New Mexico Trails

Explore White Sands, America's Newest National Park

Giant gypsum dunes and winter temperatures in the sixties are only some of the draws for this preserve.

The world’s largest gypsum dunefield might look like it requires snowshoes, but with winter highs in the 60s you won’t have to worry about a deep freeze here. Get this desert to yourself for the night with less than a mile of effort on the Backcountry Camping Trail. The dunes can be hard to navigate even with GPS, so make sure to follow the orange markers with spades on them. Strong winds can reduce visibility to only a few feet; if you can’t see the next marker, turn around and follow your footprints back. Once your camp is set, prepare for an astronomic show: With no trees and almost no light pollution, these dunes are one of the best places in the world for stargazing. Navigation isn’t the only concern here, though; occasional unexploded ordnance from the nearby White Sands Missile Range lands near the trail, so if you see an object in the sand, don’t touch it and let a park official know. The ten backcountry campsites are first-come, first-serve. Permit required; backcountry camping permits are only available in person at the visitor center($2 per person/night)