Visiting White Sands National Park is like stepping onto another planet. This dune field is the largest of its kind anywhere in the world, and the rolling white gypsum dunes seem to go on forever.
Once you get past the wow factor, grab your sled and get ready for some fun. White Sands is a favorite of our daughter for sledding down the enormous dunes, and who can blame her? It’s a great place for families to enjoy a picnic together and have a great day. No ocean? No problem! White Sands New Mexico has all the beach you can handle right here.
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We’ve visited White Sands a couple of times now since it became a National Park, and even if you’re just passing through, it’s worth a drive through just to see this incredible place. Here are some tips for visiting White Sands National Park and some things to do while you’re here.
Visiting White Sands National Park
Check the weather
White Sands National Park weather can vary widely so plan ahead. In summer it’s hot, and the temperature on the sand is even hotter. If you want to do any sledding this may affect your visit.
Temperatures in the winter months can get cold, but it can also be very pleasant. We have visited in both spring and fall, and the weather has been great.
Bring a sled (or rent one)
If you plan on sledding, you’re welcome to bring your own or you can rent or buy one at the park store. You might even be able to buy one at a discount that’s only been slightly used.
If you have kids, you’ll want a sled – no matter how you come by one.
There are several areas in the park to go sledding, so just pick a spot that looks good and get after it. There’s really not a bad spot. Some are just steeper or higher than others.
Tip: Definitely put on some sunscreen for the day and reapply. The sun radiates off the sand, and you can burn pretty quickly. Our favorite is Sun Bum because it's more environmentally friendly than some others.
Enjoy a picnic
Scattered throughout the park are several covered picnic areas. It’s great that they provide plenty of shade and a trash barrel at each table. There is plenty of room to pull your vehicle in and not be too close to other tables.
Tip: Make sure you have a way to hold everything down because it will probably be windy!
Love National Parks? Check out all of New Mexico's National Parks here.
Find a hike to enjoy
White Sands National Park has five established trails that you can explore during your visit. They range from a half-mile boardwalk trail to a 5 miler up and down the dunes with no shade. The Boardwalk Trail is great for families with small children or who need a wheelchair or stroller-accessible trail that’s easy to do. The trail has some shaded rest areas and can be completed in twenty minutes or so.
For those who want something more challenging, try the half-mile Playa Trail, the one-mile Dune Life Nature Trail, the 2-mile Backcountry Camping Trail, or the five-mile Alkali Flat Trail. Before attempting any of these, make sure you have lots of water with you, and are wearing sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses.
Remember, the dunes get hot even when the air temperature might feel cool. The park does not recommend starting down a trail if the temperature is already at 85 degrees, so keep that in mind. Always be safe, and as we say in Scouts BSA, be prepared!
For our visit, we hiked the Boardwalk Trail and hiked a small portion of the Alkali trail just to grab some photos of the dune field. If it’s not too hot, we definitely recommend picking a trail or two to explore. The sea of snow-white gypsum is mesmerizing!
Drive or ride down Dunes Drive
Dunes Drive is the main road that runs through the park. It’s an eight mile road that leaves from the Visitor Center and takes visitors to the back of the park and back. Cyclists can ride the road, but must share the road with motorists.
Along the drive are pull-outs, trail heads, and picnicking areas to enjoy. Just find a spot that looks good, park your car or bike, and set off!
Where to stay near White Sands National Park
There is no lodging at White Sands and the nearest town is Alamogordo 13 miles away. Las Cruces is about 50 miles away and has many different options as well. White Sands does offer primitive backcountry camping but does not offer RV hookups or campsites.
For our trip, we stayed at the Home 2 Suites in Las Cruces so we could spread out a little bit and enjoy dinner in. It wasn’t the closest hotel near White Sands National Park, but it was comfortable and roomy.
Other Nearby Parks
Saguaro National Park: ~5 hours away (325 miles)
Carlsbad Caverns National Park: ~3.5 Hours (181 miles)
Guadalupe Mountains National Park: ~3 Hours (192 miles)
Big Bend National Park: ~6 Hours (382 miles)
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