White Sands National Monument Travel Guide

  • White Sands National Monument
    by megs_entropy
  • Things to Do
    by toonsarah
  • Off The Beaten Path
    by toonsarah

White Sands National Monument Highlights

  • Pro
    KimberlyAnn profile photo

    KimberlyAnn says…

     Beautiful, sparkling white sand dunes. 

  • Con
    mrclay2000 profile photo

    mrclay2000 says…

     Little to do or see here but sand, tracks and shrubs 

  • In a nutshell
    kymbanm profile photo

    kymbanm says…

     A worthy detour or destination ;) 

White Sands National Monument Things to Do

  • Alkali Flats trail

    This 5 mile round trip hike takes you past the dunes onto a salt flat. Remember hiking on sand is much harder that solid ground and heat can be brutal here. Bring water and start early in the day. The dunes are bigger here and there is much less other life due to that fact. Its a landscape of pure white with intemittmant desert scrub brush.

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  • Subtle Effects of the Wind at White...

    When walking around the dunes at White Sands it is good to keep your eyes looking at the ground for many reasons. First, when the sun is not out, you are never sure what little critter will dart out in front of you. Most obviously a footprint is a key indicator if it was man, dog, or something else. In addition, looking at the sand can show you the...

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  • Interdune Boardwalk Trail

    About four miles from the Visitor Center on the Loop Road is the Interdune Boardwalk Trail. The short trail is on an elevated metal boardwalk. It is the only trail in the park that is accessible for wheelchairs. Beware the metal planks and hand rails can pack quite a shock when walking on the boardwalk so be careful. The trail will take most five...

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  • Dune Life Nature Trail

    About 2.5 miles from the Visitor Center is the first hiking trail. Dune Life Nature Trail introduces you to a wide variety of interdunal features and plant life. While it is only a one mile loop it will take you about forty minutes to complete. To keep you from getting lost on the Dune Nature trail there are metal rods in the sand that have white...

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  • Dunes Loop Drive

    Nearly everyone who enters the park takes the full sixteen mile Dunes Drive Loop Drive. It is the only way to access the park. Along the first few miles of the drive there are frequent markers providing information about how dunes are formed or explaining what you are looking at.The drive if you do not stop will take you about forty minutes. The...

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  • White Sands NM Visitor Center

    Driving into White Sands National Monument one of the first things that strikes you is the design of the visitor center. It is immediately clear that great time and energy when into its construction. It was completed in 1938 as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) program. The building is considered to be of Spanish Pueblo Revival style. The walls...

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White Sands National Monument Restaurants

  • Picnic at White Sands

    You can buy food and drink at the Visitor Centre, and there are some tables there where you can eat a picnic lunch, but it’s much more fun to do so out among the dunes. There are several marked picnic areas near the far end of the loop drive. There you will find all the facilities you need – grills, tables and seats, and the latter with these...

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  • worth the stop for food but skip the...

    I seek out local beers wherever I go and New Mexico had proved a pretty good hunting ground thus far. High Desert Brewing in Las Cruces had gotten mixed reviews but there were just enough good ones to tweak my interest. Being on a budget, I was trying to be selective as to where we went but I'd nearly bypassed Second Street Brewing in Santa Fe for...

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  • shelter from the elements

    One of our favorite things in White Sands National Monument were the space age picnic shelters. They looked a little garish but their practicality became readily apparent when the sun got high in the sky and we sat in one for the first time. Built to provide not only shade but protection from sand being blown by the wind, they were a great place to...

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White Sands National Monument Nightlife

  • why go anywhere else?

    There is a brewpub about an hour south of the park but it's likely you'll be staying a half hour in the other direction. I love my local beers so did go but for lunch on my way west. At night, we preferred to enjoy nature. The sunsets are magnificent and the skies so clear at night you can touch the stars or reach for the moon.

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  • Sunset Dune Tours

    The park offers sunset dune walks with a park ranger during summer weekends. This otherworldly landscape refelcts the colors of the sky ........ and glows ......I spoke w/ another couple out there on the dunes who told me they had done this the night before .... they couldn't say enough about the surreal landscape as seen during the night.If not...

