White Sands National Park is one of the newest national parks. It was once a national monument and became a national park in December 2019. White Sands is the largest gypsum dune field in the world. If you’re looking to visit these New Mexico sand dunes check out my White Sands National Park guide.
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White Sands National Park Guide
Where is White Sands?
The White Sands visitor center is located on Highway US-70 near the city of Alamogordo. It’s about a 20-minute drive from Alamogordo.
When is the Best Time to Visit White Sands NM?
Weather conditions can be extreme in White Sands National Park, New Mexico. The summer season can be rather hot and winters may be frigid cold. The months of April, May, September, and October generally have the best weather.
I visited in September a couple of hours before sunset and stayed until the sun fully set. The weather was nice yet it did look like a storm was about to come in. It got windy and there were dark clouds overhead. Nonetheless, it was still beautiful and we didn’t get any rain.
Is White Sands Open?
To find out if there are any park closures visit the website for the most up-to-date information. The park may unexpectedly close due to unsafe road conditions or extreme weather. It’s best to check the White Sands National Park website before your visit. The park may also close when there is a missile test in action at the adjacent White Sands Missile Range.
White Sands National Park Hours
The park’s hours change with the season. Check the National Parks Service page for the most up to date information.
The park is open all year except for Christmas Day. Hours of operation vary depending upon the season. Dunes Drive opens every day at 7:00 a.m. Please check out the White Sands National Park website for exact closing times.
White Sands National Park Entrance Fee
White Sands National Park entrance fee is $25 per car. The fees are valid for entry for seven consecutive days from the date of sale. If you frequent the national parks consider purchasing an annual National Parks pass. The “America The Beautiful” pass is $80 a year and can be used at all national parks.
Things to Do in White Sands NM
White Sands is a beautiful place for photography. If you’re an amateur photographer or a seasoned pro, take your camera along for the adventure. You are welcome to take photographs for your own personal use. If you’re looking to do commercial photography or filming, a permit is required.
The best time for photos is the golden hour. I suggest arriving 1-2 hours before sunset to make use of prime photo time and staying to watch the sunset.
Watch the Sunset
The sunsets are incredible at the park. Head up to one of the tall white sand dunes, sit on a blanket, and watch the glorious sunset. In the winter months when the sun rises later you may catch a glimpse of the sunrise if you enter right at 7 am. Or, you can request an early or even a late entry for a fee.
White Sands Camping
Wondering about Camping in White Sands? The park offers the opportunity to backcountry camp. This magical experience is one of a kind but there are some factors you’ll need to keep in mind. The weather can be rather harsh so timing is key. For more information on White Sands camping check out the park’s website.
Take A Scenic Drive
Have a limited amount of time to explore the park? Consider a drive! Dunes Drive is an eight-mile (13 km) scenic drive that starts at the visitor center and enters the heart of the park. The round-trip drive takes approximately 45 minutes. The road is suitable for any vehicle. All visitors must abide by all New Mexico motor vehicle laws. Obeying posted speed limits and wearing a seatbelt is a must.
Ride A Bicycle
Bicycle riding is allowed inside the park but only on Dunes Drive. Do not ride on hiking trails or off-trail in backcountry areas. Do obey traffic regulations and stay safe.
No snow? No problem! Sledding is a fun activity at White Sands National Park and quite popular. Waxed plastic snow saucers work best on the white sand. You can purchase one at the park’s gift shop or bring your own sleds. Do be careful because even though the sand can be soft the area at the base of the dune can be very hard.
Take A Hike
Go for one of the scenic hikes in the park and take in the beauty of the white sand desert. If you aren’t sure which hike is best for you go to the visitor center to consult with a ranger. Most of the trails are on the shorter side and The Alkali Flat Trail is the most strenuous. It’s a 5-mile (8 km) round trip hike and despite the name, is not flat.
Avoid hiking in the mid-day sun during the hottest months if possible. And always have enough water.
Other Important Things to Know About White Sands
Are Pets Allowed at White Sands?
Nearby Missile Testing Site
Next to the park is the White Sands Missile Range. Missiles are tested here but the park is usually closed during those times. If you see any foreign objects on the floor, do not touch them. It may be debris for a previous test. Do make a note of the location and tell a ranger so appropriate personnel may remove the object.
Prepare for Limited to No Cellular Service
Like many of the national parks, White Sands has little to no cellular service. If you’re using your GPS have an alternative form of navigation on you. You can download a White Sands map here. Have a compass on you and look around for landmarks to help guide you.
Leave No Trace
The national parks are beautiful places and it’s our job, as visitors, to help keep it that way. If you bring something into the park, pack it out. Don’t little, and don’t take, this includes the sand. The white sand looks cool and you want to remember the time you were at the sand dunes in New Mexico but it’s not a souvenir.
White Sands New Mexico Hotels
There are no hotels inside White Sands New Mexico. The closest town is Alamogordo, which is only a 20-minute drive away. If you’re passing through on a road trip you can stay in Las Cruces which is only an hour away. El Paso, Texas is another option and is an hour and a half away.
Check out RentalCars.com for affordable rental cars.
Looking for more things to do in New Mexico? Check out my New Mexico guide. And if your trip takes you to the capital city be sure to read the Best Things to Do in Santa Fe. Enjoy your visit to White Sands National Park, New Mexico!
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