Discover the White Sands National Park in New Mexico
Located in the Tularosa Basin in New Mexico you can find one of the most magnificent, yet underrated natural wonders of the world – the White Sands National Park. The glistering white desert in New Mexico is consisting of 275 square miles of gypsum sand. To make sure you are getting the most out of your first visit to New Mexico’s most enchanting National Park, keep on reading!
Looking for things to do in Alamogordo? Head over here.
Table of Contents
- The evolution of the White Sands National Park, New Mexico
- The White Sands National Park now
- Things to do in the White Sands National Park
- Important things you need to know before you go to the White Sands National Park!
The evolution of the White Sands National Park, New Mexico
Roughly 12.000 years ago, during the time of the Ice Age mammals, the Tularosa Basin looked vastly different from how it looks today. Due to global warming and climate change, the basin was being flooded with water containing gypsum, that dissolved from the surrounding mountains.
The former lakes in the basin dried up, the water evaporated, and finally formed into selenite crystals. These selenite crystals were broken up by the wind and carried out east all over the basin. Up until today, a similar process is taking place, producing gypsum sand in the basin.
Initially, the White Sands held the status of a monument. Only much later, the White Sands were re-designated by the government as a national park. Roughly 600.000 people come to visit the White Sands in New Mexico each year, which makes it the most frequented national park in New Mexico.
Fun fact: the oldest human footprints known have been found at the White Sands National Park, which proves that humans have been inhabiting this area for roughly 23.000 years. (1)
The White Sands National Park now
Where is the White Sands National Park?
The park is surrounded at all sides by a missile range as well as Holloman Air Force Base. Both these places were established as a reaction to Pearl Harbour and have been in use ever since. (2) Because of the military installations, the park has to close down from time to time during flight mission training and missile tests. The White Sands National Park does not have the status as a World Heritage, mainly because of the closeness to the military area.
Most visitors arrive during the months from March to August, since the temperatures are the most comfortable by then. March and July are the busiest months of the year to visit the National Park.
The entrance fee into the National Park is 25 USD per vehicle and 12 USD per person arriving by foot or bicycle. If you are planning on visiting more often, the annual pass is with 45 USD probably a great option.
The total acreage of the park amounts to 148,588 acres.
Weather at the White Sands National Park
The climate at the White Sands National Park is being described as a cold semi-arid climate (BSk), bordering on a cold desert climate.
During the summer months of June to August, it can get quite hot, with temperatures up to 36.3 degrees Celsius.
During the winter months, the temperatures can occasionally drop below the freezing point. Fall and spring are amazing months to visit the White Sands. During the harsh winter months, starting in November, I suggest visiting other amazing National Parks in the USA.
How to get to the White Sands National Park?
The closest city to the White Sands national park is Alamogordo, which is roughly 24 km away. The National Park is roughly 84 km northeast of the city of Las Cruces.
You can reach the park via US Route 70 by car. After a short stop at the visitor center and the adjoining museum, you can follow the thirteen-kilometer-long dune drive through the dunes towards the middle of the park.
The closest airport to the White Sands National Park is in El Paso, Texas. The airport is roughly a two-hour drive away from the National Park.
White Sands National Park Hotels
There are some nice and charming Inns right in the smaller city of Alamogordo. Sadly, there are no hotels right by the National Park, however, Alamogordo is only a short ride away. Find my selection of great accommodations close by the White Sands National park here.
Things to do in the White Sands National Park
Take a guided walking tour
Throughout the year you can join a guided walking tour with a park ranger in a bigger group. The tour is free and the ranger will tell you everything there is to know about the flora, the fauna, and the history of the National Park.
We enjoyed meeting a bunch of lovely people and learning a whole lot in the interactive tour. Bonus tip: take the sunset walk, the temperatures are much better and the pictures will turn out lovely!
Once a month, you can participate in a guided hike (only from November to April). From April until October, full-moon you can even sign up in a full-moon walking tour.
Explore one of the many foot trails
- The Interdune Boardwalk is roughly 0.5 km long and takes you to a beautiful viewpoint
- The Playa Trail is roughly 0.5 km long as well and leads you through the magnificent dunes
- For more experienced hikers the Alkali Flat trail with roughly 7 km will be the most interesting option
Time for BBQ
What might seem weird to us Europeans but is normal in the US is that you can find public BBQ installations, free to use, in many places alongside the dune drive. Bring some meat and drinks and enjoy a happy meal surrounded by this natural spectacle.
Go Sledding at the White Sands National Park
Going sledding at the White Sands National Park is a super fun an popular activity. You can buy a plastic sled at the visitor’s center and explore the sandy dunes in a fun way! The sleds cost roughly 17 USD, and you can ask for a small refund if you return them to the visitors center. You can also bring your own sled and enjoy a day of fun sledding at White Sands.
Discover the White Sands on Horseback
There is a campsite on the park that visitors can use if they wish to stay overnight.
Important things you need to know before you go to the White Sands National Park!
- If you are planning on taking a longer walk, make sure to let the visitors center know, just in case
- Bring plenty of fluids and sunglasses as well as sunscreen
- Make sure to use the toilets in the visitors center, there are no bathroom amenities in the white desert
- If you are planning on visiting on a specific day, make sure to call ahead and confirm that there are no Missile Tests planned for this day. During missile tests, all activities will be suspended. Usually, the Park Rangers know two weeks in advance of any missile tests, however, they can also happen on shorter notice!
- There are no hotels close by the park, so make sure to plan a stay in Las Cruces or Alamogordo instead.
- If you are wondering how much time you need in the White Sands, I recommend spending a full day. You can do some sledding during the afternoon, take a hike, have some food and then participate in one of the Guided Sunset Walking Tours.
- Do not remove any natural objects from the desert, such as selenite crystals, sand, or plants. Be respectful and buy your souvenirs at the Visitors Center.
(1) Evidence of humans in North America during the Last Glacial Maximum, https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abg7586
(2) Schneider-Hector, Dietmar (1993). White Sands: The History of a National Monument. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press