Looking for a guide to plan your trip to White Sands but not sure where to start? Look no further and keep reading for the guide to White Sands National Monument.
Being from the East Coast, I’m used to seeing sand dunes. Most of the beaches in North Carolina have them. But let me tell you, seeing these very white tall dunes in the middle of the mountains in New Mexico was UNREAL. We had a blast walking around the dunes and just soaking in the beauty. And we even got to take Benny! Any place that lets us take our dogs is an automatic win for us.
White Sands National Monument is in a bit of a random place, but so so worth a visit. It is pretty easy to get to depending where you start from and won’t take you the whole day. So, White Sands is a great place to tack onto a road trip or existing visit to a nearby city like El Paso or Las Cruces.
Table of Contents
Before You Go
White Sands National Monument was founded in 1933. White Sands is a 275 square mile area of gypsum sand dunes in the Tularosa Basin of New Mexico. What makes these dunes so unique is that they are made of gypsum. Typically, gypsum isn’t found in such small particles to make sand, but this area used to be sea and the sea floor was gypsum. Millions of years of rising and falling sea levels turned the gypsum to sand. The dunes can even be seen from space!
I think it’s important to understand the geology and history of what you’re seeing, so I highly recommend a stop at the visitor center when you drop in!
You really only need about a half day to explore the monument, so this trip is best planned in conjunction with another stop. Read to the bottom to see other spots in the area!
Where to stay
White Sands National Monument is approximately in the middle of nowhere New Mexico. Located about 25 miles from Las Cruces and 30 minutes from White Sands Missile Range, the road to White Sands is pretty open and easy to locate.
The closest town with a good amount of accommodations is Alamogordo about 16 miles from the monument. Here are a few recommendations:
Luxury: Okay, there aren’t any really “luxurious”options in the area, but the most expensive is the Holiday Inn Express and Suites. Looks cozy!
Average: The Classic Desert Aire Hotel
Budget: Cloudcroft Hostel
However, we camped and there are plenty of places to camp around the area. If you’re up for a drive, I would suggest booking a spot at Sombra Antigua Winery in Anthony, New Mexico. They do have one spot with electric hook up so snag that if you can, otherwise you’ll be roughing it a bit. They provide you with a shower and bathroom as well as potable water. And, it’s at a winery sooo kind of a no brainer?! We got to do a wine tasting and it was a blast. Book here through Hip Camp.
Other camping recommendations:
How to get to White Sands National Monument
Again, as I mentioned before, White Sands is in the middle of nowhere. The only way to get here is by car. I would recommend tacking this on to an existing trip to New Mexico or Texas because you’ll need to fly into a big city that can be a bit of a drive away. So how better to maximize your time than adding in other items on your bucket list?
Whether like us, you’re driving from North Carolina or you’re from New Mexico, you’ll definitely need to drive your car or a rental car to get here.
Not driving from your home state? You can fly into a major airport in the surrounding area. The closest airport is in El Paso, only about an hour and a half to two hour drive to White Sands. Other airports to fly into:
Phoenix (441 miles)
Albuquerque (221 miles)
Tucson (327 miles)
Book a rental car and make a road trip out of it!
When to go to White Sands
White Sands National Monument is pretty much in the valley of the mountains and is more of a desert climate. Aka it’s HOT in the summer and COLD in the winter. The best seasons to visit are spring or fall. However, if you’re there in summer the park is open from 7 am to 9 pm, so you can go first thing or last thing to beat the heat.
Make sure you pack plenty of water if you’re there in summer! Or really any time, because hydration is important.
Pups are also welcome at White Sands so bring a leash and let your pup run around!
What to do in White Sands National Monument
White Sands National Monument is essentially a bunch of large, white, very cool sand dunes. The biggest things to do are hike and sled. Unfortunately when we went, the gift shop wasn’t open yet so we didn’t get to sled but lots of other people were doing it and it looked like a BLAST! Bring your own plastic sled, or if it’s open, you can rent one from the gift shop for about $16 (you’ll get $5 back when you return it). The dunes vary in shape, height, and incline so there’s a dune for everyone to sled down!
The monument also has a couple designated hiking trails. The Interdunes Boardwalk is an easy .4 mile trek and gives you some good view points and history along the way. There’s also Playa Trail and backcountry hiking but be warned… the sand moves with the wind so the trails are never the same as they were the week or day before!
We opted to just explore the dunes. You don’t have to stay on designated trails or paths so you can explore at your leisure. I recommend driving past the paved road onto the sand road and getting past the crowds. The dunes towards the back of the park are also a little more bare with less shrubbery (so better for sledding!). We had a blast just running down the dunes with our dog, Benny.
You can also stop by the gift shop and the museum at the park’s entrance. It wasn’t open when we went, but I would’ve loved to pop into the museum to learn a little more about the history and geography of White Sands.
I would allot an hour or two to explore White Sands National Monument. You can definitely stay longer if you’re enjoying sledding, but for the most part it’s just sand dunes. We stayed for about an hour and felt like this was adequate. Especially in the summer, it’s just so hot!
Suggestions to add onto your road trip
Carlsbad Caverns: Carlsbad Caverns is a national park in the southeastern corner of New Mexico. I’ve heard it’s AMAZING! It’s only a 3 hour drive from White Sands so this would be a good place to add to your trip
Lincoln National Forest: located just east of White Sands in the Sacramento Mountains, you can hike, bike, or camp!
Gila Cliff Dwellings: Check out where nomadic people used to stay as they traveled through the area, see petroglyphs, and explore this desert area. Tons of saguaro cactus here, too!
I hope this guide is helpful! White Sands is a really unique stop that I suggest hitting if you’re in west Texas or New Mexico. If you use this guide to plan your trip, let me know in the comments!
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