White Sands National Park: Travel Guide

white sands national park travel guide new mexico


White Sands National Park rises from the heart of the Tularosa Basin with great wave-like dunes of white gypsum sand, engulfing 275 square miles of desert. The rolling dunes stretch out before its visitors as far as the eye can see forming the largest gypsum dune-field in the world. 

 

plant white sands national park new mexico
Even in the hostile environment of the sand dunes life finds a way.


White Sands was first established as a national monument in 1933 and then re-designated as a national park in 2019. This national park now protects a large portion of the dune-field and the unique plants and animals that have made this other-worldly place their home. 

 

white sands national park new mexico
The sand dunes seem to go on forever.


White Sands National Park in New Mexico is truly a natural wonder. There is plenty to do, see, and experience when you visit this irresistible, untamed landscape. Here is a list of things to do and know when you visit White Sands.



What to Do



White Sands National Park is like no place on earth. This unique national park is well worth a visit to experience the unforgettable white sandy dunes. From sledding down the sand dunes to taking a ranger-led hike, there are many fun things to do when you visit White Sands National Park.


Cost: Vehicle (non-commercial) - $25; Per person (not in a vehicle) - $15; Motorcycle - $20. Entrance fees are valid for reentry for seven consecutive days from the date of purchase. America the Beautiful Pass covers the entrance fee.
Hours: Gates open daily at 7:00 am with closing hours changing with the seasons (usually at 6 or 8 pm). The park may also have unexpected closures due to severe weather or missile testing at the nearby White Sands Missile Range.



Visitor Center 

 

visitor center sign white sands national park new mexico


The historic pueblo visitor center is the best place to start your adventure at the White Sands National Park. The visitor center is one of the original buildings in the park, dating back to 1936. It is here that you can obtain information about the programs, browse the park store, explore the interactive museum, and watch ‘A Land in Motion,’ a 17-minute film about the White Sands and the creatures that call it home. Outside the visitor center there is also a native plant garden to visit.



Dunes Drive



Driving through the dunes is one of the first things you should do when visiting the White Sands National Park. The drive will allow you to see all of what the park has to offer, while getting to see deep into center of the park. The Dunes Drive is an 8-mile scenic drive that goes from the visitor center to the heart of the gypsum dunes. The first four miles are paved, but the final four are hard packed gypsum. It takes about 45 minutes to complete, but you may want to stop along the way to explore exhibits, walk or play in the sand, take photographs, or any of the other amazing things that follow.



Hiking 

 

alkali flat trail sign post white sands national park new mexico
The sands are always shifting, so you hike from one sign post to the next.


The vast landscape of snow-white sand dunes is calling to be explored. The White Sands National Park has five trails for you to experience the dunes in different ways. These trails range from the ½ miles Playa Trail, where you can see what the playa looks like today and 10,000 years ago, to the 5-mile Alkali Flat Trail, that is but flat. Each trail is marked with specific marked and colored post for you to follow.



Sledding 

 

sledding white sands national park new mexico
Sledding down the dunes is a popular activity, but it isn't as easy as you would think.


One of the most popular activities at the park is speeding down these sandy dunes on big waxed saucers. Find a place with a clean steep slope fly down the hill! You can buy the saucers at the visitor center or bring your own.



Ranger Guided Programs



Sunset Stroll 

 

 

fottsteps in sand white sands national park new mexico


Take a stroll through the white sand dunes with a ranger as your guide. Along the way you will learn about the geology of the national park, as well as the plants and animals that call it home. At the end of the walk you will get the opportunity to watch as the sun sets over the San Andres Mountains.

Requirements: You must wear closed-toed shoes. Tour check-in begins 30-minutes before program start time at the Dune Life Nature Trail. The hike will begin promptly at the stated time. If you arrive after the caravan has left, you will not be able to join the tour.
Cost: Free with the purchase of park entry.
Time: Begins 1 hour before sunset.
Duration: 1 hour



Full Moon Hike



Hike the dunes under the glow of a full moon! Along this 1.5 mile hike down the Dune Life Nature Trail, a park ranger will tell you stories about the park while you experience the unforgettable views of the White Sands lite by the light of the moon.

