White Sands National Park, New Mexico

Photo by Matt Harding

Where in the West Should I Go? • 52 Places to Visit in 2022

No, it’s not snow. By the name, you probably already knew that.

I first visited White Sands National Park in 2016 when it was still a National Monument (it gained National Park status in 2019). They say it’s “Like No Place Else on Earth” and that nails down White Sands as accurately as any sentiment.

The world’s largest gypsum dune field at some 275 square miles, it’s perhaps the most otherworldly place on our planet (though some other Western wonders like Bryce Canyon are certainly in the running). 

A first stop for visitors is to simply drive the length of Dunes Drive, an 8-mile scenic trip that leads into the heart of White Sands. Get out of the car, take a walk and have a look around. Then get a map, get your bearings and head out for a serious hike. 

Believe it or not, there are some real trails at White Sands. The most strenuous official hike is the Alkali Flat Trail, a 5-mile roundtrip hike that is… not flat. It’ll have you pounding sand up and down the dunes.

Other popular activities include picnicking and sledding. Just because it’s not snow doesn’t mean you can’t have fun like it is snow!