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 gypsum dune field! Wondering what there is to do at White Sands with your dog? Let us show you around!

Man and a brindle dog in red goggles sitting on a red sled in White Sands National Park, New Mexico

Pet Friendly White Sands National Park

Millions of years ago, most of the southwestern United States, including parts of what is now southern New Mexico, was covered by the Permian Sea. When it retreated, deep layers of gypsum, the white powdery substance used to make drywall, were left behind. Time passed, and the tectonic plates shifted. 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 at White Sands, there is no water outlet. The only natural water escape is through evaporation.

When gypsum from the mountain washes down to the valley, the water evaporates, and the gypsum crystalizes. The crystals then blow into massive, brilliant white sand dunes that cover 275 square miles. There’s so much to explore at White Sands with your dog!

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Happy brindle dog in a red bandana at White Sands National Park, New Mexico

Pet Policy at White Sands National Park

The exciting thing is that leashed pets can explore the entire park with you – except inside the buildings, of course. And even dogs and 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 bring plenty of water for you and your pets. The combination of dry desert air and high elevation can quickly lead to dehydration if you’re not cautious.

The only place to fill water bottles is at the visitor’s center, and it’s a bit of a drive from the picnic areas and hiking trails. So, top off your containers before heading out!

Sign at the entrance of White Sands National Park, NM
Crest of a dune at White Sands National Park, NM, part of the largest gypsum dune field in the world

White Sands 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.

You can also bring a sled (or buy one in the visitor center) and go in search of the perfect run.

Man and dog with red sled in dog friendly White Sands National Park, NM

But to truly appreciate the unimaginable size of the dune field, 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 3-hour hike is strenuous in spots but entirely worthwhile.

Man and dog on a pet friendly trail in White Sands National Park, NM

The trail is marked with red posts, and it’s important to always keep the trail markers well in view. Once you’re away from other landmarks, the dunes all begin to look the same and getting lost is easy.

Don’t rely on your footprints either, because they’ll disappear quickly if the wind or a light breeze picks up!

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New Mexico's Top Pet Friendly Attraction: White Sands National Monument, the Alkali Flat Trail
Man and dog walking into the sun on a pet friendly trail in White Sands National Park, NM

Stay For Sunset

My best advice for visiting White Sands with your dog is (1) to buy the sled wax in the visitor center and (2) to pack your dinner picnic and stay for a walk at 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.

Woman and brindle dog on a picnic blanket in pet friendly White Sands National Park, NM
Brindle dog in red bandana watching the sunset at pet friendly White Sands National Park, NM
New Mexico's Top Pet Friendly Attraction: White Sands National Monument |

Just after the sun drops behind the San Andres Mountains, be sure to turn around and enjoy a “second sunset” as the sunlight reflects off the Sacramento Mountains to the east.

New Mexico's Top Pet Friendly Attraction: White Sands National Monument |

Plan Your Visit

White Sands National Park is located near the White Sands Missile Range. During missile tests, the park, parking areas, and Highway 70 are closed. Before your visit, call the National Park at 575-479-6124 or check their website to determine if there is a test scheduled.

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Happy brindle dog in a red bandana at White Sands National Park, NM

Pet Friendly Places To Stay

There are several pet friendly hotels and campgrounds in Alamogordo (15 miles northeast of the park) to choose from. We opted for a broader selection of pet friendly options in Las Cruces (54 miles west of the park). Our favorite area RV park is Hacienda – it’s convenient and 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!

In The Area

The charming town of Cloudcroft is located between Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands. 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 and hiking! We LOVE the national forests for being so pet friendly – and there are miles of great trails here to explore.

Cloudcroft, NM

In the late 1800’s steam locomotives coming from Alamogordo climbed nearly 4,000 to reach Cloudcroft. Now, a Rails-to-Trails runs the 65-mile route, winding along ridges, clinging to ledges, and crossing old wooden railroad trestles that span the mountain canyons.

From the Cloud-Climbing Trestle Trail you can see White Sands in the distance! Though this trail isn’t very long or technical, remember that hiking on soft “sand” 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.

Cloudcroft, NM

Visiting White Sands with a dog or even two dogs is a great way to spend a day! We’ve visited 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. One day, I’m hoping to see it during a full moon! If you can plan your pet friendly trip around the lunar cycles, getting a camping permit and spending a night under the stars is something to consider.

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