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We drove down the narrow road and found ourselves staring at rolling hills of glistening white sand as far as we could see. It felt like we had just been dropped on a completely different planet. We were surrounded on all sides by sand dunes. Where were we? We had just entered White Sands National Park.
White Sands is different from any other national park you will visit. It is like nothing like I have ever seen before. It can only be described as out of this world. This park is not only large, but it is also the perfect place for families to spend a day.
Your family will love visiting White Sands National Park. Here is everything you need to know to have a crazy successful trip that your kids will be talking about for years!
What is White Sands National Park?
White Sands National Park is approximately 275 square miles of white sand dunes in the midst of the Chihuahuan Desert. It is located in southern New Mexico between Las Cruces and Alamagordo, near the Texas border.
Once you are in the heart of the park, all you can see in any direction is rolling hills of white sand dunes. It looks as if the desert floor has suddenly been covered in a huge blanket of snow.
Why is the sand so white? Well, that’s because it isn’t actually sand. It’s gypsum. Except for the color, the gypsum looks and feels like sand. But because it is much cooler than actual sand, you can enjoy walking barefoot across it, even in the hottest weather.
Things to do at White Sands National Park
You may think there isn’t much to do amidst all the sand, but that’s not quite true. There’s actually a lot you can do in White Sands National Park. Here are some of the more popular activities:
- Stop by the Visitor’s Center–Like at any national park, you should stop by the Visitor’s Center upon arrival at White Sands. Here, you can fill up on water, visit the gift shop, get your National Park Passport stamped, ask questions, and make a pitstop at the bathrooms.
- Sledding–The most popular activity for families of all ages is sledding. The dunes are perfect for this. And the best part is that you can enjoy a day of sledding without the cold weather! Just be careful that you don’t slide into traffic!
- Hiking–You will find several hiking trails throughout the park. This is a great way to really explore all the dunes have to offer. Be sure to stay on the trails, however, because it is very easy to get lost in the sea of white!
- Photography–This park looks like something from another planet, which makes it a fascinating place to take photos. Whether you prefer shooting landscapes, plants, or your kids, there are lots of opportunities for some great shots here. And because the park is so large and spread out, it is pretty easy to find an area where you can take pictures without other people in your shot.
- Backcountry camping–There are a few spots for primitive camping in White Sands, available on a first-come, first-served basis. You will need a permit to camp, however.
- Picnicking–Another favorite family activity here is picnicking. There are a few locations throughout the park where you will find picnic tables. Or you can just lay a blanket out on the sand and have your picnic on the dunes if you want.
- Driving Dunes Drive–Dunes Drive is an 8-mile road that leads from the Visitor Center into the heart of the dunes. Driving this loop is a great way to start your trek into the park because it gives you a nice overview of the layout of the park.
Park Hours and Admission
White Sands National Park is open every day of the year, except for Christmas Day. The park’s hours vary by season, however. So, be sure to check the official national park website before you go.
The park almost always opens at 7:00 am. During the fall, the park generally closes at 8:00 pm, while during the summer it stays open until 9:00 pm. In the winter and on most holidays, the park closes at 6:00 pm.
Because White Sands is located near the White Sands Missile Range, on some days, the road into the park is closed for up to three hours. This usually happens early in the mornings, which can cause a delay in the park’s opening.
Please note that the Visitor’s Center does close a little bit earlier than the park itself. And, the park occasionally closes due to inclement weather.
Admission to White Sands National Park is $25 per vehicle, $20 per motorcycle, or $15 per person. You can get an annual pass for $45. Additional fees are charged for camping and some ranger programs.
Know Before You Go
Here are a few things you should know before you go to White Sands National Park in order to make your trip more successful:
- There is no place to get water once you pass the Visitor’s Center. So, be sure to either bring your own or get some at the Visitor’s Center before heading into the dunes.
- Because the sand is white, it reflects the sun the same way that the snow does. This means it is super bright and super hot when it is sunny. So, be sure to wear sunglasses, sunscreen, and a hat.
- You can buy a sled at the Visitor’s Center, but they are $25. You can save yourself some money by picking one up at a local store before heading to the park. And don’t forget to get some wax to make your sled even faster!
- There are no restaurants near the park. Therefore, plan to either eat before leaving Las Cruces or Alamagordo or pack a lunch and/or snacks to be eaten in the park.
- The soft, smooth gypsum stays nice and cool, even on the hottest of days. This means that you can kick off your shoes and enjoy the sand between your toes as you play on the dunes.
Visiting White Sands National Park is an out-of-this-world, unique experience that is fun for the whole family. You definitely should plan a visit soon! Your kids will love sledding down the dunes while wearing summer outfits!
For more things to do in New Mexico, see our posts on the Gila Cliff Dwellings, Carlsbad Caverns, the Catwalks, City of Rocks, things to do in Silver City, Meow Wolf, and where to eat in Silver City. Happy travels!
P.S. Need help finding the best places to go on your family vacations? My Ultimate USA Bucket List for Families will instantly give you 60 of the best vacation destinations for families in the United States! Get it for FREE in the box below and start planning your next trip today! Plus, as a bonus, you will receive my weekly email newsletter full of family trip tips and inspiration!