How to Plan the Perfect Visit to White Sands National Park

White Sands National Park-03081

White Sands National Park offers visitors dreamy views of the soft white dunes. The park provides a picture-perfect and dreamy scene, and you can have endless views of the white powdery sand forming round hills with the surrounding mountains as background.

White Sands National Park is one of the 63 National Parks in the US and is located in New Mexico, very close to the border with Texas.

Whether you are planning to sand-sled or walk on the beautiful soft sand of the park, or just enjoy the stillness and fantastic scenery of this unique place, find here all you need to plan the perfect visit to White Sands National Park.

This post is a complete guide to White Sands National Park and covers how to get here, the best places to stay nearby, top things to do in the park, and other pro tips.

This post may contain affiliate links. By purchasing through these links, I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.

A glimpse at White Sands National Park

The white powdery sand of White Sands National Park is made of gypsum. In this park, you’ll find the largest concentration of this mineral in the world, covering an area that spreads over 275 square miles.

The gypsum mineral usually dissolves in water, but due to the dry climate of this region of New Mexico, the sand has resisted dissolution and instead became this beautiful and unique place you can now pay a visit.


Where is White Sands National Park and getting to the park

White Sands National Park is in southern New Mexico, with the closest cities being Las Cruces, NM, and El Paso, TX. The major airports are in Albuquerque, NM, and El Paso, TX, but you can also reach the park from other destinations if you are on a Southwest road trip.

Here is a summary of the main distances from a few destinations:

  • Las Cruces, NM: 50 miles
  • El Paso, TX: 100 miles
  • Albuquerque, NM: 240 miles
  • Santa Fe, NM: 230 miles
  • Tucson, AZ: 330 miles
  • Phoenix, AZ: 450 miles

Places to eat nearby the park

You can find snacks and beverages in the gift shop located at the park’s entrance. For more food options, head to the city of Las Cruces, where you can find a selection of American diners and other restaurants.


  • Dick’s Café
  • Jake’s Café
  • Picacho Coffee Roasters (for your coffee fix)
  • Nessa’s Café (for breakfast)

Entrance Fee

The entrance fee to White Sands National Park is US$ 25 per vehicle, US$ 15 per person, and US$ 20 per motorcycle and is valid for 7 consecutive days from the date of purchase.

Also, if you want to visit the park throughout the year, you can purchase the White Sands National Park Annual Pass, which costs U$ 45 and is valid for 12 months from the date of purchase.

Remember, if you are planning on visiting other national parks in New Mexico or the United States, such as the Mighty 5 in Utah, you should consider purchasing the America the Beautiful – The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass. This pass costs US$ 80 and allows you to visit all of the national parks you want during a 12-month period (starting from the date of purchase).

You might also like to read: reasons to purchase the America the Beautiful Pass and National Parks list

How many days to stay in the park

In one day, you can see everything in the park. Activities in the park include going for a stroll on the sand dunes, sand sledding, and admiring the landscape.

If you wish to stay longer, plan on staying in Las Cruces or El Paso, and try visiting other nearby parks, such as Carlsbad Caverns National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park.


Hotels near White Sands National Park


  • Hotel Encanto de Las Cruces: with Spanish colonial-inspired architecture, this is one of the best hotels in Las Cruces and the top places to stay near White Sands National Park – only 50 miles away. It’s also close to Downtown Las Cruces and has a gorgeous swimming pool. Rates start at US$ 150.
  • Hilton Garden Inn: A comfortable option in Las Cruces, right off I-25. You can easily reach Downtown and drive around the city. Rates start at US$ 130.
  • Fairfield Inn by Marriot: only 40 miles from White Sands National Park, this hotel is basic but offers what you need if you’re just passing through. Rates start at US$ 120.


  • The Plaza Hotel Pioneer Park: a historic hotel that offers luxury/boutique accommodations in the heart of Downtown El Paso. They also have a restaurant with Mexican cuisine, a rooftop bar, and a bistro (right across the street). The Plaza is hands down the best hotel in El Paso.
  • Hotel Indigo: offers modern and comfortable rooms in Downtown El Paso. It has a restaurant, a bar, and a rooftop pool to beat the heat.
  • Hotel Paso del Norte: part of Marriot’s Autograph Collection, the rooftop bar (on the 10th floor) offers views of Downtown El Paso and Juarez, Mexico, and the gorgeous Dome Bar serves cocktails under the beautiful stained-glass dome.

Best things to do in White Sands National Park


There are 5 established trails in White Sands National Park, where you can have the unique experience of wandering on the soft sand of the park. Each has a distinct scenery, and the difficulty level can vary, with strenuous trails and wheelchair-accessible family-friendly ones.

Also, apart from Interdune Boardwalk, the White Sands trails have specific markers to help orient yourself – something handy to guide you if you feel you’ve lost your way among the endless sand. The colors are green, blue, orange, or red, and the symbols are hearts, clubs, spades, or diamonds.

  • Interdune Boardwalk: in this wheelchair-accessible trail, you’ll walk for a short 0.4 miles into the dunes through a wooden boardwalk – a great option if you’re going with kids.
  • Playa Trail: this 0.5-mile trail is marked with green trail markers with a heart symbol. It’s an easy hike where you can explore and learn more about it.
  • Dune Life Nature Trail: this trail is marked with blue trail markers with a club symbol. This 1-mile loop trail is considered moderate since it requires walking through the loose dunes.
  • Backcountry Camping Trail: a 2-mile hike with orange markers and a spade symbol. Although famous for backpackers (since it’s where the backcountry campsites are), this trail is also open to other visitors and allows you to hike through the heart of the dunes for a more isolated view. However, be aware you’ll have to walk over steep dunes.
  • Alkali Flat Trail: the most challenging hike in White Sands National Park. The 5-mile hike is considered strenuous – you’ll be hiking up and down the dunes pretty much all the way. However, from here, you’ll be able to have uninterrupted and remarkable views of the park, with the nearby mountains forming the perfect backdrop. And you don’t need to go all the way until the end. You can return whenever you want; just follow the red trail markers with a diamond symbol.

Tips for hiking in White Sands National Park: If you plan to visit the park during the summer months, pay attention to the weather since the park doesn’t recommend starting a hike if the temperature is at or above 85° F. Also, carry plenty of water – each person should take at least one gallon of water daily.

Sand Sledding

Sledding is an activity in White Sands that can be enjoyed by both children and grownups alike. If you don’t have your sled, you can purchase one in the gift shop at the park’s entrance.

Where to go from White Sands National Park

After you are done with your visit to White Sands National Park, you can visit the nearby Lincoln National Forest, and the nearby National Parks, such as Carlsbad Caverns and the Guadalupe Mountains.

You can also explore the main cities in New Mexico, Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and the towns of West Texas, such as El Paso and Marfa – a fantastic town close to Big Bend National Park where you can see  Prada Marfa.

Read more US National Parks posts


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I am Elen, and I help 9-5ers plan their next getaway. I curate travel experiences, from places to sip a coffee to stays in boutique hotels, so you can save time when planning your next vacation. Here you will find travel guides, tips, and the best itineraries for your next trip.

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