Man Walking On Sand Dunes in White Sands National Park New Mexico

Where is White Sands National Park

White Sands National Park is located in the center of the southern half of the state of New Mexico. The park sits just below a sprawling mountain range on its western border, and Holloman Air Force Base is located right along its eastern border. From three of the biggest cities in the state, the park is an hour and six-minute drive from Las Cruces, a three hour and thirty-two-minute drive from Albuquerque, and a three hour and forty-seven-minute drive from the state’s capitol of Santa Fe.

How Big is White Sands National Park

With a vast amount of space that’s almost completely covered with the iconic white gypsum sand, White Sands US National Park stands at around 145,762 acres or 227.8 miles. There are many trails and a major road that let visitors weave in and around the ever-changing dunes. The largest hiking trail is a five-mile round trip, and the scenic road trip is about sixteen miles long. The largest dunes average about sixty feet high and across the field of sand the gypsum can be up to thirty feet deep.

Bleached Earless Lizard at White Sands National Park New Mexico

White Sands National Park Weather

Because White Sands National Park is found deep in the southern desert, the weather tends to be very unpredictable and often quite extreme. Throughout the year, and even into the autumn months, the weather can regularly exceed 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The hottest time of the year is around the end of June while the coldest months are from November to February where the temperatures can drop as low as 32 degrees. Just like many deserts the park receives very little amounts of rain no matter the time of year, oftentimes the park will only receive just over an inch of rain throughout the entire year. These weather patterns are the reason that the gypsum has accumulated like it has in the park, since gypsum will dissolve in water, but it forces visitors to properly prepare for their trip to White Sands National Park.

When did White Sands Become a National Park

The area in and around what is now White Sands National Park has been utilized by humans for thousands of years, whether it was for the hunting opportunities, settlements, or mining of the local resources there has always been a reason for humans to visit this area. It wasn’t until the year 1933 that the park was officially designated as a national monument during the last days of President Herbert Hoover’s presidency

Things to do in White Sands National Park

Within the following list, our National Park Visitors Guide will go over the several activities and recreation opportunities that you will be able to participate in during your stay at White Sands National Park.


There are approximately 9.5 miles of trails across White Sands National Park, ranging from the Alkali Flat Trail (which is the most difficult), to the Interdune Boardwalk which allows for people that wish to use strollers or need to use wheelchairs the opportunity to appreciate the gypsum sand dunes.


Camping under the open sky amongst the sparkling gypsum of White Sands National Park is a very popular activity. Once you secure your permit you will be allowed to camp in specific areas of the park as long as you watch out for severe weather, unexploded ordnance from the nearby military base, and GPS unreliability found around the park.


There are three designated picnic areas that encompass a total of sixty-two shaded tables. The tables available within White Sands National Park are on a first come, first serve basis and each comes with a grill that you can use but will have to make sure to empty out at the end of your picnic.

Scenic Drives

For those that want to appreciate the dunes without having to get their feet in the sand can drive down the eight-mile Dunes Drive that leads into the very heart of the sand dunes. Since White Sands National Park is so close to an active military base there are times where the Dunes Drive is closed due to missile testing from this facility, be sure to check before your visit to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip.

Ranger Programs

For those visitors that would enjoy getting a more interactive and intimate experience during their stay White Sands National Park, there are several Ranger programs that provide visitors with in-depth tours of the park. These include sunset strolls every night and even an occasional full moon guided hike.


Visitors that would like to bring their bicycle with them on their visit to White Sands National Park can do so as long as they stay on the roads that are open to motorized vehicles. You are not allowed to travel along any off-road routes in order to protect the dunes.


White Sands National Park has some of the most unique and startlingly beautiful landscapes and other natural features distinct from any of the other national parks and monuments around the nation. Be sure to keep the sand and other debris out of your camera and to keep yourself safe during any severe weather.

Interdune Boardwalk at White Sands National Park New Mexico

When to go to White Sands National Park

With the proper amount of preparation and as long as you bring the appropriate amounts of gear, clothing, food, and water there is always an opportunity to recreate in White Sands National Park. Yet during the hottest times of the year when the temperatures can skyrocket it may be better to wait until the temperatures become more comfortable. Since rain is so rare in White Sands National Park and the surrounding area those that would appreciate the camping, hiking, and bicycling opportunities can find good weather conditions year-round. Yet for the maximum enjoyment of those activities, planning your trip for late spring and early fall will pose as ideal times of the year when considering the temperature for your visit.

Must-Have Things to Bring to White Sands National Park

List of Parks created the following list that will help guide you to what kinds of gear and amounts of supplies you should bring with you on your visit to White Sands National Park.

Quality Footwear

While sand may seem soft and comfortable to travel on, it can be surprisingly difficult compared to the firm dirt and asphalt found elsewhere. The dunes found in White Sands National Park can pose as challenging terrain to walk across, be sure to bring the right pair of shoes to keep your feet comfortable.


There are no natural sources of water to be found within the entire area of White Sands National Park, meaning you will have to rely on your own supply of water outside of the visitor center. Be sure to bring even more than you would think you will need in case of any mishap during your trip.


As long as you properly dispose of your waste during your trip to White Sands National Park, you can bring food into the park. Whether you are camping, hiking, or picnicking you can enjoy a nice meal alongside the sparkling gypsum dunes, be sure to bring enough for your entire party.

Appropriate Clothing

While the weather will usually be extremely hot during your visit to White Sands National Park, things can get intense quickly. Between sudden dust storms, thunderstorms and extreme temperature changes during certain parts of the year, you should be sure to bring enough layers and rain gear to keep you and your gear dry and comfortable.


The visitors to White Sands National Park that are interested in taking unique and beautiful photographs of the natural splendor of the park should bring their camera, extra batteries, lenses, memory cars or film, and cleaning supplies needed to ensure a pleasurable photoshoot experience in the park.

First Aid Kit

Even though it may seem like there aren’t many bad things that could happen while within the sandy terrain of White Sands National Park, there is no telling what mishap may happen, be sure to bring a quality first aid kit to ensure the safety of you and your entire party in the event of an accident.

Bike and Safety Equipment

As long as you stick to the appropriate areas bringing your bicycle can be a pleasurable experience in White Sands National Park. Be sure to bring any safety gear, such as helmets, and any repair equipment so that you keep yourself safe and mobile during your stay.

Camping Gear and Equipment

Be sure to bring any tents, rope, and any other camping gear you need for your stay at White Sands National Park. Take into consideration the possible severe weather you will experience when selecting which tent and gear to bring to ensure the safety of you and your gear.

Soaptree Yucca Growing at White Sands National Park New Mexico

Where to stay in White Sands National Park

While it is entirely possible to camp within the boundaries of White Sands National Park, there may be times where camping can be cancelled for the safety of visitors, so for those moments or you just don’t like to spend a night outside in a tent there are places to stay that are only a short drive from the park. The nearest hotel is only about a 17-minute drive, there are also a number of hotels to choose from in both the nearby cities of Las Cruces and Alamogordo.

Food Nearby White Sands National Park

You are allowed to bring food into the park in order to enjoy during your hike or any time spent camping during your trip to White Sands National Park, all that is asked is that you employ the proper leave no trace practices in order to protect and preserve the park. For those that aren’t interested in eating inside the park there are restaurants about 17 minutes away by car.

Airports Near White Sands National Park

For visitors to the park that are coming in from outside the state of New Mexico or the immediate area around White Sands National Park there are many airports in the area that will allow you to get to the park quickly if you choose to fly out. The nearest one being the Alamogordo White Sands Regional Airport which is only a short fifteen-minute drive away.

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