Everything You Need To Know About White Sands National Park

The first time I saw White Sands National Park on someone’s Instagram feed, I remember thinking – there’s no way it really looks like that. I tucked it away for a future road trip and just recently had the chance to see it for myself, with my own unfiltered eyes.

“You gotta be kidding me” I said out loud when I arrived. It really does look like that incredible.

White Sands National Park is one of the most intriguing spots in our national park system. If you think it’s just another bunch of sand dunes like you can find in other parts of the country – you’d be wrong. These dunes are made up of gypsum. The science behind the “white sand” is fascinating. The entire process started millions of years ago when the Permian Sea retreated and mountains rose, carrying the gypsum high.

Inches below the surface of these dunes is water which is the glue that holds them together. Even in droughts – these dunes remain moist. The moisture also prevents the dunes from blowing away like typical sand. And the wind creates beautiful waves in the crystals which makes photographing this place a whole lot of fun.

The landscape can change dramatically depending on the weather of the day. I happened to be there first, on a cold stormy day. The second day was clear, a little warmer and mostly sunny. Look at the difference between the two images below.

Admission to the park is currently $25.00 per vehicle. (Free admission if you have an America The Beautiful Pass.) It will take you about an hour if you simply drive around the park and circle back towards the gate. However, unless you have a very limited of time – you should definitely stop along the way and enjoy the views.

You’ll want to have some hiking shoes on with a little traction. The sand is going to move and there are no steps or pathways up the dunes in most cases. In all likelihood, you are going to have to create your own pathways as the wind tends to cover the tracks of the previous hikers. Be sure to take it easy and move slow as you climb onto the dunes because sand can give way and you’ll want to make sure to avoid injuring yourself if you happen to fall.

While I didn’t do this, one idea is the rent sleds from the visitors center and slide down the dunes. I saw several families enjoying this while I was in the park. If you’ve never experienced sledding on snow – you can certainly replicate the experience pretty closely.

One thing to note – you’ll want to pay close attention to where you park your car if you plan to be adventurous and hike. After you walk a certain distance from the parking lot – it’s nearly impossible to tell where you are because every dune looks exactly the same and everything is the same color — all bright white! The good news is you really don’t need to hike very far to enjoy many different vantage points and beautiful views of the dunes and surrounding mountains.

Another warning – your shoes, you clothes, and your car — will all be covered in sand. Just embrace it. There are several car washes in Alamogordo – the nearest “big” town about 20 minutes away. Alamogordo is also your best bet for lodging and meals when you visit the park. It’s an easy drive to or from the main entrance and you’ll find an abundance of restaurants and hotels. The mountain views while inside the city limits are amazing as well. Something that hadn’t crossed my mind when I booked the trip.

Last tip – you don’t want to miss sunset in White Sands National Park if at all possible. Grab a parking spot about 45 minutes or so before sunset. The sun will be super bright as it bounces off the sand so have sunglasses – or stay in your car until it’s just about to hide behind the mountains. It’s absolutely gorgeous. Even in chilly weather, it is worth layering up and putting on the winter hat and gloves to see the view in person.

For more information you can visit the park’s official website.

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