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  • Nighttime learning events

    Since it is so darn hot in White Sands during the summer, they also offer nocturnal events :) On the weekends, one of the events they offer is a nighttime lecture about some aspect of the region. The day I was there, the lecture was about life in the gypsum sea .... I wish I could have stayed .... Desert rat casual :)

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White Sands National Monument Transportation

  • Driving at White Sands

    While it is clearly possible to visit the White Sands without a car (we ourselves saw several coaches bringing visitors) it is much better if you can to have your own transport. You will want to be able to explore at your own pace, spend more or less time in different places, and ideally stop in a few spots to experience the less-visited areas of...

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  • driving on the moon

    White Sands National Monument is not an easy place to explore without a car. There are no park buses to whiz you from attraction to attraction and getting around on foot or bicycle would be only for the truly hearty and prepared. Things are fairly spread out but the big problem is the heat, lack of shade, and water. With a car not only can you get...

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  • El Paso International Airport

    By plane:El Paso is the closest major city. We flew into El Paso from L.A. on Southwest Airlines.By car:El Paso - 85 miles south of White SandsAlbuquerque - 210 miles northAlamagordo - 15 miles northwestCarlsbad Caverns - 160 milesWe did a 3 park loop starting in White Sands, then visited Carlsbad Caverns, and our final park was Guadalupe N.P....

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White Sands National Monument Shopping

  • richiecdisc's Profile Photo
    no sled, just sitting on the top of the world

    by richiecdisc Updated May 21, 2009

    4 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    The Visitor Center sells and rents round sleds which are used to slide down the dunes. It's evidently very popular in the "kiddie" months of summer. We did see quite a few people giving it a go and can only imagine that there weren't more so as we were there too early in the season. We were content to enjoy the dunes in a more quiet way, but to each his own. It probably doesn't do any harm to the dunes as long as you stay away from vegetation. It's also easy enough to escape the dune sliding crowd as they stay mostly the the dunes adjacent the main road.

    What to buy: One thing the Visitor Center sells that is very useful is ice. If you have a cooler with you (and you should), this is the place to stock up. It's quite inexpensive considering the nearest store is a half hour away.

    What to pay: I think the sleds were about $10 a day or $15 to buy but don't hold me to it. It was definitely worth buying one if you were going to do it more than one day and if you could use it elsewhere. Being on a six month trip and hailing from South Florida, it didn't make much sense for us to buy one and a couple of beers sounded better to us, especially it being so hot and dry!

    Related to:
    • National/State Park
    • Road Trip
    • Budget Travel

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White Sands National Monument Local Customs

  • There are other ways to enjoy the dunes

    Everyone has their own way of enjoying the White Sands. For us it was all about appreciating the landscape, getting away from other people to feel the rather eerie atmosphere, taking on the challenge of adequately capturing the dunes in our photos. But others were here to have fun! Things were pretty quiet when we arrived just after 7.00 am, but as...

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  • rare gypsum sand

    While gypsum is a common mineral, it is rarely found in the form of sand due to it dissolving so easily in water. This “chalky” mineral is used in shampoos and is the basis of plaster of Paris due to this solubility. As you can imagine, to find it in its sand form, you would have to be in a very arid climate and White Sands National Monument...

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  • Is it a beach? Is it snowbanks?

    As you drive along the Dunes Drive you may be surprised to find what activities the locals enjoy in the monument. We saw some people sunbathing, stretched out on beach towels and dressed in swimsuits. Others were playing in the sand, picnicking, and a few were flying kites. Others were sliding down the dunes on sleds as though these were hills of...

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White Sands National Monument Warnings and Dangers

  • Being Safe in the Park

    White Sands National Monument is a beautiful pristine place but the white gypsum sands all present a few hazards. While you may see notices such as this posted in the park on the NPS web site here are some things to consider while planning to come to the monument;- Sand accumulates quickly on Dunes Drive and during high winds cars in back of you...

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  • bring it ALL with you

    The desert conjures up images of sun seared skeletons of cattle gone astray and for good reason, this is one hot, sunny, dry place. Everyone knows you should drink lots of fluids but this is one place that Coke is not king. Water is the prefered choice but you must remember that you will be sweating even if it doesn't seem so. Your sweat will...

