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White Sands National Park: The Ultimate Travel Guide

White Sands National Park The Ultimate Travel Guide

White Sands National Park is an amazing place to visit and the largest gypsum dune field in the world. Until the end of 2019, it was a monument, and now it has upgraded into a national park by the USA government.

Located in the south-central New Mexico state, these unusual dunes were made with pure gypsum (hydrous calcium sulfate) originated from very high mineral containing lakes or Playa around the monument. Just read this ultimate travel guide before visiting the USA’s newest national park, White Sands National Park.  

White Sands National Park

What city is White Sands National Park in?

These white gypsum dunes exit for 275 square miles and even visible to space. My personal opinion is this is one of the most underrated places in the USA.

When I saw the photos for the first time, I felt to plan a tour there. Actually, I was so doubtful whether it is snow or white sand. Then, I got to know it is formed with pure gypsum. (White Sands National Park)

White Sands National Park The Ultimate Travel Guide

Spreading through the Tularosa Basin in the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert in the southern part of New Mexico, it is amazingly photogenic.

But, I must say that this place is tough to reach since you have to drive through military missile ranges and desolate landscapes for hours.

Once you reach there, you will realize that it is totally worth visiting through all the difficulties.

The park is exactly located about 15 miles away to the southwest of the beautiful city of Alamogordo. And also 52 miles northeast of the larger city of Las Cruces. That means the visitor center is located between Alamogordo and Las Cruces on Highway US-70.

When you reach Alamogordo, New Mexico, it will take around 15 minutes to travel 15 miles on US-70 to the west, and the entrance is on your right-hand side.

If you are coming from Las Cruces, it will take around one hour to reach (The entrance is on your left-hand side after 52 miles).

From El Paso to White Sands

Suppose, if you are coming from El Paso, Texas, there are two options to reach White Sands.

Through Las Cruces, it will take around 1.5 hours to reach through Interstate 10 highway. After traveling 39 miles west on I-10, take the exit onto I-25 North and drive 7 miles.

Then, exit onto US-70 and continue towards Alamogordo for about 52 miles to reach White Sands National Park.

If you are coming through Alamogordo from El Paso, it will take around 1.5 hours. First, you have to take US 54 east and continue for 82 miles towards Alamogordo.

They turn to the left onto US-70 and drive towards Las Cruces, and the visitor center is on your right-hand side after passing 15 miles. (White Sands National Park)

Is White Sands National Park worth visiting?

Again I’m saying it is totally worth visiting White Sands National Park in your travel life. It has stunning Intagramable photos. The National Park Service highlights that the park’s climate is usually good, with clear and sunny skies (like 330 days in a year). There are crowd problems and parking problems at all.

Is White Sands National Park worth visiting

These gypsum dunes have created a unique ecosystem with their own wildlife and trees, existing only in White Sands and the Chihuahuan Desert. And even most scientists call this place “a desert Galapagos” since the whole ecosystem is evolving with the climate.

For example, the reptiles and mammals are shading their colors relevant to the environment (white). And even trees are also adopted to the harsh desert type climate with having really long roots till the water sources. You can even study this unique ecosystem while feeling beauty.

Suggested Reading: Most enjoyable things to do in a desert

The entrance fee to the White Sands National Park is $25 per vehicle, and the annual pass is around $80. (White Sands National Park)

History and the Background of White Sands

Millions of years ago that means during the Pangea supercontinent existed, Tularaso Basin was covered by seawater and again had flowed away. Although the water flowed away, the very thick mineral layers of gypsum were retained.

And again, a few million years later, the earth’s tectonic plates shifted and formed mountains and basins. Even Tularosa Basin was locked between the San Andres Mountains and the Sacramento Mountains and no longer cut off the sea’s connection.

So, it became a lake. Then the retained mineral containing water started to evaporate after the last Ice Age. Then, the gypsum was dissolved with the rain snowmelt off into the mountains.

Then, with wind and sun effect, the area got dried and scattered gypsum into smaller grains. And those small sand-like particles came with wind and formed these amazing 60 feet deep, 4 million MT gypsums containing White Sands, National Park. (White Sands National Park)

Best time to visit White Sands National Park

An important fact you should keep in mind is that the park and the US Highway-70 normally close for a few hours (3 hours) for missile testing in White Sands Missile Testing Range.

Actually, it happens in the northern part of the dune field. No one can enter the park during these missile testing hours, although the visitor center is open. So, check for those hours from the above-mentioned park’s website.

I suggest you travel to White Sands early in the morning or in the evenings since the afternoon times are very hot (like 100 degrees F) and unbearable with sun rays.

You cannot even walk on the hot white sands. And also, early mornings and evenings are photogenic, and the color of the sand is perfect. But keep in mind to check to avoid the rainy days since the dark clouds and rainy sky hide the beautiful color of these dunes. (White Sands National Park)

Best Time to visit White Sands National Park

According to the climate conditions, the most comfortable months to visit White Sands are from late September to early October (Autumn). The temperature fluctuations in these months vary between the 80s and 70s with a light wind.

But in the summer it has an extremely hot climate. So, I suggest you travel in the summer for camping only in the evenings and wait till the early morning. If you decide, please leave the campsite before the late morning to avoid the extreme heat.

On the other hand, in winter, the national park gets extremely colder. And in springs (March, May), windstorms can be seen very commonly. (White Sands National Park)

Looking for the best hotels near White Sands National Park, New Mexico? Just check here for the best deals that match your budget. (zoom out to view hotels)

Things to do in White Sands National Monument

Apart from taking photographs of these crystal white dunes, you have plenty of things to do, like camping, hiking, horseback riding, biking, garden tours, and many more. So, let’s discover the best things to do in White Sands National Park.

