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White Sands National Park

White Sands National Park
P.O. Box 1086
Holloman AFB, NM 88330
Phone 575.479.6124
Website of White Sands NP at NPS

Location and Characteristics

White Sands National Park is located in south-central New Mexico, about 45 miles east of Las Cruces on U.S. Highway 70. It is the locale of the largest gypsum dune field in the world.

Situated between White Sands Missile Range and Holloman Air Force Base, the magnificent pure white dunes provide excellent recreation opportunities.

The area ranges in elevation from 3,890' to 4,116' above sea level, and includes about 275 square miles of dune fields, with 115 square miles (about 40%) located within the National Park. The remainder is on military land that is not open to the public.

This dune field is very dynamic, with the most active dunes moving to the northeast at a rate of up to 30 feet per year, while the more stable areas of sand move very little.

It was originally designated White Sands National Monument on January 18, 1933 by President Herbert Hoover. The Monument was redesignated as a national park and signed into law by President Donald Trump on December 20, 2019.

It is the most visited NPS site in New Mexico, with about 600,000 visitors each year.

The park features a drive from the visitor center to the heart of the dunes, picnic areas, backcountry campground in the dune field, marked hiking trails, and sledding on the dunes. Ranger-guided orientation and nature walks occur at various times and months throughout the year.

The namesake White Sands in New Mexico
The namesake White Sands in New Mexico

 

Visitor Center

Most visitors begin their trip to White Sands National Park in the historic visitor center. The building is an excellent example of Spanish Pueblo-style adobe architecture, also known as "Pueblo-Revival," and was constructed on-site from 1936 to 1938 using readily-available, local materials.

The visitor center provides information on daily programs. It also offers a nicely stocked park store and gift shop, a native plant garden, and an award-winning orientation film: A Land in Motion.

White Sands National Park Visitor Center (Staff Photo)
White Sands National Park Visitor Center

NPS sign at entrance to White Sands National Park
NPS sign at entrance to White Sands National Park in southern New Mexico

 

Getting to and Exploring the Park

Spend a day, or more, and enjoy and explore White Sands National Park!

The visitor center is located on Highway US-70 between the cities of Alamogordo and Las Cruces. Drive time from Alamogordo is about 15 minutes, and from Las Cruces about one hour.

Dunes Drive in White Sands National Park in New Mexico
Dunes Drive in White Sands National Park

Operating hours vary by season and the park is occasionally closed for periods of up to three hours due to missile tests on the adjacent White Sands Missile Range.

Travelers are encouraged to call the visitor center at 575.479.6124 ext. 236 or 206 to verify that a closure is not in effect.

In addition, from time to time, the park is closed due to weather or road conditions.

The Dunes Drive leads 8 miles (13 km) into the dunes from the visitor center at the park entrance. Three picnic areas are available, as well as a backcountry campground with ten sites for overnight camping in the dune field. Five marked trails totaling 9 miles (14 km) allow visitors to explore the dunes on foot.

The Interdune Boardwalk across the dune fields at White Sands National Park
The Interdune Boardwalk at White Sands National Park


You are Entering the White Sands Missile Range ... birthplace of America's Missile and Space Activity
Sign ... You are Entering the White Sands Missile Range ... birthplace of America's Missile and Space Activity

 

Stopping in the 4Runner to enjoy a quiet, cloudy day at White Sands National Park (Staff Photo)
Stopping in the 4Runner to enjoy a quiet, cloudy day at White Sands National Park


Map of White Sands National Park ... click to view detailed maps at the National Park Service website

Map of the Park

Shown to the left is a map of White Sands National Park, courtesy of the National Park Service.

click the image to view White Sands maps at NPS

 

What Weather to Expect in White Sands

Temperatures and weather conditions at White Sands vary greatly throughout the year.

During June through August, daytime temperatures average 95ºF (35ºC), with some days reaching as high as 110ºF (38º). Evenings are much cooler, ranging from 50-65ºF (10-18ºC).

The rainy season begins in early July and lasts into late September. These months bring the majority of the Park's annual 10 inches (25.4 cm) of precipitation. Late afternoon and evening thunderstorms are common.

From September through November, daytime temperatures average 80ºF (27ºC), with a low of 65ºF (18ºC). Evenings are cooler, averaging around 40ºF (4ºC). During these months, days are typically sunny with light winds.

From December through February, daytime temperatures average 60ºF (16ºC). Evenings are cold, averaging around 23ºF (-5ºC). The occasional winter storm will bring rain and limited snow.

March through May, daytime temperatures average about 75ºF (24ºC). Evenings are cool, averaging around 40ºF (4ºC). Spring brings high winds up to 50 mph. Sunny days with strong windstorms are common.

A deep blue-sky day over the dunes at White Sands National Park
A deep blue-sky day over the dunes at White Sands National Park

Vegetation on dunes at White Sands
Vegetation on dunes at White Sands

 

Things to Do at White Sands

Visitors to White Sands enjoy backcountry camping, hiking, climbing the dunes, stargazing, bird watching, biking, picnicking, sledding, photography and driving the Dunes Drive.

Picnicking in the park has been one of the all-time favorite things to do in the area for generations. Many canopied picnic tables and grills are available throughout the park. 

There are ten primitive backcountry camping sites available on a first-come, first-served basis. Obtain permits at the visitor center.

Picnic table at White Sands National Park (Staff Photo)
Picnic table at White Sands National Park

 

Sledding down the slippery face of dunes is a popular activity at White Sands. Sledding is allowed in the loop portion of Dunes Drive, away from the road and where there is little or no vegetation. Most sledder's use waxed, plastic snow-saucers, which can be purchased at the Park's gift shop.

Dunes Drive, an eight-mile (13 km) scenic drive, leads from the visitor center into the heart of the gypsum dune field. The 16-mile (26 km) round-trip drive takes approximately 45 minutes. However, visitors may want to allow additional time for taking walks in the white sand, photography, or learning about the natural and cultural history. The first four miles of Dunes Drive are paved and the last four miles are a hard-packed, gypsum road. The road is suitable for cars, motorcycles, recreational vehicles, and buses. Along the road, you will find wayside exhibits, hiking trails, picnic areas, vault toilets, and parking areas.

Additionally, the monument offers tours and activities such as the sunset strolls, full moon night programs, and special events.

Lizard at White Sands National Park

Wildlife in the Park

Many species of plants and animals have developed very specialized means of surviving in this area of cold winters, hot summers, with very little surface water and highly mineralized ground water.

 

Lodging Near White Sands

TripAdvisor reviews and Travel Guide

Alamogordo Hotels

Las Cruces Hotels

Travel Guide for White Sands National Park on TripAdvisor

 

More Information about White Sands

Website of White Sands NP at the National Park Service

 

White Sands at the New Mexico Tourism Department

 

White Sands at the Las Cruces Convention & Tourism Bureau

 

White Sands National Park Travel Guide ... TripAdvisor reviews, photos