There are few things as striking as the glistening white sands in southern New Mexico, so stop here to experience this vast field of dunes yourself. White Sands National Park is the world’s largest gypsum dune field, which spans 275 square miles. It’s one of the newest parks in the country and became a national park on Dec. 20, 2019, after becoming a national monument in 1933.
Things to Do in White Sands National Park
Start your adventure at the park’s historic visitor center. Housed in the 1930s-era Pueblo Revival building are interactive exhibits, information on daily activities and a great film A Land in Motion to orient you. You’ll find the White Sands Trading Co. in there as well, which sells snacks, sandwiches and drinks, and rents sand saucers for the day.
Trails vary from short loops with interpretive signs, to long stretches of dunes where you follow red stakes in the sand. Go for as long as you wish and then double back to the car. Be sure to bring sun block (the sun reflects up from the sand) and plenty of water.
Catch the sunset tour with a ranger to learn about the wildlife and fauna of the park. The easy one-mile walk travels over the dunes and ends in a picture-perfect spot for the sunset. Check for tour times online at www.recreation.gov or at the visitor center.
Can You Drive Through White Sands National Park?
When the park gates are open, you can drive cars, motorcycles and RVs or ride bicycles on Dunes Drive, the main road in the park. From the visitor center, Dunes Drive is an 8-mile ride sprinkled with roadside exhibits, picnic areas, restrooms and trails. The first four miles of the road are paved and the last four are hard-packed.
The park is open daily except for one day a year, December 25. The park gates open at 7:00 a.m. each day. The closing time varies by season and holiday with the typical summer closing time at 9:00 p.m.
Occasionally, the park closes because of hazardous weather. Due to occasional missile testing at the adjacent White Sands Missile Range, the park road will close for up to three hours. U.S. Highway 70 between Alamogordo and Las Cruces is also closed during times of missile testing. Before visiting, check the park closure web page at www.nps.gov/whsa/planyourvisit/park-closures.htm.
Is White Sands National Park Radioactive?
White Sands National Park is surrounded by an active missile range but travelers can safely visit the area. For specific information about radiation levels at the Trinity Site at White Sands Missile Range, visit www.wsmr.army.mil/Trinity/Pages/RadiationatGroundZeroJusthowradioactiveisthesite.aspx where levels are compared what a person normally encounters from food, housing and medical tests.
Rarely, debris from a missile test falls into the national park and is buried by sand. If you see any strange objects, do not touch them. Make a note of their location and tell a ranger so that they can be safely removed. The use of metal detectors within the park is prohibited.
Can You Stay Overnight in White Sands?
White Sands National Park does not have hotel lodging or developed campgrounds inside the park. Backcountry camping in the heart of the dunes was closed for rehabilitation in 2022 and the park has not determined a date for reopening.
There are many lodging and camping opportunities available in nearby recreation areas and gateways including Oliver Lee State Park, Aguirre Springs Recreation Area, Lincoln National Forest and the towns of Alamogordo and Las Cruces.
Can I Bring My Dog?
Your leashed pet is welcome on the dunes at White Sands National Park, but not the visitor center. Keep your pet on a leash no longer than 6 feet, bring plenty of water and steer clear of cacti. Do not leave your pet unattended in a vehicle or tied to an object.
Learn more at www.nps.gov/whsa.