White Sands is the newest national park. These places might be next.

It’s easy to think of national parks as untouchable—grand, immovable fixtures in our natural environment. But in reality, they come and go: some lose their designation, while others are added.

New Mexico’s White Sands National Park hit the big leagues in December 2019, becoming the country’s 62nd national park. It protects the largest gypsum dune on Earth, a remnant of bygone lakes and seas, a 275-square-mile basin that glitters white and stays cool to the touch. Visitors come to cruise the eight-mile Dunes Drive, hike one of the five established trails, or see the soft, translucent sand glow blue-white under a full moon.

But White Sands’s current 600,000 annual guests could prove merely the calm before the storm. The former national monument’s shiny new moniker might now draw the kind of crowds that swamped elder sibling Indiana Dunes National Park after its January 2019 designation.

So what does this mean for travelers? Get there before the bucket-listers descend—or beat the crowds entirely by visiting parks-to-be. More than a dozen preserves and pristine areas have begun campaigns for national park status, and while the process is far from simple, it likely won’t be long before White Sands is no longer the newest kid in town.

These beautiful spots could one day be national parks…


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