This White Sands National Park travel guide covers the best time to visit, where to stay near the park, packing tips and more!
If you don’t immediately recognize White Sands National Park, you may have seen photos without even realizing it — or mistaken them for being taken at a far-away overseas location! Known by its sprawling, snow-white sand dunes, the landscape of this New Mexico national park is other-worldly and unrivaled by anything else in the region.
Get ready to see the coolest park in New Mexico — we’re here to give you all the tips to make sure it’s next on your bucket list!
White Sands National Park Travel Guide
Where To Stay Near White Sands National Park
While White Sands has unfortunately closed campsites within the park indefinitely, backcountry camping in the dunes is a no-brainer and is an experience like no other! There’s also plenty other camping spots in neighboring areas that offer great alternatives with desert views and close proximity.
Camping spots within a reasonable range of the park and close to amenities are plentiful, though there are a few popular “favorites” that keep campers happy.
Oliver Lee State Park is only 30-minutes east and a popular camping spot for its closeness to the national park, while Aguirre Spring campground is 45-minutes southwest of the park and has great views — though at only $7/night this place fills up quick on weekends, so be sure to get there early as it’s first-come first-serve.
Cactus Patch campground is situated on the Rio Grande river in Leasburg Dam State Park, and offers online reservations at $14/night.
There are plenty of unique stays in the White Sand’s town of Alamogordo and the surrounding area, including listings for a cutie of a tiny home and an amazingly cool desert dome home on Hipcamp (Get $10 off when signing up through our link!).
If glamping is more your style, you’ll also find Hipcamp has a host offering enclosed fully-furnished canvas tents just an hour east in the Lincoln National Forest!
Prefer luxe accommodations? White Sands might not be for you — but you can stay at the wonderful, local Hampton Inn! Not only will you get to curb the New Mexico heat at their indoor pool, but they’ll also provide a decent breakfast and pack you one to-go in the morning if you’re in a hurry to sightsee.
I stayed in Las Cruces, which is only 50-minutes away and has plenty of accommodation options. A few options (for location and stellar reviews) include:
Things To Do In White Sands National Park
The fine sand is packed tight enough that you can drive and bike on Dunes Drive, an 8-mile scenic route that offers restrooms and picnic stops along the way. This is an awesome, unique way to see the park and explore the dunes!
Full Moon Hike
Assuming you’ve seen the sights during the day, take advantage of the once-a-month opportunity to do a fully guided hike in the dunes under the full moon! Tickets for these hikes are limited and sell out fast, so be sure to check the website and purchase tickets the day they’re released (two months before the hike day).
Take a short, easy half-mile walk-on the boardwalk — it’s completely flat, so it’s a great kid-and wheelchair-friendly way to see the park!
Stroll The Playa Trail Or Nature Trail
You’re likely visiting for the dunes (of course!), but be sure to explore the small beach area reachable by Playa Trail and discover native species on Dune Life Nature Trail.
Sled The Dunes
Sledding the soft sand dunes might sound irresistible, and thankfully, you can! Waxed plastic sleds are available at the park’s gift shop for purchase, or you can bring your own (check the local Walmart or Big 5 in Alamogordo for sleds as cheap as $5). Many say this is the highlight of their trip to White Sands!
Read more: Zion National Park Travel & Hiking Guide
Best Time To Visit White Sands National Park
Late fall — from late October to early November — is an optimal time to visit the park as you’ll see MUCH less crowds of tourists while curbing freezing winter temperatures and sweltering summer heat.
Note that less tourism means shorter distance hikes to find dunes untouched by footprints (we know you want those Instagram pictures!). You may also catch the cottonwoods changing color in this window of time!
April and May are more populous but prime time for blooming cottonwoods and yuccas, a beautiful sight in an otherwise barren landscape. If you want to ensure you time your trip right, you can call ahead to the visitor center and they’ll advise if the plants have bloomed or are still yet to!
White Sands National Park Packing Essentials
Long Hiking Pants: Long Hiking pants are nice to wear regardless of the weather, and are actually recommended by the park itself!
Sun Protection: Sunscreen (especially my favorite face sunscreen), SPF lip balm, sunglasses and a hat are all absolute essentials at the sand dunes. The white sand reflects the sun, making its impact two-fold.
Waterproof Windbreaker: Being prepared with a lightweight jacket for all-seasons weather protection is important for very windy spring months and sudden monsoons and thunderstorms in summer months.
Change Of Shoes: Tevas or Chacos are best for the fine sand, and you really don’t want to wear hiking boots or sneakers for this adventure or you’ll be finding sand in the crevices of your shoes for months! However, if you plan to explore neighboring areas or parks, I would recommend bringing secure closed-toe shoes for your other adventures.
Water Bottle: A large water bottle is important to stay hydrated, as you aren’t likely to find reprieve from the sun as there isn’t any shade!
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