Thing to Do

Salt Basin Dunes Trail

Two people stand on white sand dunes in front of a desert mountain range
Hiking on the Salt Basin Dunes

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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.

Distance: 3-4 miles (Round-Trip)
Time Estimate: 1-3 hours
Difficulty: Moderate. Some dunes are 60 feet high and require scrambling. 

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.
Details
From the trailhead, follow the trail to the gypsum sand dune field with excellent views of the western escarpment of the Guadalupe Mountains. There is no shade along the trail, so carry plenty of water and avoid hiking in the midday heat. 
Pets disturb wildlife and are not allowed on trails. Your pets should remain at home as opportunities for pets are very limited in the park.
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.
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

Trail surfaces are loose rock or hardened rock surfaces. Hiking or trekking poles are highly recommended. Trail widths vary from two to six feet depending on the trail. 

Parking

All trailhead areas have accessible parking available. 

Service animals 

Only service animals that have been individually trained to perform specific tasks for the benefit of persons with disabilities are allowed in the park and on trails.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Last updated: August 27, 2021