How to Plan the Perfect Visit to White Sands National Park

White Sands National Park-03081

White Sands National Park is one of the 63 National Parks in the US and is located in the state of New Mexico, very close to the border with Texas. At this park, you can have endless views of the white powdery sand forming distinct dunes with the surrounding mountains forming the picture-perfect dreamy scene. Whether you are planning to sand-sled or walk on the beautiful soft sand of the park, or just enjoy the stillness and wonderful scenery of this unique place, find here all you need to plan the perfect visit to White Sands National Park.

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 to.

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Where is White Sands National Park and getting to the park

White Sands National Park is located 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 found in the park’s entrance. To have more food options, head on 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 in 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).

How many days to stay in the park

In one day you can see everything in the park. There’s not much else to do apart from a stroll on the sand dunes, sand sledding, and admiring the magnitude of the white sand “sea”.

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


Hotels near White Sands National Park




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 wander on the soft sand of the park. Each of them has its own scenery and the level of difficulty can vary, with strenuous trails and wheelchair-accessible family-friendly ones.

Also, apart from Interdune Boardwalk, the trails in White Sands have their own specific colored marker (green, blue, orange, or red) with a symbol (hearts, clubs, spades, or diamonds) to help in orienting yourself, something very useful to guide you if you feel you’ve lost your way among the endless sand.

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 not only explore, but also learn more about it.

Dune Life Nature Trail: this trail is marked with blue trail markers with a club symbol. This 1-mil loop trail is considered moderate since it requires walking through the loose sand dunes.

Backcountry Camping Trail: a 2-mile hike with orange markers along with a spade symbol. Although famous for backpackers (since it’s where the backcountry campsites are), this trail is also open for other visitors and allows you to hike through the heart of the dunes for a more isolated view. Be aware you’ll have to hike over steep dunes.

Alkali Flat Trail: the most difficult hike in White Sands National Park. This hike is considered strenuous and in its 5 miles, you’ll be hiking up and down the dunes pretty much all the way. 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 absolutely don’t need to go all the way until the end, you can return whenever you want to, just make sure to follow the red trail markers with a diamond symbol.

Tips for hiking in White Sands National Park: If you are planning on visiting 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 carry at least one gallon of water per day.

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 own sled, you can also 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 close by National Parks, such as Carlsbad Caverns and 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 – an awesome town close to Big Bend National Park.


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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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