Thing to Do

Drive to the Salt Basin Dunes

A desrt mountain range looms over a low desert foreground with sand dunes in the distance
The western escarpment rises dramatically over the Salt Basin Dunes

NPS photo

The white gypsum sands of the Salt Basin Dunes rise 100 feet from the desert floor and provide a brilliant contrast to the dark, towering cliffs of the Guadalupe Mountains. To the west are barren salt flats that are the source of these beautiful dunes. When rain runs off the highly soluble limestone rock in the adjacent mountains, salts are leached. This runoff pools in the desert basin and as it evaporates, large grains of mineral salts are left behind. The wind carries the salt grains northeast toward the Guadalupe Mountains and deposits them at the base of the western Guadalupe escarpment to form gypsum dunes.

The dune landscape is geologically young. It developed over the past few thousand years as dissolved salts and gypsum from an adjacent lake bed were deposited by wind into ever changing sculpted hill, swale, and ripple formations. The mesquite coppice dunes form stabilized spots where wildlife abounds.

The dunes environment is home to gypsum-loving plant and animal life such as gypsum scalebroom, a white variant of the lesser earless spiny lizard, and five of the park’s seven species of scorpions.

Visitors are allowed to hike over the open dunes, but are encouraged to avoid walking on the fragile biological soil crusts. Visitors may also hike on abandoned ranch road traces and discover windmills and other historic remnants of the past. Temperatures in the dunes area are generally mild in the winter and dangerously hot in the summer.
The drive from Pine Springs to the Salt Basin Dunes can take about an hour under most circumstances. 

From the Pine Springs Visitor Center, turn right on Highway 62/180 and drive west for 23 miles. At Salt Flat, turn right on FM road 1576. Drive north 17 miles then turn right on Wiiliam's Road. Travel 7.5 miles East to the parking area. From the trailhead, you will still need to hike about 1 mile. Follow the trail that takes you to the dunes. 

Pay close attention to your route when leaving the dunes. Following the wrong road will lead you away from your vehicle and further into the desert. The surface of the access road is clay. During rainy weather, the road becomes dangerously slippery; it is unsafe to travel when wet. The speed limit is 25 miles per hour. Watch for livestock on the roadway.

Pets disturb wildlife and are not allowed on trails. Your pets must remain in your vehicle as opportunities for pets are very limited in the park.
The only entry point to the park on the west side of the Guadalupes, the Salt Basin Dunes trailhead
Visitation to the Salt Basin Dunes can be problematic during the summer months when temperatures can exceed 100°F. Summer storms may produce heavy rains that can make the access road impassable for days or weeks at a time.
The Salt Basin Dunes is a day use area open from sunrise to sunset. 
Accessibility Information
Highway 62/180 and some approach roads to the dunes ares paved. Pullouts along the highway will have variable conditions, ranging from dirt to accessible facilities. Accessible parking, picnic areas, and a vault toilet are available at the trailhead parking area. No other accessible facilites are present. 

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Last updated: August 27, 2021