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  • Snakes in the sand, sand in your eyes!

    My kids roamed around the white sand in endless abandon. However, as we were running about, a ranger with his group of about fifteen people passed by and she was talking about the animals that were roaming around the area – and I overheard the word “snakes”. Yikes! At that exact moment, my son was going up and down a small hill and poking at little...

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White Sands National Monument What to Pack

  • it's hot, it's cold: come prepared for...

    If you are going to backpack, please bring one. We saw one couple trying to lug suitcases out there and that couldn't have been much fun. Nothing protects better from the elements than clothing and long sleeves and pants are recommended for any kind of extended time here. If walking in the dunes for an appreciable distance, you should wear proper...

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  • Don't forget your camera!

    Any picture you take here ends up looking like cover art for an acoustic album. Even the most amateur photographer can't fail to get at least one or two good snapshots!

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  • The usual desert supplies :)

    Layers are important in the desert, not only to protect your skin from the sun, but also for proper warmth after dark.Sensible shoes that are already broken in are also important to wear that day. I don't recommend sandals as all that hot, fine sand will end up all over your feet and increase the friction they receive w/ walking. Sunscreen is...

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White Sands National Monument Off The Beaten Path

  • Stop anywhere, not just in the...

    I was a little surprised to learn that you are allowed to walk anywhere among the dunes – there are no rules about sticking to marked trails or staying on boardwalks to protect the environment. This makes it relatively easy to get away from other people, even in the middle part of the day when the park gets busier. Of course you need to be careful...

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  • It pretty much is Off the Beaten Path

    I have to say White Sands is pretty much off the beaten path, in the middle of the desert, not too close to any major cities. Closest town is Alamagordo.If you venture into the dunes be careful as you can get lost in the sea of white. In summertime this could be deadly as temperatures soar.

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  • Oliver Lee Memorial State Park

    We came upon this desert oasis quite by chance. With no campground in White Sands National Monument and our vow to not stay in a room till Las Vegas due to being insanely over budget. A commercial campground, by experience, would not do. It would only serve to make us hate camping and lament our lack of funds for even a cheap motel. Enter Oliver...

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White Sands National Monument Sports & Outdoors

  • richiecdisc's Profile Photo
    D & I on the Yellow Submarine 2 more images

    by richiecdisc Written May 21, 2009

    4 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Hiking and backpacking are great sports but you have to be prepared both physically and mentally. Even though the distances in White Sands are short comparatively, the heat, sun, and dry climate more than make up for it when it comes to making it a tough terrain to tackle. Do some training ahead of time and you'll enjoy yourself more. There's nothing worse than huffing and puffing all day.

    Equipment: Wear good boots, not sandals. It might sound hot but you'll be glad at the end of the day for the protection. Long sleeve shirts and pants are things you should consider. White makes sense for all clothing choices. Sunglasses are essential due to glare off the sand. A brimmed hat should always be worn and don't forget the sunblock!

    Related to:
    • Backpacking
    • Hiking and Walking
    • National/State Park

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White Sands National Monument Favorites

  • Picnicking and Escaping the Elements at...

    When you reach the Heart of the Dunes section of the White Sands National Monument you will come across some unique picnic tables. The picnic tables were constructed by the NPS to both provide a place to eat and give individuals some shelter from the heat and the blowing sand. In spring the blowing sand can be worse than the summer heat and the...

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  • Photographing the dunes

    This place is truly a photographer’s paradise – but also a photographer’s great challenge. The best photos are to be had around dawn and dusk, but unless you want to camp (and back-country camping at that) this is not an option, as there is no other accommodation in the park. If like us you are staying instead in the nearest town, Alamogordo, you...

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  • we knew the ropes by now

    It wasn't long before it became too hot to do much more exploring so we took refuge in a space age picnic shelter, eating some salty snacks and drinking lots of liquids to fend off hyponatremia and dehydration, common problems in this intense hot, arid climate. We finally sought refuge in the visitor center and enjoyed the small displays on...

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