes really gives your legs a good workout. The sun also reflects off the sand and really takes it out of you as well. Make sure you bring water and are prepared for a slow and intense hike. I will rate this hike as moderate because it is easy to turn around when you get tired and if you are prepared you can avoid some of the concerns.


Sand. More sand. Then there is a little bit more sand! The dunes are a lot of up and down on shifting sands. The nice thing was that I was able to hike barefoot in the morning. The sun and heat are also a concern and you need to make sure you have plenty of water with you.


The Alkali Flat Trail is located just past the end loop of the Dunes Road. Dunes Road goes from paved to sand fairly early on the road. The sand is flat and all cars should be able to handle it but its like driving a hard packed dirt road. There is a $25/vehicle fee to enter White Sands National Park or you can use an annual pass or other entry passes. The parking lot is a wide circular flat spot of sand. There is room for about 20 cars and there is a pit toilet available at the trailhead.

Wrapping up the Alkali Flats Trail

I enjoyed this hike. I think. The hike itself is a bit monotonous, with the repetitive up and down the sand dunes. The location is out of this world. There was a calmness in being surrounded on all sides with white sand. You could see the mountains in the distance if you looked far enough, but mostly you just saw sand in every direction. There is something about being surrounded by sand that made me feel humble. I really enjoyed that part.

The hike itself is pretty challenging. The sand is hard to walk in and makes you tire quickly. While the sand didn’t get hot on my bare feet, the reflection of the hot sun off the white sand and the sun combined to make this a very hot hike. Make sure you bring plenty of water and sun protection. If you can make it past the elements I think you will really enjoy this hike. And you can always turn around like I did and still enjoy the time you spent at White Sands National Park.

I have added this hike and all of my hikes to my interactive map page that you can find here. If you have a suggestion or comment you can email me at Or follow me on any of the below social media platforms. Happy Hiking!

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