Are you wondering if White Sands National Park is worth it and what to do when you are there? Then this post has got you covered!
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. There are so many amazing things you can do at the White Sands – it can be hard to choose.
I have been staying near the White Sands National Park at Holloman Air Force Base for a while. In that time, I made it my mission to explore the White Sands as best as possible.
To help you plan your visit and save you some struggle I have created this ultimate White Sands National Park itinerary. And of course I will explain why visiting the White Sands is always worth it.
Let’s get to it!
Table of Contents
- Why White Sands National Park is Worth It
- The Evolution of the White Sands National Park, New Mexico
- Things to Do at White Sands National Park
- White Sands National Park Itinerary
- What You Need to Know Before You Go to the White Sands National Park
- Basic Info About the White Sands National Park
- Weather at the White Sands National Park
- How to Get to the White Sands National Park?
- Best Hotels in Alamogordo
- Conclusion: Is White Sands National Park Worth It?
- FAQ: Is White Sands National Park Worth It?
- About the Author
Why White Sands National Park is Worth It
If you are still on the fence about whether or not White Sands is worth it, I got you covered.
From personal experience, I can tell you that the park is definitely worth visiting. It is one of my favorite spots in the US.
Here are some of my biggest reasons why a trip to White Sands is definitely worth it:
🤍 Stunning Scenery: The white gypsum dunes are unreal and make for the most amazing photos.
🤍 Sunset Views: Sunsets in the White Sands are picture-perfect. Thing stunning colors, beautiful backdrop and calm surroundings.
🤍 Sand Sledding: You can sled down the dunes and channel your inner child. It is a one-of-a-kind experience that you can’t have anywhere else in the area.
🤍 Unique Plants: The plants in the White Sands have adapted to live in the sand. You can see some pretty cool and unique plants on your hikes.
🤍 Wildlife: Catch sight of roadrunners, foxes, and many other interesting creatures. The Interdune Boardwalk will explain in detail what you can expect to see.
🤍 Photography: Your camera will love this place – mine sure as hell did.
🤍 Starry Nights: Low light pollution creates an amazing environment for stargazing, you can even stay overnight at the campsite to enjoy it longer
🤍 Great Hiking Trails: Plenty of options to explore, White Sands Hiking Trails are for all levels of experience
🤍 Kid-Friendly: White Sands is great for families with kids.
🤍 Seasonal Events: Think full-moon hikes and stargazing hikes
🤍 Visitor Center: Learn all about the park’s history in an interactive and child-friendly manner
🤍 Accessibility: Most of the park is pretty easy to get to
🤍 Solitude: Easy to find your own private spot and have a relaxed experience
🤍 Ever-Changing: The dunes move, so it’s never the same trip twice
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)
Things to Do at White Sands National Park
1. Take a Guided Walking Tour
One of the best things to do at White Sands National Park is a guided hike. There is a big variety of guided hikes and programs that are offered by the parks administration. Participation in these programs is free!
Here are some of the best guided tours in the White Sands National Park:
🏞️ Ranger-led Walks: The park rangers offer interesting walks throughout the park. They are offering information about the geology, plants, animals, and history of White Sands. These walks typically last about one hour and are suitable for all ages and fitness levels. They provide a cool opportunity to learn about the park’s natural and cultural heritage. I can absolutely recommend these walks, we had a lot of fun and learned so much!
🏞️ Sunset Stroll: These guided walks takes place in the evening as the sun begins to set. You can see the dunes during the golden hour and watch the colors change in the sky. This walk typically lasts for about 1.5 hours. This was my favorite walk in the White Sands – and the pictures turned out amazingly!
🏞️ Full Moon Hike: During specific nights close to the full moon, the park organizes guided hikes in the night to see the park in the moonlight. This is a super memorable experience. Full moon hikes usually require advance reservations due to popularity and limited spots – make sure to check with the Visitors Center before your visit.
🏞️ Photography Walks: White Sands National Park is a photographer’s paradise – every single shot I took there turned out well. The park occasionally offers guided photography walks led by experienced photographers or park rangers. They can provide tips and guidance on capturing the best shots of the white desert.
🏞️ Special Events: Throughout the year, the park hosts lots of special events, such as workshops, nature walks, educational programs, and festivals. These events are great to learn a bit more about the park.
2. Go Hiking in the White Sands National Park
Another one of my favorite things to do at White Sands National Park is hiking.
There are five different marked hikes you can take, depending on your fitness level. Here is a quick overview of the hikes:
- Dune Life Nature Trail: This easy, 1-mile loop trail will teach you everything you need to know about the plants, animals, and natural processes in the park. Along the trail, you’ll find informative signs that give lots of information. This is my favorite hike in the White Sands.
