Surrounded by mountains in New Mexico's Tularosa Basin sits White Sands National Monument, 275 square miles of blindingly white sand dunes. These dunes are composed of gypsum crystals, and this specific dune field is the largest of its kind on Earth, making this park an impressively unique place, and an absolute must-visit if you're in the area.
White Sands is home to not only a diversity of plants, but also a wide range of activities for both adults and children to experience. Although the park only allows backcountry camping, there are plenty of other campgrounds in the area that you can stay at, and a day would be enough to see what the park has to offer. Take your family and friends sledding down the dunes, on a short nature trail that teaches you about the desert animals in the area. You can also enjoy backcountry camping to see the park's incredible sunsets, night skies and sunrises.
Driving into White Sands National Monument should be an easy process for any vehicle, no matter the size. Located in between Las Cruces and Alamogordo, taking Highway 70 will lead you straight to the visitor center no matter which direction you're coming from.
From Alamogordo, head west on US-70 for about 15 miles. The visitor center will be on your right and should be visible from the highway. If you're coming up from Las Cruces, you'll drive about 52 miles eastward on US-70 until you see the visitor center on the left-side. This is a very popular park within the area, so you'll see plenty of signs and traffic that indicate you're at the right place.
While you're on Dunes Drive, the first five miles are paved, and the last three are hard-packed gypsum. The road is very accessible - however, pay close attention to the weather, as it can drastically impact driving conditions in this park. Heavy rain or snow can make the road slippery, and it may be harder to spot ice on the road. Additionally, if there is a dust storm, avoid driving at all costs. Finally, do a quick check online or with a ranger to see if US-70 and the park are open - if there are missile tests going on, roads may be closed for safety.
Alamogordo is the closest city to White Sands, so if you're looking for a place to stay, this would be your best bet. It's a short 25 minute drive from the monument, and you'll be in the heart of Alamogordo, next to stores and restaurants.
This KOA has everything you'll need, from an on-site pool to free cable and WiFi. Whether you have a tent, a 100-foot rig, or are looking for a cabin experience, you'll find it here.
Also located nearby, just south of Alamogordo is Oliver Lee Memorial State Park. From this campsite, it will take you about 30 minutes to drive to White Sands.
The park has a variety of sites - some are primitive, and others have electric and water hookups. Sites can be reserved online, but the park has thirty sites for campers that are first come, first served. Each site has a picnic table and fire pit, and the state park is open to leashed pets.
White Sands has no official campgrounds so the only option for camping within the monument area is backcountry camping. There is no access for RVs so it is tent-only camping.
There are no services so the experience is primitive but the upside is that camping here provides the best access at night to the amazing star-filled sky. You get to be right in the middle of the spectacular dunes.
An exhilarating activity to try while you're at White Sand Dunes Monument is sledding. You can sled here year round, but imagine doing some winter sledding in sand, not snow.
Sledding in the white sand is permitted in the loop portion of Dunes Drive. Stay away from the road and stick areas with little or no vegetation to minimize your impact.
Throughout the monument you'll find picnic tables and shelters as well as grills which make for a really easy picnic experience. Near the end of Dunes Drive, you'll find 3 established picnic areas.
If you prefer something more low key, find some shade and bring a blanket to create your own private picnic area among the majestic dunes.
A nice, relaxing thing to do while at the White Sands National Monument is to take a scenic drive along Dunes Drive. It's a 13-mile trip that lasts around 45 minutes. This is a great option to see some of the wonderful sights in the park without having to leave the comfort of your vehicle.
To prolong the journey, add some time to explore the walking trails and take tons of pictures in this unique landscape.
One of the best experiences you could have at White Sands is sledding down the glistening sand dunes, surrounded by miles and miles of white gypsum sand. Grab a sled at the visitor center, or bring your own, but make sure you bring wax for your sled. Waxed, plastic snow saucers are the best option for a safe ride.
This activity is great for both adults and children, but make sure you review sledding techniques and safety precautions before you head down the dunes - tumbling through those hard, dune crystals won't be as forgiving as snow.
If you've got your own horse or pack animal and want a unique experience in the dunes, you're welcome to bring your animals to White Sands! Make sure you get a free day-use permit. This can be done at the visitor center, or can be downloaded online to speed up the process.
There is only one area within the park that is designated for horse trailer parking, and horse or pack animals are prohibited from some of the more populated areas of the park. Check with the ranger to get this information so you know where to go.
Want to wake up to the sunrise bathing the endless, white dunes in rays of pink, yellow and orange? Want to gaze out at the dunes in solitude and silence, all with a stunning backdrop a night sky filled with glistening stars? Pack up your gear and hike a mile into the dunes to experience an incredible, backcountry camping experience at White Sands.
Backcountry camping is the only type of camping allowed inside the park, so this is the only way to experience a full 24 hours in the park. However, going into the backcountry here is not for the faint-hearted. You'll need to do your research and check the weather, as it can change rapidly in this area. It's recommended that you do not hike if the temperature is at or above 85 degrees due to the intense heat and sun exposure.
White Sands National Monument is located on the northern end of the Chihuahuan desert, meaning it's home to a wide range of diverse plants. Many of these plants are incredibly durable and capable of surviving nutrient-poor soil, moving dunes, and very extreme temperature changes.
Grab a self-guided tour of the visitor center's native plant garden, available in paper and audio, to learn more about these incredible plants. Because many plants are dormant during the winter, this tour is best throughout the months of mid-March to November.
White Sands National Monument is the only place where you'd be able to cycle along a hard-packed, gypsum road, in the middle of a massive dune field. Grab your bicycle and head down Dunes Drive, where you'll be able to see all of the sights at a slower pace.
Biking is only allowed on the roads, not on the trails. That means you'll be sharing the road with other cars, trucks and RVs in the park, so bring your helmet and ride with caution.
White Sands has five established hiking trails that vary in difficulty. The accessible Interdune Boardwalk is a great place for families to learn about the natural wonders of the park, listen for bird calls, observe lizards, and enjoy wildflowers.
If you'd like a little more of a challenge, you can head to the Dune Life Nature Trail which is one mile in total. The Alkali Flat Trail is more strenuous at five miles in total. You'll be climbing some steep dunes all while being exposed to the hot, desert sun, so make sure you're dressed appropriately and carrying enough water.