Everything You Need to Know About Visiting White Sands, NM
When you first drive up to White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, there will be exclamations of excitement as your family first views the beautiful and unique landscape. The pull to jump out of the car and start running through the sand is strong!
My sister lives in Las Cruces, NM which is only about 45 minutes from this monument and we have been able to visit a few times with them. White Sands National Monument is miles and miles of white sandy hills. It is so crazy how it looks just like snow. You’ll look around and see people in shorts and t-shirts sledding down what looks like hills of snow. It’s a very unique experience.
Before we jump in and talk about everything you can do at this amazing place, here’s (very quick) history on this national monument: Around 250 million years ago this area was covered by a shallow sea and over millions of years the rise and fall of the waters left behind thick layers of gypsum crystals. With shifts in tectonic plates and changes to the landscape, the gypsum crystals have been broken down by wind and water to the fine sand we now see today at this park.
White Sand National Monument is located in south, central New Mexico and is under an hour away from Las Cruces. The closest city is 15-minutes away in Alamogordo which is small and had limited services.
Things to Do
Note: I’d plan on staying around 3 hours to have a nice amount of time to explore and enjoy this monument.
1. Sledding! Be sure to bring a sled or two along when you visit. Not only do the dunes look like snow, you can also sled on them. Wear things you don’t mind getting sandy (t-shirts, leggings, etc.) We all ended up going barefoot when we were there. It was too hard to walk in flip flops and sand just filled up tennis shoes. This is by far our favorite thing to do here.
2. Drive the 16-mile loop that will take 45 minutes if you don’t stop. As you drive the loop, I’d plan on stopping and checking out scenic spots along the way.
3. Adventure Packs + Junior Ranger Program. If you are looking to make your visit a little more educational, you could borrow one of the adventure packs at the Visitor’s Center or join in on the Junior Ranger program. Just stop at the visitor’s center for all of the supplies. We choose to just play in the sand when we were there, but these activities do sound like a great option.
4. Watch the sunrise or sunset. We went early one morning and we were at the sand dunes as the sun started to rise. I’m not a fan on early mornings, but this sight was worth getting up early to see. We were there for the sunrise in November and it was quite cold, so if you are there at that time of year, dress accordingly.
5. Come on a Full Moon Night. I haven’t been able to do this, but my sister has and she says it’s a perfect time to visit. There will be crowds so plan a little extra time for driving and parking. Playing on the sand dunes with them lit by the light of the moon is something that’s on my list!
6. Picnic. Bring a meal and enjoy it at one of the ramadas scattered around the park. The ramadas are designed with a wind shield to block blowing wind, but sand will likely still blow into your food. Keep containers covered and bags of chips rolled up so that sand stays out of your food.
7. Take a hike. There are several trails in the monument. Just stop by the visitor’s center for a map. You can also backpack and camp here, but will need a permit.
Things to Note
Safety: Be careful! People had been lost and died at this park. It is very easy to loose your bearings once you’ve walked over a couple of sand dunes. Do not let anyone wander off alone and just keep your bearings for which way you need to go to get back to the car. I wasn’t ever worried about us getting lost, but it’s good to be aware of what direction you are walking.
Bathrooms: There are bathrooms at the visitor’s center and in a couple of parking lots in the park. When we came for sunrise, the visitor’s center wasn’t open yet and the parking lot bathrooms were locked. I’m thinking this isn’t usually the case, but it’s good to know bathrooms will likely be locked if you are visiting early in the morning.
Things to Bring
Filled Water Bottles: There is no water out in the park and only water in the visitor’s center. There are not any nearby services.
Sleds: You will definitely want to give sledding a try while you are here. It is such a unique experience to sled on sand.
Sunscreen: This reflection of the sun on the sand is intense, so don’t forget this!
Sunglasses: Not only will these protect against the sun, they also help to keep sand out our your eyes if you’re there on a breezy day.
Snacks/Picnic: Since there are not any services nearby, pack food in with you. The visitor’s center might have a few small snacks, but I wouldn’t count on them having everything you’d want.
Flip Flops: We do not like walking in tennis shoes here as they just fill up with sand. We actually end up walking bare footed most of the time, so flip flops are east to slip off and on as needed.
Entrance Fee: The current fee is $20 per vehicle or $10 per person over age 16. Check the fees page out before you go in case they change prices. You can buy an annual pass for $40 to just this monument or pay $80 for the America the Beautiful Annual Pass that gets you into parks and monuments throughout the country.
Phone/camera: You will definitely want to capture your visit in photos. Although it’s hard to capture the grand scale of this place, it’s worth a try!
Light jacket: Depending on the season, it can get cool with a breeze blowing.
Baby Wipes or baby powder: These are great to wipe all of the sand off of feet before getting back into the car.
Okay, what do you think? Is this hidden gem someplace you now need to visit? I’d venture to sat that you would make your family very happy if you made a stop here on your next trip to New Mexico.