13 Interesting Things to do in White Sands National Park

White Sands National Park is located in New Mexico and was established in 1933 to preserve the unique white sands dunes. It’s a popular site for local and international tourists. It started as a National Monument but gained park status in 2019. With 275 square miles of beautiful landscape, there are plenty of things to do at White Sands National Park! Let’s dive right in.

Things to do in White Sands National Park

1. Picnicking

The remarkable dunes at the park are mostly made up of minerals known as gypsum sand. Gypsum sand is water-soluble, something that makes this “sand” unique. Picnicking is a great way to enjoy this unique landscape, and there are plenty of picnic spots available in each area of the park.

2. Camping

If you’re an avid camper, White Sands has some of the best areas to spend your days and nights outdoors. Here are some camping opportunities:

Backcountry Camping

If you’re looking to go off the grid, then try backcountry/primitive camping. You’ll be sleeping under the stars with nothing but a tent, sleeping bag, and tarp. The area is open for backcountry camping at any time of year.

Remember, you won’t have access to amenities such as water and restrooms with backcountry camping, so ensure you pack all the necessary items. Ensure you arrive at the park early enough so you have enough time to hike to the campgrounds. Note that the park gates are closed after sunset.

RV Camping

Unfortunately, there is no RV camping or parking within the park. The good news is, there are a couple of places near the park where you can take your RV. Let’s take a look at some:

  • Alamogordo-White Sands KOA: It is 20 miles from the park and offers campgrounds for RVs and tents. You get access to amenities like an outdoor patio, pool, and rec room.
  • Aguirre Spring Campground: It is found in the Organ Mountains and has 55 camping sites. The sites operate on a first-come, first-serve basis. Note that you will only find water at the entrance, so fill up your containers before getting in.
  • Boot Hill RV Resort: This is another great place in Alamogordo where you can take your RV in the evenings.

3. Hiking

Trails at White Sands range from easy to strenuous. There are several trails throughout the park:

Alkali Flat Trail: This 5-mile round trip trail is one of the most strenuous at the park. It is a round trip that takes hikers to what was Lake Otero in the Ice Age. The terrain is rough, so make sure you are ready to handle the hike before heading out.

Playa Trail: As the name suggests, the trail leads to a playa. It is half a mile long and contains exhibits.

Backcountry Camping Trail: This trail is a 2-mile roundtrip that allows you to experience the park’s flora and other natural features. It’s the perfect trail for campers who want to go on a short hike.

Dune Life Nature Trail: It allows you to see the merging of the desert vegetation and the white sands. The trail is 1.2 miles long and involves going up and down dunes. You will definitely enjoy this hike!

Interdune Boardwalk: If you want to walk through the dunes, take this 0.4-mile trail. The boardwalk is stroller and wheelchair-accessible and contains informational signage to help visitors learn more about the park’s ecosystem.

4. Dunes Drive

The Dunes Drive is a 16-mile road that contains the park’s main attractions. The road connects the fee station on the farthest end of the park to the visitor center. The Drive allows you to access the Alkali Trail and several backcountry campgrounds.

The first five miles of the road are paved, while the rest is made up of gypsum sand which is vehicle accessible. Usually, it will take you one hour to complete the Drive, but you can give yourself more time as you will probably stop a few times to take in the spectacular views and take photos. Here’s a hiking guide for beginners.

5. Stargazing

White Sands offers visitors a wide variety of celestial events throughout the year. Every year around August, for example, there is a chance to catch a glimpse of the Perseid meteor shower. For about a week, 40-50 meteors fall every night. In addition, each January and February, visitors can view the park’s famous night sky. The Milky Way is visible at White Sands, and the dark skies allow for amazing views of stars and planets!

Watching a sunset over Lake Lucero is just as beautiful for those who aren’t interested in stargazing.

6. Go to Lake Lucero

In November-December and January-April, rangers at the park provide a 3-hour guided tour of Lake Lucero. The lake is said to be the creator of all the dunes. You will also see many selenite crystals that play a vital role in forming the white sands.

7. Watching wildlife

White Sands is home to a wide variety of animals. Visitors can spot lizards, bobcats, tortoises, snakes, jackrabbits, quail, roadrunner, and scorpions – just to name a few. As most park visitors know, visitors are not allowed to approach or harass the animals.

8. Biking

Biking among the dunes enables you to experience the beauty of the park’s landscape. Note that you can only ride on Dunes Drive and not on hiking trails or off-road tracks in the backcountry. Also, only the first 5 miles of the Drive is paved. Make sure you have a helmet, wear bright colors, and observe traffic rules when bicycling.

9. Photography

White Sands is a great place for photographers to visit. The gypsum dunes and the night sky offer many different opportunities for amazing pictures.

10. Junior Ranger Program

The Junior Ranger program is available to children of various ages (those under age five, ages six to eight, ages nine to twelve, and age thirteen and above. During the program, kids complete different activities desert safety lessons, word puzzles, nature manners, and visitor center scavenger hunts.

In exchange, they receive a junior ranger badge as well as a certificate of completion. If your kids don’t get the time to participate in the ranger program, they can download the workbook on the official website, answer the questions and mail it to the park. Rangers will review the answers and send them a badge.