White Sands National Park Camping

White Sands National Park Camping

Camping in White Sands is my favorite thing to do there. It is just an awesome experience. And the campgrounds in White Sands in New Mexico are superb. You can even visit your kids.

This is totally a kid-friendly place, and they will have a lot of fun. So, by considering all the above information, I highly recommend you spend a night here.

The following camping spots can not be reserved; the visitor center offers you based on the entering order. If you come first, then you will get the best place. (first come, first saved basis).

Backcountry Camping Trail

The Backcountry Camping Trail (means you need to hike to get into the campsite) more famous through the dunes to hike 2 miles to your campsite.

When the visitor center opens at 8 am, you can reserve an untouched campsite on dunes if you come early (dunes without footsteps are pure, silky, and beautiful). Actually, there are 10 backcountry campsites on this Backcountry Camping Trail.

Since the sand is always moving here and there due to wind, the marked Backcountry Camping Trail is not a fixed one. (White Sands National Park)

But, strictly keep in mind to follow the marked directions since you can easily get lost in these dunes. And the guides and authorities warn you that it is very dangerous.

Although GPS works there, the cell service is not working well. Do not forget to save a correct map pin on where you want to come back. Check for GPS before you enter the trail.

Suggested Reading: Florida Springs Camping Camping: Travel Guide

However, this was my first hike barefoot, and it was so cool. I suggest you hike this in the evening when the sun effect is not there.

Actually, gypsum is not absorbing heat as much as normal sand. It has some cooling properties. So, walking barefoot made me so comfortable and feel unique.

But if you do not like it, just bring light-weighted hiking sandals. On the other hand, do not forget to bring the backpacking tent, sleeping bag, mat, energetic food, water, flashlights, and camp stuff.

Suggested Reading: Best Campgrounds in Acadia National Park

In any case, you did not get a backcountry campsite,

Then the next closest campsite to the park is Lake Holloman. Located just 5 minutes away, from the entrance of the park. And this campsite is totally free. Or you can drive for about 30 minutes away from the White Sands and reach the Oliver Lee Memorial State Park. It will cost around $12 per night camp. (White Sands National Park)

Sand Sledding or Sand Boarding 

Sand Sledding or Sand Boarding White Sands National Park

Most of the dunes are steep enough to sled through. Trust me, it is enjoyable. I suggest you bring your own plastic sled or even you can buy one from the visitor center. Especially kids will enjoy this more.

Or you can bring a sandboard and go sandboarding. All of them are ideal things to do on gypsum dunes since they are more greasy. (White Sands National Park)

Hike the dunes to discover more

There are 5 recognized or marked hikes in White Sands National Park. One I have already mentioned above is the Backcountry Camping Trail. On the other hand, there are 4 other untouched dunes as well.

Interdune Broadwalk Trail has around half a mile hike to discover more fauna and flora live in White Sands.

Dune Life Nature Trail is the home for many mammals like foxes, birds, coyotes, reptiles, lizards, and snakes. SO, be careful. Actually, this trail meets the brown sand with white sand.

Playa Trail has around 0.5 miles hike, and it is not through the dunes. Since it does not exist through the dunes, it has filled with water in low areas. Especially after the rain, it gets filled.

Alkali Flat Trail is taking you to the edge of Alkali Flat crystal white dunes. This is the longest trail in the White Sands National Park, which is 5 miles long, and even the trail is a little bit difficult with the hot climate.

Actually, the edge of Alkali Flat means the dried lakebed of Lake Otero. But, it was filled with Tularosa Basina in the last ice age. (White Sands National Park)

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Drive through Dune drive

You can get a scenic drive around the White Sands National Park on the only road in it called Dune Drive. The cruise has a total of 8 miles and will take around 45 minutes without stopping.

Catch the sunset and wait until sunrise

catch sunrise in White Sands National Park

Sunrise is the best thing to catch in White Sands. The golden sunlight makes these white dunes more glow. Do not forget to get photos of sunrise since it offers you the chance to get photos of the sinking blue sky and the orange sun with a white floor. Isn’t that crazy.

Even the sunset is great to capture your eyes and the camera while on a White Sands camp.

Plan for a picnic 

Plan for a picnic in White Sands National Park

You can see covered picnic tables to have fun in White Sands National Park. There are 62 tables with shades where you can eat food or even make food. Please do not leave any foodstuff or try to bury anything in the ground since they are illegal. (White Sands National Park)

Free hike with a ranger

Joining a ranger program in White Sands is just awesome. Sunset stroll, full moon hike, and see the brighter Perseid Meteor Shower are more highlighted.

This year (2020) Perseid Meteor Shower watching festival will be held on 12th August 2020. White Sands National Park website gives all the information about it.

On the other hand, if you like to be a junior ranger, then there are chances in White Sands National Park to join with a new junior ranger badge.

Travel tips for visiting White Sands

Bring and prepare with all the sun protection methods. Hats, sunscreens, sunglasses, and all stuff. Otherwise, you will get sunburns, patches, and dark spots due to powerful sun rays.

Bring more and more water. Thirsty is a must when you are in White Sands National Park. So, get ready to avoid dehydration.

Do not go in late times of the day. Try early in the morning or in the evenings. Otherwise, you will get burn.

Check for the closing times of the park due to missile tests.

Visit more than one time in your travel life since it costs only $5. But, you can collect more unique experiences. (White Sands National Park)

Can you take sand from White Sands?

No, you cannot since you should protect it for the future. With the increment of the number of visitors, the probability of harming the park is getting high. So the authority is very strict on their rules of protecting these amazing White Sands Park. (White Sands National Park)

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