White sand as far as the eye can see – that’s White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. It was a MUST STOP destination on our 9000 mile road trip, but the actual planning details to get there seemed a little confusing as GPS didn’t really want to bring up the actual location. The entire park, however, was only about 16 miles ROUNDTRIP drive through the entire park which surprised me! Normally when you hear National Park area you think a gigantic area of land, but don’t be fooled – White Sands is absolutely worth the visit!
Below is everything I wish I had known before visiting White Sands National Monument.
Parking is sparse at the Visitors Center for White Sands and it’s tiny. If you need to use the restroom I’d pull in at the visitor center, and to visit the gift shop of course, but we found the building quite busy and very small to navigate with a bunch of kids. We quickly made our exit and headed down the one road that enters (and exits) the park. While you can literally pull off anywhere in the one straight road to the back of the park, we chose to drive all the way in and work our way out.
How do I get to White Sands National Monument?
The easiest simplest way to tell you how to get to White Sands National Monument if you’re driving a long distance is to put the town of Alamogordo into your GPS if it won’t pull up White Sands National Monument – all of which is located in southern New Mexico. It is located right off of off of Highway US-70 between the cities of Alamogordo and Las Cruces. The entrance to the monument can be found between mile markers 199 and 200 on Highway US-70. You really can’t miss it! Just stay on US Hwy 70 and you’ll easily find it! I was a little nervous without using my GPS but it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I was trying to make it!
When is White Sands National Monument Open or Closed?
I HIGHLY recommend checking here on the NPS page for closures! Because White Sands is located near a military testing facility, they occasionally close roads due to missile testing! As for actual operating hours, that varies greatly depending on what time of year you are visiting. And the visitors center has different hours than the actual park. Visit the White Sands NPS page for operating hours.
What do I need to bring to White Sands National Monument?
WATER and SUNSCREEN! Water and sunscreen are the absolutely MUST HAVE items before you head into the park. Do NOT underestimate how HOT and how SUNNY it gets out on the sand dunes! The white sand just glares the sun right back in your eyes – I highly recommend bringing sunglasses and wearing a hat as well.
A lot of people say to bring a sled and sled down the dunes, which we did, but my kids mostly just wanted to dig in the sand and bury themselves! I also saw a lot of people recommend bringing baby powder to help get the sand off but we didn’t have any issues with getting sand off without baby powder.
Nice to bring:
Sunglasses (a must bring for me!)
Where to Go in White Sands National Monument:
There is one road going straight to the back of the park – it’s the same road you will take to get out of the park. I recommend driving straight to the back of the park until you can’t drive anymore. Go slow – a lot of sand covers the road back there but you won’t get stuck.
That’s where the best sand dunes are to start at! There are bathrooms too which we chose to park right next to! You definitely don’t want to miss the Nature Trail though – it comes with a fantastic view and is less traveled.
The photos we took at White Sands are some of my favorite from our entire trip. You just won’t be prepared for the awe and beauty of being surrounded by white sand. It’s absolutely stunning!
Although it’s incredibly hot during the day, you absolutely HAVE to stay for sunset! The silhouette photos at sunset are INCREDIBLE!
Is White Sands National Monument wheelchair accessible?
If you need a handicap accessible area in White Sands you’ll want to drive straight to the Interdune Boardwalk which is about .4 miles in length. That, as well as the visitor’s center is wheelchair accessible! If you have a mixed crew and some want to do sand sledding then the person in the wheelchair can absolutely watch from the air conditioned car in comfort as well if they do not want to get out. It’s a very open spaced park with minimal rules.
How much does White Sands cost?
You find a full cost list for White Sands here, but a vehicle load is $20. They also accept the NPS America the Beautiful pass, National 4th Grader Pass, Interagency Senior Pass, annual $40 White Sands pass, and other NPS related passes. There are also fee FREE days too!
We spent almost all of our day up on the white sand dunes, but around sunset one of my kids requested to check out the Dune Life Nature Trail. I figured we drove all the way out to White Sands so we might as well. You won’t regret taking the nature trail!
You’ll need to be able to climb up one steep sandy hill and then it’s mostly fairly flat at the top with plenty of area to walk around. This is where we got all of our sunset photos, saw the most lizards, and marveled at the crazy cool darkling beetles. They are EVERYWHERE!
Keep an eye on the markers in the sand so that you know where you are. As you can see in the photo above you can walk seemingly forever and potentially get lost, although there are markers if you look carefully for them!
If you see a lizard in White Sands, chances are you’ve discovered a bleached earless lizard.
Can I bring pets to White Sands?
The short answer is yes! You CAN bring pets to White Sands National Monument! As always with pets you’ll want to make sure you understand all of the rules here for bringing pets into White Sands, and PLEASE make sure you have a gallon of water for your pets. Don’t underestimate the shear heat and conditions you may encounter.
Things to Do Near White Sands National Monument:
New Mexico Museum of Space and History
Lincoln National Forest
White Sands Missile Range Museum
Oliver Lee Memorial State Park
Carlsbad Caverns + Bat Flight Program (3.5 hours)
Shroud Exhibit & Museum