Visiting White Sands will likely jump onto a bunch of bucket lists.
Planning a national park road trip in America? You’ll need to add one more destination to your list. On December 20, 2019 New Mexico’s White Sands National Monument became the 62nd national park in the United States.
White Sands is now one of two national parks in New Mexico, you probably already know Carlsbad Caverns is the other one.
I’m so happy that White Sands New Mexico is now a national park – the world’s largest gypsum dune field deserves national park status!
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Where is White Sands?
White Sands is in the Chihuahuan Desert of New Mexico, about 50 miles from Las Cruces, and 15 miles from Alamogordo.
The nearest major airport is El Paso Texas about 100 miles away.
It’s also neighbors with White Sands Missile Range.
Las Cruces to White Sands
- Take Hwy 70 E for 50 miles and turn left on Dunes Drive
- Allow 45 – 50 minutes driving time
El Paso Airport to White Sands
- Take Airway Blvd to Airport Rd, keep left to take the 601 W SPUR Road and follow it for a mile.
- Get in the right lane and exit to Hwy 54 E and continue for 80 miles.
- Left exit onto Hwy US-70 W and continue for just over 13 miles
- Turn left on Dunes Drive
- Allow about 90 minutes driving time
Hotels Near White Sands National Park
When I visited White Sands, I stayed in Las Cruces New Mexico, an easy drive of about 50 miles to the park.
Alamogordo is only 15 miles from White Sands National Park but there are fewer hotel options. Check availability and hotel rates in Alamogordo
What is There to do at White Sands?
- Dune Sliding
- Driving Dunes Drive
- Ranger led Programs
Ranger led programs offer guided hikes including sunset hikes, full moon hikes, meteor shower watching during the annual Perseids Meteor Shower party, and Lake Lucero tour.
There’s also an annual event called MothaPalooza – the next one is July 17, 2020 from 8 – 11 pm.
If you do plan to hike at White Sands please be prepared for the elements. Bring plenty of water and some food. Hot weather and the dryness of the desert will leave you feeling parched.
You don’t want to get dehydrated.
It seems every year someone goes missing or dies at White Sands because they did not anticpate the hiking conditions. Getting lost when you are surrounded by nothing but white sand dunes is easy.
I tried hiking the Alkli Flat trail at White Sands.
But shortly into the hike I gave up and turned back.
You may see the trail in the sand but the wind can erase the footsteps in no time.
A short distance into the Alkli hike I already felt uncertain about how I would find my way back if I lost the trail.
Better safe than sorry.
I’ll return to White Sands again, with a hiking buddy, and do the Alkli Flats Trail.
When is the Best Time to Visit White Sands?
During the late fall to early spring the weather at White Sands is cooler. Since it’s a desert you can expect temperatures to get stifling hot during the daytime in summer.
Planning on hiking at White Sands? I recommend visiting from September through May when daytime temperatures average between 60 – 80 degrees F (16 – 27 C)
July through September are the wettest (and hottest) months at White Sands.
December through February are the coldest months, with daytime highs around 60 F (16 C) and lows dip down below freezing. And sometimes it snows at White Sands.
Spring is the windy season at White Sands from March through May.
If you plan to do a White Sands camping trip, then fall is probably the best time of year. More info on camping at White Sands below.
Hours and Fees
As of January 1, 2020 the fees at White Sands increase to:
- $25 per vehicle
- $20 per motorcycle
- $15 per person
The hours at White Sands vary by the seasons. Unlike other national parks it is not open 24 hours. But you can get a permit to go in early or stay late at White Sands.
Then follow the instructions on this page at NPS.
Another option for watching the sunrise and sunset at White Sands is to camp at White Sands – see below.
Can I Camp at White Sands?
Yes, but camping at White Sands is limited. There are only 10 backcountry campsites at White Sands for tent camping available on a first-come first-served basis.
No RV camping is allowed at White Sands.
The camp sites do not have washrooms, shade, water, etc. There is a vault toilet at the trailhead – 1 mile away.
Camping at White Sands is different for these 5 reasons
- You will hike a sand dune trail for at least 1 mile (1.6 km) to your campsite
- Park closes at around 5 pm and gates locked so no late night food/beer run
- No access to water at night – bring enough water to last
- No campfires allowed – you can use a camp stove (elevated 6 inches above the sand)
- Getting a campsite is first-come first served because sometimes the dunes area is closed for missile testing at White Sand Missile Range.
Occasionally the park must close the Dunes Drive because of missile testing. Usually the park knows a couple weeks in advance if there is missile testing scheduled. But sometimes they don’t know until the day before or day of closure.
Dunes Drive closes for 1 – 3 hours during testing but the visitor center remains open.
White Sands Camping Fees
The cost for camping at White Sands is a bargain – only $3 per person age 16 and older and $1.50 per person age 15 and younger.
Backcountry camping permits are issued at the visitor center from 9 am to 5 pm daily. You will need to pack in all your gear and hike at least one mile to the campground area.
If you can’t get a campsite at White Sands or you want something not quite so primitive, check this handy list for camping near White Sands (and RV camping).
What to Bring to White Sands
Bring a refillable water bottle. Make sure to fill up your water bottle at the visitor center because there is no water available around the dunes area or anywhere else in the park besides the visitor center.
You should bring sunglasses, sunscreen, wide brimmed hat, water and snacks when you go to White Sands.
If you have a plastic slide you should bring it too – sliding down the dunes is a popular activity at White Sands.
You don’t really need hiking shoes or outdoor footwear. In fact, I recommend you take off your shoes and explore the beautiful gypsum sand in your bare feet. It feels heavenly – soft and cool on the feet.
Plan ahead and buy your national park annual pass now if you don’t already have one. It costs $80 per year. Unless you are age 62 and older, then it’s only $80 lifetime fee – sweet deal!
Think of all the beautiful trips you will take exploring America’s national parks. And remember to add White Sands in New Mexico to your list of parks to visit.
While in New Mexico you can also visit Truth or Consequences and hike the Healing Waters Trail
And spend some time in New Mexico’s beautiful capital city, Santa Fe
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