White Sands National Park Travel Guide

If you are traveling across New Mexico White Sands National Park is well worth the stop. With miles and miles of rolling white sands this is the perfect place for desert photography. The park covers over 145,000 acres and contains the worlds largest gypsum dunefield on earth.

Previously called White Sands National Monument in December of 2019 White Sands has been officially made a National Park.

Sunset over White Sands

Let’s get into everything you need to know when visiting White Sands National Park:

Tips for Visiting White Sands

Here are my top tips for visiting White Sands National Park.

  • Be aware of military tests that shut down the park. These happen a couple of times a week but for exact times check the park website for upcoming closures.
  • Most of the park can be seen in a day. With a few short hikes and one long one you can see everything in the park in a few hours.
  • Go for sunset! One of the best times to be on the dunes is at sunset.
  • Bring water. The last place you’ll be able to fill up your water bottle is at the visitor center. The park recommends bringing 1 gallon of water per person since it can get extremely hot in the summer (dehydration is a huge risk here).
  • Sled down the dunes! You can buy a sled at the visitor center (or bring your own) and ride it down the sands.
  • Wear appropriate clothing and sunglasses. When wandering the dunes it can get very bright and hot so be sure to check weather conditions before heading out.
  • Be aware of your route. As you walk the dunes it’s extremely easy to get disoriented and lost. So having a charged phone with a compass app or a GPS device can be quite helpful. Just be aware you won’t have much reception on the dunes so knowing how to get back manually is helpful.

How to Get to White Sands National Park

The entrance and visitor center to White Sands National Park are located directly off US-70 in New Mexico. Like every National Park you’ll have to pay to enter White Sands. It costs $25 for a day pass to White Sands but you also use an America the Beautiful pass to enter. Once in the park the layout is quite simple, the park takes you down Dunes Drive to a short loop drive.

When to Visit White Sands National Park

The best time to visit White Sands National Park is fall, winter, and spring. The park is extremely hot during the summer months so it’s best to visit during cool times.

White Sands National Park is open everyday at 7:00am but closing hours vary from 6:00pm to 9:00pm. For the latest information about the park’s hours check out the White Sands National Park website.

Keep in mind that the park may also be closed for missile testing due to the White Sands Missile Range nearby which you can keep track of on their upcoming closures list.

White Sands Photography Tips

Photographer heading to White Sands? Here are some tips for your visit!

  • I recommend bringing a telephoto lens and a wide angle lens. When you are on top of a dune you can get plenty of interesting angles with a telephoto lens but there is plenty of unique angles you can capture with plants and the dunes with a wide lens.
  • Hands down the best time to shoot at White Sands is sunset. Just be aware of park closing hours since it can take a while to walk back to the car and closing is usually around sunset.
  • A polarizer filter for your lens will help reduce glare from the White Sands glow.
  • If it’s windy you’ll have plenty of small pieces of sand hitting you and your gear so having a lens blower can be useful if your gear gets sandy.

White Sands National Park Pictures

Here are photos from my trips to White Sands National Park. The area is also extremely popular for portraits so you’ll see people on a lot of the dunes getting photos taken.

Frequently Asked Questions about White Sands National Park

What is White Sands National Park?

White Sands National Park is a stunning natural wonder located in New Mexico, United States. It is known as being the world’s largest gypsum dune field with incredibly unique landscapes.

How did White Sands National Park form?

The sand dunes in White Sands National Park were made over a long time by the weathering and erosion of gypsum deposits from the nearby mountains. The fine white sand that came from this ended up in the Tularosa Basin, where it formed the famous dunes we see today.

Is White Sands National Park worth visiting?

Now you may be asking yourself is White Sands National Park worth visiting? I would say if you’re passing through the area 100%. The white sands are an incredible site and well worth a detour. There is about a day or two worth of stuff to do in White Sands so I wouldn’t say it’d be worth a long dedicated trip to the park.

What is the best time to visit White Sands National Park?

White Sands is open all year, but the best time to go is from October to April, when the temperatures are cooler. Cooler weather is better for exploring the dunes, and the park has a lot of activities and programs going on in those seasons.

Can I camp at White Sands National Park?

White Sands National Park does allow people to camp. The park has primitive camping in the backcountry. You need a camping permit ahead of time, at the time of writing this camping isn’t allowed as they are rehabilitating the backcountry camp sites.

Are there any hiking trails in White Sands National Park?

Yes, there are several hiking trails in the park, ranging from easy to moderate difficulty. The Interdune Boardwalk and Playa Trail are popular options for exploring the dunes, while the Alkali Flat Trail provides a more challenging trek through the heart of the park.

Can I sled or sandboard on the dunes?

Yes! Sledding and sandboarding are popular activities at White Sands National Park. Visitors can bring their own sleds or rent sandboards from the park’s gift shop. Just be sure to follow the park’s guidelines to protect the dunes.

Is White Sands National Park wheelchair accessible?

Yes, White Sands National Park is wheelchair accessible. The park offers accessible parking, restrooms, and picnic areas. The Interdune Boardwalk is also wheelchair accessible, providing an opportunity to experience the beauty of the dunes.

Are pets allowed in White Sands National Park?

Pets are allowed at White Sands National Park as long as they are on leash. Additionally pets aren’t allowed in the National Park Service visitor center.

What wildlife can I expect to see at White Sands National Park?

White Sands National Park is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including numerous bird species, reptiles, and small mammals. Visitors may spot creatures such as roadrunners, kit foxes, and kangaroo rats, as well as various species of lizards and snakes.

Can I take photographs at White Sands National Park?

Absolutely! White Sands offers endless opportunities for stunning photography as you’ve seen in this post. Whether you’re capturing the sunset over the dunes or the unique patterns formed by the wind, you’re sure to create incredible images.

Are there any safety precautions I should take at White Sands National Park?

While White Sands is a beautiful destination, it’s important to be prepared and take necessary precautions. This includes wearing sunscreen, bringing plenty of water, and being mindful of the heat, especially during the summer months. It’s also advisable to stay on designated trails and avoid venturing into remote areas alone.

Is there an entrance fee for White Sands National Park?

Yes, there is an entrance fee for White Sands National Park. The fee varies depending on the type of vehicle and is valid for seven days. However, if you have an America the Beautiful Pass, it grants access to the park for the passholder and accompanying passengers.

Are there any nearby attractions or accommodations?

Nearby attractions include the New Mexico Museum of Space History and the charming town of Alamogordo. Visitors can find a range of accommodations, including hotels, motels, and campgrounds, in the surrounding area. During my visit I stayed in Las Cruces.

Can I bring my own food and have a picnic at White Sands National Park?

Yes, visitors are welcome to bring their own food and enjoy a meal amidst the breathtaking dunes. The park also has designated picnic areas equipped with tables and grills for added convenience.

Can I collect sand as a souvenir from White Sands National Park?

No, it is not permitted to collect sand as a souvenir from White Sands National Park. It is important to preserve the natural beauty and integrity of the dunes, so taking sand or any other natural materials is strictly prohibited.

I hope you get a chance to visit this amazing National Park! White Sands is a magically place, especially as the sun goes down and hits the gypsum sand. If you are looking for more travel inspiration for the southwest I recommend reading my list of photography locations in New Mexico.

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