11. Horseback riding

Riding horses and other pack animals is another great thing to do at White Sands National Park. Remember that you will need to get a permit at the entrance before you get in. Acquiring a permit can take long, so ensure you download the form on the official website and fill it before you head to the park.

Picnic areas, trails, and camping sites are out of bounds for riders. The permit comes with a Dunes Drive map indicating areas where you can go with pack animals. Also, keep in mind that horses and other pack animals are not allowed to graze on vegetation within the park. And before you leave the park, ensure you pack things debris such as hay and animal manure.

12. Visitor Center

This should be the first place you visit when you go to this beautiful park. Visitors can learn about the park’s history, geology, and biology here. There are also exhibits on display and a store where visitors can purchase souvenirs of their trip. The historic adobe buildings which house the visitor center were built during the Great Depression.

At the center, you will also watch a 17-minute documentary called “A Land In Motion” that talks about the wildlife and environment at the park. Aside from that, you can use the restroom and refill your water bottles here before heading into the park.

13. Sledding

The gypsum dunes at the park have a lot of similarities to snow. Sledding down the dunes is one of the most thrilling activities you can partake in at White Sands. The loop part of the Dunes Drive is where sledding takes place. There isn’t much vegetation in this part of the Drive, and it is away from the road. You can purchase the plastic snow saucers used for sledding at the park gift shop. Before you try this sport, ensure you are aware of the appropriate techniques and safety tips.

Sandboarding is another activity at White Sands that allows visitors to slide down the side of a dune on pieces of cardboard.

Best time to visit White Sands National Park

You can visit the park any time of the year. Let’s take a look at what you expect to find in the different seasons.

Winter: Winter is most popular for snowshoeing, which you can do on the Dunes Drive between January 1 and March 15. It’s also possible to visit White Sands in the winter if you’re looking to escape some of the colder weather up north.

Spring: Spring is an excellent time to see wildlife, especially with all the new babies. Spring is also perfect for visiting before it gets too hot during the summer.

Summer: Summer is the time when families are looking to escape the heat at home. The park will be crowded with people exploring all the different activities available.

Interesting fact: Unlike regular sand, gypsum doesn’t absorb much heat, so it might not seem as hot during the summer. That’s one of the main reasons why many visitors tour during the summer.

Fall: Fall is a great time to visit because there are fewer crowds, and it’s not as hot as during the summer. The park is also beautiful during the fall because of the changing leaves on the trees.

If you’re looking to do some more hiking, visit during winter or spring when it’s not as hot outside and bring along a couple of layers.

Related: Best places to camp in Utah

White Sands National Park Weather

Temperature: The average temperature in the summer is around 100°F. It can get as cold as the 20s at night and higher during the day in the winter.

Precipitation: Most of White Sands’ precipitation comes from light rain or snowfall in the winter months. The average rainfall is 0.03 inches, while the average snowfall is 1.2 inches.

Visibility: Visibility at White Sands is very high, usually around 70 miles all year round (except during the summer when it can get as low as 10 miles).

Wind: The average wind speed throughout the year in White Sands is five mph. There’s a lot less wind during winter and spring.

Sunlight: The sun rises at 6 a.m. and sets at 7 p.m. during the summer months, while it rises at 7 a.m. and sets at 5 p.m in the winter months. The park experiences 12 hours of sunlight during the summer and 10 hours during the winter, but it’s very bright throughout the day.

Overall, White Sands National Park weather is great.

Remember that the White Sands National Park is near the White Sands Missile Range. Therefore, the park can close for around 3 hours during missile testing. Always check the park schedule on the official website to ensure you don’t arrive when the park is closed.

Things Not to do in White Sands National Park

  • Do NOT disturb wildlife: Please don’t go up to any of the animals in the park and try to touch them. They are wild animals, and they need to stay that way.
  • Do NOT collect or take away anything: All of the fossils, rocks, plants, and even sand is protected by law, so if you find any, make sure to leave them where they are for others to see.
  • NEVER bring an off-road vehicle into the park without permission: This is one that many people don’t know about, and you can end up getting a hefty fine if you’re caught breaking the rules.
  • Do NOT go off-road: Driving out of marked roads and trails is illegal here as well as damaging natural resources. You’ll be putting yourself in danger if you do this, so make sure to stay on marked paths and roads at all times.
  • Do NOT forget to pick up your trash: All visitors are required by law to leave the park with a clean campsite and pack out any of their own trash. Do not throw anything into the fire pits either.

How to prepare for a visit to White Sands National Park

* Pack your sunscreen – there’s no shade out in the desert!

* Bring walking or hiking boots to cope with all the different terrains. The ground gets hot during the summer, so try to pick footwear that are either closed toed, made of mesh, or with thick soles. Sandals are also not advised.

* All visitors are required to carry at least 1 gallon of water per person, per day. This is because there are no natural water sources in the park.

* If you’re camping, make sure to check the weather before leaving and dress accordingly – it can get cold out here!

* Make sure to keep your car windows up and doors locked while driving around the park. You never know who might be watching!

* In case of emergency, contact the park rangers immediately using the contact details on their website!

If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to visit, make sure you take some time out of your busy schedule and plan a trip with friends or family! As you can see, there are plenty of things to do in White Sands National Park! We hope this article gave you an idea of what awaits at White Sands National Park!

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