- Interdune Boardwalk: This trail offers a leisurely stroll through the interdune area. The interdune area is a rich transitional zone between the dunes. From the boardwalk you have an excellent view over the dunes. The hike is half a mile long and great for beginners.
- Alkali Flat Trail: The Alkali Flat Trail is a 4.6-mile round trip hike. It is more suitable for experienced hikers. It leads to the heart of the dune field. The trail is not marked, so keep that in mind.
- Backcountry Camping Trail: For overnight adventures, White Sands offers backcountry camping opportunities. This hike leads you through the dunes to one of the camping areas.
- Playa Trail: This short trail will lead you to an ancient lake bed, known as a playa. The trail is 0.5-miles long and an easy hike.
3. Host a BBQ at the White Sands National Park
Throughout the park, there are many BBQ grills that are free to use. You can bring your own meat and drinks and have a great time cooking a meal in the white desert.
There are plenty of benches with tables that you can make use of. Sadly, there is no shade, so it might be best to pick a cooler time for this.
This is a fun thing to do at White Sands National Park with a group of people or your family.
Keep in mind that there are no restrooms in the park.
4. Go Sledding
Going sledding at the White Sands National Park is a super fun an popular activity, especially among younger kids.
You can buy a plastic sled at the visitor’s center and explore the sandy dunes in a fun way! This is an amazing thing to do at White Sands with kids.
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.
5. Discover the White Sands on Horseback
Another cool thing to do at White Sands National Park is going for a horseback ride. You can bring your own horse to the park, but you need to obtain a permit at the Visitors Center.
You can ride your horse almost anywhere in the park. The Interdune Boardwalk, the camping area and the picnic areas can not be visited with your horse.
You may ride at any time during the day.
Keep in mind that it is not allowed to bring horses to the White Sands National Park when there are missile tests being conducted close-by.
6. Go Camping
Camping in White Sands National Park provides a cool and unique experience. It will allow you to spend the night surrounded by the stunning dune landscape. Unless you are craving the comfort of a hotel, this is a great thing to do at White Sands National Park.
The White Sands offer two camping options: Backcountry Camping and another designated campground at the park.
Backcountry Camping gives you the opportunity to camp in the heart of the dune field. In order to do that, you must obtain a free permit from the park visitor center. This camping spot requires you to hike for a little bit, so keep that in mind. The park offers limited camping spots to minimize environmental impact. Make sure to reserve your spot in advance.
White Sands has a designated campground called the White Sands Loop Campground. It is located near the park entrance. The campground offers tent and RV camping sites. All of them are equipped with a picnic table and a grill. The campground does not have hookups for water, electricity, or sewer. Restrooms and trash bins are available, but there are no showers.
The campground at White Sands National Park operates on a first-come, first-served basis. During peak season, the campground may fill up quickly. It’s recommended to arrive early in the day to secure a spot.
7. Wildlife Viewing
There is an amazing amount of different species living in the Park. Wildlife viewing is one of my favorite things to do at White Sands National Park.
You can see kit foxes, kangaroo rats, desert cottontails, the White Sands pup fish, lizards and snakes in the park.
There is also a huge amount of birds and other insects, so make sure to bring some binoculars.
8. Explore the Visitor’s Center
Visit the park’s visitor center to learn about the park’s geology, history, and ecology through exhibits and educational displays.
The museum there is super interactive, so it is also a great place for kids.
You can check out the souvenir store to buy books, cards and other interesting stuff.
9. Yoga in the Dunes
The white sand dunes are an amazing place for people seeking solitude and quiet.
It is no surprise, that yogis from all over the world travel to the White Sands National Park.
Find a peaceful spot in the dunes and practice mindfulness, meditation, or yoga amidst the serene environment.
I promise you, this is one enchanting experience.
10. Do a Photo Shooting
Another cool thing to do at the White Sands National Park is hosting a photo shooting. The white sand dunes are an amazing backdrop for any picture.
Bring your camera, find a peaceful spot and take pictures of yourself, the dunes or your friends.
The White Sands are a paradise for photographers!
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White Sands National Park Itinerary
To make the planning a bit easier for you, I have crafted a two-day itinerary for your visit to the White Sands.
If you follow this itinerary, you can make the most out of your stay at the White Sands National Park.
Day 1: White Sands National Park
☀️ Start early in the morning and drive to White Sands National Park.
☀️ Explore the Dunes Drive, a scenic road that takes you through the heart of the dunes.
