The 62nd official national park in the U.S, located in the Chihuahuan Desert in Southern New Mexico, is White Sands National Park. It’s filled with soft and white sand dunes comprised of gypsum making it the world’s largest gypsum dune field. The entire area used to be underwater 250 million years ago! The dunes were created from selenite crystals that formed during the Ice Age and over time, the selenite crystals eventually wore down into gypsum sand. The effects of wind and rain leaves the pure gypsum sand to blow around and create these incredible dunes.The dune fields cover about 275 square miles with 115 square miles located within White Sands National Park, and the rest is military land that is often used for missile testing (crazy right!)
WHERE IS WHITE SANDS NATIONAL PARK?
White Sands is a bit out of the way & kinda in the middle of nowhere. Located near the border of Mexico and Texas, the closest airport is located in El Paso, Texas (1.5 hours away) FYI The first first 5 miles of the road is paved and the last 3 miles are made of compact gypsum sand (might want to think about what kind of car you take)
WHERE TO STAY
Alamogordo The closest town to White Sands National Park. I would recommend staying at a simple Holiday Inn or Motel 6 located in this small town. You will spend the majority of your time out and about exploring White Sands so all you really need is a clean bed and bathroom! However, if motels aren’t your thing (trust me, I get it) then there are a couple airbnb options!
Las Cruces A larger city with more options . Downside is the 1 hour drive to White Sands . This is where we chose to stay since the first leg of our trip was a direct drive from LA — Las Cruces (12 hour driving) If our driving day wasn’t that long, I would’ve much rather prefer staying in Alamogordo!
|Las Cruces||Charming Casita with Hot Tub & Patio|
Wish we stayed here over motel 6… 100% booking this the next time we visit White Sands!
One Bedroom Apartment
|Alamogordo||Two Story Guesthouse |
WHEN TO GO
Temperatures vary greatly throughout the seasons so make sure you research the weather patterns ahead of time. Spring is the best season to go with the most stable weather patterns or even September October in the Fall. Summer // Winter- You will deal with extreme weather that’s unbearable. The average weather during the summer is 95F and can spike to 110. Winter nights can get so cold to 20 F. In September, there is an annual White Sands Balloon Festival! How cool!
P.S Did you know w there are free national park days? Click here to find out what day is free to visit!
WHAT TO DO THERE
Campsite 5 is the gem with untouched sand dunes. Like the ones you see in movies without any footprints. Keep in mind you do have to hike 1 mile each way to get to the camp site. I would not recommend camping during the winter or summer time (due to the extreme temperatures)
- Chill & Picnic
Soooo much space to explore and spend the day just enjoying this incredible space. Bring a blanket, food and have yourself a dreamy little picnic!
The park has 5 established trails ranging from easy to strenuous:
- Interdune Boardwalk – easy stroll, 0.4 miles round trip, accessible to wheelchairs and strollers
- Playa Trail – easy trail, 0.5 miles round trip, at the end you have the opportunity to see what this area looked like 10,000 years ago and learn about the giants that once roamed this area!
- Dune Life Nature Trail – moderate hike, 1 mile loop, kit foxes, badgers, birds, rodents, and reptiles all live in this area and you can often either see them or their tracks
- Backcountry Camping Trail – moderate hike, 2 mile round-trip, hike through the heart of the dunes
- Alkali Flat Trail – strenuous hike, 5 mile round-trip, you’ll be hiking up and down dunes along the edge of the final remnant of Lake Otero
- Photogenic Opportunities
I mean nowadays, we are all about instagrammable shots & hands down, you can’t go wrong with a photo here. The bright white sand pairs perfectly with any color outfits. Hopefully you witness an epic sunset on top of that.
- Sand Sledding
Embrace that inner child in you and get a work out in! Bring or buy a sled/ smooth saucer- they sell it at the park for a higher price, but if you plan ahead you can purchase one at a Walmart for an affordable deal
- Sunset Strolls
The national park offers a 45 min- 60 min ranger guided sunset tour for FREE! You learn first hand about the geology, animals and plants. The hike is a leisurely 1 mile long. Bonus: pets are allowed to join! Meet near the sunset stroll sign parking area, a 5-mile (8.05 km) drive from the fee station. Click here for more information
THINGS TO BRING WITH YOU
- Sunscreen: There is absolutely zero shade here, it might feel like you’re under the sun burning
- Water: you never want to be dehydrated out in the middle of a desert so load up on a ton of water in the trunk for emergencies
- Snacks: there aren’t any restaurants anywhere in the national park so bring your own so you don’t get hangry!
- $20 Entrance Fee // $40 annual pass // US Military members remains free
- You can easily get lost in the sands… I know it sounds a bit ridiculous but pay attention to markers and where you’ve parked your car. Once you explore deep enough, the entire area blends in
- Check for closure before you go. The national park closes for military uses aka missile testing.
- Do NOT hike in the heat. Don’t even try it…. There is zero shade there and extremely unsafe to hike in the heat.
- Cell service is a bit unstable there so if you are expecting an important call or need service, you might not be able to do that here
- As a safety precaution, drop a pin on Google maps to wherever you need to get back to, whether that’s a tent, parking lot or start of the trail.