Requirements: You must wear closed-toed shoes. Tour check-in begins 30-minutes before program start time at the Dune Life Nature Trail. The hike will begin promptly at the stated time. If you arrive after the caravan has left, you will not be able to join the tour.
Cost: Adult (16+) - $8; Children - $4 (plus the park entry fee). Tickets can be purchased online or by calling 1-877-444-6777.
Time: Currently sold out for 2021
Duration: 1.5 hours



Lake Lucero Tour



Join a park ranger on a tour of Lake Lucero, the birthplace of the dunes. Hike down into the dry lake bed to see thousands of selenite crystals and learn about how the white sands are formed.

Requirements: You must wear hiking boots, or hiking shoes. Only one vehicle per reservation is allowed. Tour check-in begins 40-minutes before program start time at the Small Missile Range Gate. The caravan will leave promptly at the stated time. If you arrive after the caravan has left, you will not be able to join the tour. Pictures/video cannot be taken on White Sands Missile Range property. Once on park property, the ranger will let you know that you may begin taking photos/videos.
Cost: Adult (16+) - $8; Children - $4. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling 1-877-444-6777.
Time: Schedule is subject to change. May be canceled due to weather or missile test.
    Saturday, October 30, 2021 at 2:00 pm
    Saturday, November 20, 2021 at 10:00 am
    Saturday, December 18, 2021 at 10:00 am
    Saturday, January 15, 2022 at 10:00 am
    Saturday, February 19, 2022 at 10:00 am
    Saturday, March 19, 2022 at 10:00 am
Duration: 3 hours
Tour Size: Limited to 50 people



What to Eat



There are very limited options for food at White Sands National Park. The gift shop in the visitor center has limited food options; including sandwiches, snacks, and beverages. 

 

picnic table white sands national park new mexico


If you brought your own food, there are three picnic areas located in the park. Each picnic area has a number of covered picnic tables with individual grills and restrooms.


Outside of the national park, the nearest food you will find is in Alamogordo (15 miles northeast of the park), which has a number of restaurants to choose from.



Where to Stay



There is no formal campground or hotels within White Sands National Park. The nearest accommodations are in Alamogordo, New Mexico, where you will find a number of RV parks and hotels.



Backcountry Camping 

COVID-19: Backcountry Camping is temporarily suspended until further notice.

 

sand dunes white sands national park new mexico


At the White Sands National Park, you have the opportunity to camp amongst the white sand dunes, under an almost pure night sky. The park has a designated backcountry camping area, permit needed, that you will need to hike out to. The camping permit is purchased at the fees station as you are entering the dunes. The cost of the permit is $3.00 per person 16+ and $1.50 for anyone age under 16 (plus the park entry fee). The camping is primitive so make sure that you take what you will need. Remember that camping in the desert brings its own dangers and the temperatures can fluctuate severely between day and night.



How to Get There



There is no public transportation that services the park, so the only way to get to White Sands National Park is by car, but you can get to nearby cities by either bus or plane and rent a car there if you need to.



White Sands National Park is located in southern New Mexico, directly off of Highway US-70. Getting to the visitor center is 15 miles southwest down US-70 from Alamogordo, NM, 52 miles northeast up US-70 from Las Cruces, NM, and 82 miles northeast (up US-45 to Alamogordo and then down US-70) from El Paso, TX.



There is no gas station at the park, so the closest gas is in the before mentioned towns. If using GPS, make sure that you search for the national park, otherwise you could be directed to the White Sands Missile Range 25 miles west of the park. There is limited parking for RVs at the visitor center.



Bus



Greyhound is currently the only national bus line that services Alamogordo, New Mexico. From there you would need to rent a car, taxi, or Uber to the national park.



Airplane



The closest major airport is in El Paso, Texas. There is also a small regional airport in Alamogordo, New Mexico. From there you would need to rent a car, taxi, or Uber to the national park.



What was your favorite part about your visit to Carlsbad Caverns National Park? 

 

white sands national park travel guide


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5 comments:

  1. This place is awesome!!!!! I'm planning to visit New Mexico next spring and I didn't know this spot. I would point it to arrange a full moon hike. Thanks to make me know about it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your welcome. It is a great place. You should definitely go!

      Delete
  2. Never heard of this place. Love the dunes, it really looks
    like the Moon place..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It does look like a moonscape. You should visit the park if you are ever in the area!

      Delete
  3. Looks amazing. It reminds me of the dunes in the Canary Islands.

    ReplyDelete

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