When you think of National Parks in the United States, some of your first thoughts may be Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, or Yosemite. However, the National Park Service oversees more than 500 areas throughout the United States including monuments, historic sites, and forests like White Sands.
White Sands National Monument is one of those less known treasures that is located in southern New Mexico. In fact, to be more accurate, the White Sands has officially become a National Park on December 20, 2020.
With 275 rolling acres of white gypsum sand, there’s not much to dislike. The White Sands lay in the Tularosa Basin in the Chihuahuan Desert of New Mexico. They are actually known as the largest gypsum sand dune in the world and were formed after the evaporation of an ancient sea. Since there is little rainfall and no water flow out of the basin, the gypsum sand dunes have survived all of these years.
The unique sand dunes at the White Sands are being preserved which leads to the site’s recognition as a National Park. These gypsum dunes are home to a variety of wildlife including plants and animals only native to the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert. Interestingly enough, the dunes are also a hot spot for scientists and biologists around the globe. Considered as the “desert Galapagos”, White Sand Dunes National Park showcases rapid signs of evolution. Many mammals, reptiles, and plants have adapted to the everchanging dune environment.
So, Why Don’t More People Visit White Sand Dunes National Park?
Unfortunately, the White Sands are not the easiest spot to get to. The closest city is Alamogordo which is 3-4 hours from Alburquerque. On top of that, you’ll have a lengthy drive filled with desolate landscapes and military missile ranges. If you’re willing to put the work in, White Sands National Park is definitely worth the patience!
You Can Expect Clear, Sunny Weather for Most of the Year
According to the National Park Service, you can expect clear skies for over 300 days of the year! During our visit, we experienced clouds and a little bit of rain. Those sunny skies would’ve been nice, but the clouds made for some dynamic shots!
Things to Do at White Sand Dunes National Park
Climb the Dunes
The best area to really get a chance to climb the dunes is all the way towards the back of the park at its final loop. While you may look at the rolling dunes and be exhausted, I promise you that these sand dunes aren’t too difficult to walk on!
Take a Walk with Your Dog
Unlike most national parks and monuments, White Sands National Park allows pets as long as they are on a 6 ft. leash. This makes it one of my personal favorite parks for that minor detail. Our dog loves to run, dig, and play in the sand!
Go Sand Sledding or Boarding
Sand sledding and boarding at White Sands National Park are encouraged and highly recommended! These steep hills that almost resemble snow are a great place to sled.
Sleds can be purchased in the Visitor Center on your way into the park.
Go Camping Among Glistening Gypsum Dunes
The Park offers the opportunity to backcountry camp among the beautiful gypsum sand dunes under a star-filled sky. This provides a unique experience for every outdoor fan.
A permit is required to backcountry camp in the White Sands National Park. They are issued at the Entrance Booth on Dunes Drive. For more information, visit https://www.nps.gov/whsa/planyourvisit/backpacking.htm.
Free 1-Hour Guided Hike with a Ranger
Only recently have we discovered that most National Parks and Monuments offer free guided tours that are included with admission or America the Beautiful pass. While there are many hikes you can tackle on your own at White Sands National Park, there are also a few free tours with a ranger.
According to the National Park Services website, the Sunset Stroll is their most popular tour. It is a one-hour free guided tour with a ranger that takes place one hour before sunset. Offered daily, this tour will educate you about the dune’s plants, animals, and ecosystem.
To find out more programs at White Sands National Park, visit https://www.nps.gov/whsa/planyourvisit/ranger-programs.htm.
What You Should Know Before Visiting White Sands
- Always bring enough water! – Make sure you bring water for everyone with you, including your dog. You DON’T want to underestimate a desert environment. While the park does have toilets and picnic tables on the dunes, you won’t be able to purchase food or water. The heat can get to over 100 degrees and there have been several cases of people dying from dehydration while hiking White Sands!
- Beware of the sun and apply sunscreen. – The desert is a unique environment. With nearly 330 days of the year being sunny, it’s important to apply sunscreen during long exposures.
- Visit the park early or late in the day. – Days at the White Sands, especially during the spring and summer, can get very hot. We visited during the winter so we had comfortable weather all day!
- Spend more than 1 day at the park. – If you aren’t a season pass holder, it costs $5 per person to visit White Sands. This admission ticket is good for up to 1 week, so try making it a longer trip! There are plenty of hotels in the closest town of Alamogordo.
- Stay for sunset. – New Mexico sunsets are beautiful, especially at White Sands. The way the sun hits the sand during golden hour is unbeatable!
While I haven’t visited all of the national parks, monuments, and other properties throughout the United States just yet, White Sands National Park is certainly underrated and should be added to your list!
We visited White Sands National Park right after making a trip to Carlsbad National Park which is also located in New Mexico. The Park was not nearly as crowded and was just as beautiful in person as they were in photographs.
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