Road Trip to White Sands National Park guide
A road trip to White Sands National Park will be one you will not soon forget. In this post I will provide all the details needed for a White Sands visit, from places to stay or camp, nearest fuel options, what to do while in the park, and a whole lot more. There is also a video on White Sands National Park below, so be sure to watch that as well for additional details and inspiration.
Rising from the heart of the Tularosa Basin is one of the most unique wonders of the world—The White Sands of New Mexico. Great wave-like dunes of gypsum sand have engulfed about 275 square miles of desert, creating the world’s largest gypsum dunefield. While White Sands has been a national monument since 1933, it just received national park status at the end of 2019, preserving a major portion of this unique dunefield.
Interestingly, the location of White Sands National Park is in between several military bases, which means the area may sometimes close due to missile tests. Just be aware of this if you find the roads closed, there are digital signs providing information in the area.
White Sands National Park is located about 50 miles to the northeast of Las Cruces, New Mexico, and about 95 miles north of El Paso, Texas. The nearest town to White Sands is Alamogordo, which is about 16 miles to the north.
The visitor’s center of White Sands National Park is located right off Hwy 70, but the fee station is down a road (Dunes Drive) about half a mile. The entrance fee is $25, but of course you can use your national park pass. Once inside the park you will drive on paved road for about five miles on Dunes Drive, with a sporadic dusting of white sand on the road. Just before reaching the Sunset Stroll Meeting Area the road turns from blacktop to packed gypsum sand. Not much farther you will begin a loop which will take you to a picnic area, some back-country trailheads and parking areas. All told it’s about 15 miles of driving, which is a pretty small part of the park.
You don’t need to worry about getting stuck in the sand while driving on the main road or parking in the designated lots as the gypsum sand is well packed. Do be cautious though of stopping or parking in undesignated areas. Also be cautious hiking too far from your car as it can be easy to get disoriented in the vastness of white sand.
Things to do at White Sands National Park
- If you can, don’t miss a sunset at White Sands—it’s an Incredible experience as the weather brings a blanket of coolness and the shadows cast shadows on the dunes, creating a contrast that cannot be seen during the day.
- Another fun activity is sledding down the dunes. Sleds cost $16.99 and you get a five dollar refund if you bring it back. They do have used sleds for $10, but they are rarely available.
- No shortage of hiking options and different vantage points to see.
- Of course, White Sands is a photographic paradise. From sunrise to sunset the varying light creates many amazing photographic opportunities.
- There is a great picnic area at the park, so whether you bring your RV or use one of the covered picnic tables, there is plenty of space to enjoy yourself.
Interesting Info about White Sands
White Sands ranges in elevation from 3890′ to 4116′. While there are approximately 275 total square miles in the dune fields, just 40% (about 115 square miles) is located within the National Park. The remainder is on military land that is not open to the public.
This dune field is very active, some dunes move to the northeast at a rate of up to 30 feet per year. The gypsum that forms these white dunes originates in the western portion of the park with an ephemeral lake containing high minerals. As the water evaporates, the minerals are left behind to form gypsum deposits that eventually form the white sand dunes. Many species of plants and animals have adapted to living in the dunes, so it’s not uncommon to run across some form of life.
Camping / Accommodations in White Sands National Park
If you’re looking to camp at White Sands National Park, unfortunately there are only 10 tent sites available, each are walk-in, so this is really for backpackers. No car camping or RV parking allowed in the park.
RV’ers need to travel to a campground either north or south of the park. We stayed in both areas, one was at Oliver Lee State Park, just outside of Alamogordo. This is a really nice state park with power and water at most sites. The nightly rate is just $12 without electricity and $15 with. They accept reservations and also leave some spots available for first-come-first-serve.
The other campground is located 40 miles to the south of White Sands and was our personal favorite. Aguirre Spring Campground is not for big rigs, but if you have a sub 24’ trailer or a tent, this is an amazing places, not just to camp but for hiking as well. The campground is secluded within the Organ Mountains and is very quiet. The dramatic curvy road sets the stage for a really memorable camping experience. The best part…this campground is on BLM land and is only $5/night. We stayed here twice and had no problem getting a spot. Note, they close around sunset, so make sure you get there beforehand. This is a first-come-first-serve campground, no reservations.
If you are looking for a hotel nearby, head to Alamogordo, which is about 16 miles to the north of the park. Your best option is the Holiday Inn Express or the Fairfield Inn. Depending on the time of year, these two properties can run north of $200 per night.
White Sands Park Hours
- Summer hours are 7am to 9pm.
- Winter hours are 7am to 6pm.
That’s it from this road trip to White Sands National Park guide, I hope you found it helpful. if you have any questions at all, leave a comment below, happy to help.