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5 Incredible Things to Do at White Sands National Park

Visiting White Sands National Park? Here’s everything you need to know.

Located an hour outside of Las Cruces, New Mexico are huge sparkling white sand dunes covering 275 square miles of desert, creating the world’s largest gypsum dune field. White Sands National Park is one of the world’s great natural wonders and a beauty to photograph.

First Timer's Guide to White Sands National Monument New MexicoPin

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Last Updated: March 14, 2024

5 Incredible Things to DO at White Sands National Monument New Mexico

After visiting Saguaro National Park, we couldn’t resist driving a few hours more to White Sands. We’ve seen so many beautiful photos of the dunes and wanted to go take our own.

The park itself is mostly open land with endless dunes. After stopping by the visitor center, you can head in and park at any of the number of pullouts.

White Sands National Park Unit in New MexicoPin
White Sands National Monument New MexicoPin

1. Take the Scenic Drive

The 8 mile scenic drive takes you into the heart of the dunes.

See More: 21 Best Road Trips in USA to Put on Your Bucket List

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2. Hike a Trail

There are 5 established trails in the park, the largest being the Alkali Flat Trail.

  • Interdune Boardwalk – This easy 0.4 mile trail is great for the whole family and even wheel chair accessible.
  • Playa Trail – 0.5 mile easy trail.
  • Dune Life Nature Trail – 1 mile moderate loop hike.
  • Backcountry Camping Trail – 2 mile moderate round trip hike
  • Alkali Flat Trail – 5 mile strenuous round trip hike. This is the one we did. We mostly tried to walk in a direction with the least amount of people and carried our sleds out there with us too.

Like the way I styled myself? Summer maxi dress + hiking boots!

Local Tip: There is no shade. If the weather is over 85 degrees F, it is not recommended to hike. People have died from the heat. Also, carry at least a gallon of water per person.

See More: 15 Best Day Hikes in the US to Put On Your Bucket List

White Sands Hiking in New MexicoPin
White Sands Hike in New MexicoPin

3. Go Sand Sledding at White Sands

One thing that you should try while at White Sands National Park is sand sledding. You can pick up a cheaply made and overpriced sled at the gift shop, or get a more solid one online. This sled looks fun. Don’t forget to get wax too. We had so much fun sledding that we almost missed sunset.

Note: Do it at your own risk, because we both took a tumble and came out with some bloody hands. The sand was a lot harder because it had rained a few days back.

See More: 9 Things You Can’t Miss at Great Sand Dunes National Park


4. Go Backcountry Camping

Get your backcountry permit at the visitor center. There are ten primitive backcountry camping sites available first-come, first-serve.


5. Become a Junior Ranger

Pick up a junior ranger activity book at the visitor center, complete the activities, and get sworn in as a junior ranger. It’s mainly an educational program for kids, but adults can do it too. I’ve done this at every major national park I’ve visited, but am slowly starting to at the smaller national park units as well. You can learn so much through them, and you get a badge.

More Things to Do at White Sands National Monument

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Essential Tips for First Time Visitors

  • In case you’re using a hand help GPS to find your way around, the visitor center is located at 32º 46′ 45″ North, 106º 10′ 19″ West.
  • It gets incredible hot during the summer so remember to bring plenty of water and always keep in mind where you are. We’ve heard of tragedies, and our friends who live near White Sands told us people get lost out there all the time. The park recommends bringing 3.8 L of water. These are our favorite travel water bottles. We always carry a small, lightweight backpack and a couple of soft water bottles and managed okay since we went during cooler temperatures (sunset & late September).
  • Since it’s easy to get lost, pay attention to the mountain ranges and the direction of where the sun rises and sets. Jacob also has a good sense of direction, but we still ended up one parking lot over.
  • Make sure you sign the park’s entry register, so that rangers can find you in case you get lost.
  • The best time to go is early morning or close to sunset. Otherwise, the sun is beating down on you the entire time.
  • Be sure to check the site before your visit, they sometimes close the park for missile testings in the surrounding areas.
  • Look out for kit foxes, badgers, birds, rodents, and reptiles who reside here.
  • If you see strange objects, stay away from them and tell a ranger of the location. Because of the active missile range nearby, sometimes debris will fall into white sands. They may possibly still detonate.

Photography Tips for White Sands National Monument

  • Bring a wide angle lens if you want to capture the grandness of the dunes. We shot our photos with a 35mm but could have gone wider.
  • small handy tripod is nice to have in case you want to take any longer exposure shots.
  • If it’s windy, be careful not to expose your camera to too much sand. It gets in everything and can scratch up your lenses.

See More: Best Cameras for Bloggers – Your Essential Guide


What’s Nearby

  • White Sands Missile Range Museum and Missile Park (34.1 mi SW, 30 min drive, map)
  • Lincoln National Forest (43.6 mi E, 1 h drive, map)
  • Aguirre Springs National Recreation Area (40.9 mi SW, 50 min drive, map)
  • Oliver Lee Memorial State Park (26.7 mi E, 30 min drive, map)
  • Organ Mountains Desert Peak National Monument (47.9 mi SW, 50 min drive, map)
  • El Paso, Texas (96.1 mi S, 1 h 30 min drive, map)

See More: 11 Best Things to Do in El Paso Texas

Hotels Near White Sands National Park

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Have you visited White Sands? Would you hike, sled, or ride on horseback?

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Esther + Jacob

Esther and Jacob are the founders of Local Adventurer, one of the top 5 travel blogs in the US. They believe that adventure can be found near and far and hope to inspire others to explore locally. They explore a new city in depth every year and currently base themselves in Las Vegas.

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