☀️ Stop at the Visitor Center to learn about the park’s history, geology, and wildlife.
☀️ Take a leisurely hike on one of the park’s nature trails, such as the Interdune Boardwalk or Playa Trail.
☀️ Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy it amidst the stunning white sand dunes.
☀️ Engage in sand sledding or sand boarding on the dunes
☀️ In the late afternoon, head to the Alkali Flat Trail and hike to the unique white sand dune known as the Alkali Flat (only for experienced hikers
☀️ Stay until sunset to witness the dunes change colors as the sun goes down. Participate in a sunset-walk if you have the time
☀️ Exit the park and find accommodation in nearby Alamogordo or Las Cruces
Day 2: White Sands & Alamogordo
🌻 Return to White Sands National Park early in the morning to catch the sunrise over the dunes
🌻 Enjoy a peaceful walk along the dunes and take photographs in the soft morning light.
🌻 Consider participating in a ranger-led program, such as a nature walk or a cultural demonstration.
🌻 If you’re interested in history and space, you can visit the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo to learn about the area’s role in space exploration. The New Mexico Museum of History and the Tularosa Basin Historical Museum are also worth a visit
🌻 Before leaving the area, grab a late lunch in Alamogordo or Las Cruces and savor the local cuisine. Make sure to try some of their spicy chili peppers.
🌻 Depart from White Sands National Park with lasting memories of its amazing beauty
What 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 there. 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
Basic Info About 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.
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. Check the homepage for more info.
The total acreage of the park amounts to 148,588 acres.
Weather at the White Sands National Park
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.
Check out my favorite time to go to the White Sands National Park.
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.
If you need to pick up a rental car at the airport, make sure to check DiscoverCars. They offer reliable and cheap rental cars from every airport. We always book with that company.
Best Hotels in Alamogordo
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.
Conclusion: Is White Sands National Park Worth It?
This post hopefully gave you a great overview of the best things to do at the White Sands National Park. The park is one of my favorite places in New Mexico, and I hope with this guide you will also have an amazing time there.
As you can see from this post, a visit to the White Sands National Park is always worth it. There is so much to do and see, it is hard not to get excited.
From ranger-guided walks to challenging hikes – there is something to do for everyone. Staying overnight in the park is not a problem either, with the two big camping grounds close by.
Make sure to prepare yourself well and keep all my tips in mind before visiting the park. This will save you a lot of hassle and make your journey more comfortable.
Looking for things to do in Alamogordo? Head over here.
Of course check out Clearwater Beach in Florida for beachy vibes.
FAQ: Is White Sands National Park Worth It?
The stunning white gypsum dunes at White Sands National Park are an absolute must-see. Enjoy activities like sand sledding, hiking, and stargazing. Witness the breathtaking sunset as it casts a golden glow over the dunes. Participate in a ranger-led hike or explore the dunes by yourself. Don’t forget your camera!
The number one activity people do when visiting White Sands National Park is exploring and experiencing the dunes. Visitors can walk, hike, or even sled down the mesmerizing white gypsum sand dunes. It’s a unique opportunity to immerse oneself in the surreal beauty of the landscape, take stunning photographs, and create unforgettable memories in this natural wonderland.
Yes, the White Sands National Park is definitely worth visiting. Its unique and mesmerizing landscape of white gypsum sand dunes is unlike anything you’ll find elsewhere. The park offers various activities such as hiking, sand sledding, and stargazing, providing a one-of-a-kind experience. The breathtaking beauty of the dunes, especially during sunset, makes it a must-visit destination for nature enthusiasts, photographers, and anyone seeking awe-inspiring natural wonders.
The best time to visit White Sands National Park is during the cooler months, from November to March. The temperatures are more comfortable for outdoor activities, and you can avoid the scorching heat of summer. Additionally, visiting during weekdays or non-peak times allows for a quieter experience. Keep in mind that weather conditions can vary, so it’s always a good idea to check forecasts before planning your trip.
You can buy the sleds for White Sands in the Visitors Center at the entrance of the park. If you bring them back, you get a small refund. Sleds are around USD 17.
El Paso is the next bigger airport to the White Sands National Park. It is about 2 hours of driving from El Paso to Alamogordo.
No, it is forbidden to remove sand or other objects from the park. You can buy sand at the Visitor’s Center.
About the Author
Sabrina is a passionate travel blogger and content creator, based in the Netherlands. She spends about half of the year traveling to various destinations together with her husband.
She provides slow-paced itineraries that focus on quality over quantity. Sabrina wants to help her readers to get more out of their travel experiences – while doing less. Read more.
(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