White Sands National Park in New Mexico

A massive field of rolling sand dunes, White Sands National Park can be found tucked away between two mountain ranges in southern New Mexico.

white sands national park sign

Have you ever heard of White Sands National Park? Most people have not. Designated as a national landmark in 1933, White Sands recently became a national park in 2019.

A massive field of rolling sand dunes, White Sands National Park can be found tucked away between two mountain ranges in southern New Mexico. It is essentially an extensive beach of pristine white sands with no ocean.  

So, what is there to do in White Sands National Park?  

We’ve compiled a list of top things to do in this little-known paradise. So, get ready to add another destination to your travel bucket list!

Things to Do in White Sands National Park

Hiking

white sands boardwalk

White Sands National Park offers everything from a leisurely boardwalk stroll to a strenuous 5-mile hike of climbing dunes of loose sand. The views are spectacular regardless of the trail or your adventure-seeking status.

Park Trails

Interdune Boardwalk: Easy 0.4-mile boardwalk stroll.  There is a shaded canopy with a few chairs along the path.

  • Playa Trail: Easy 0.5-mile hike of both brown and white sand.
  • Dune Life Trail: Moderate 1-mile hike with two steep dunes.
  • Backcountry Camping Trail: Moderate 2-mile hike with several steep dunes.
  • Alkali Flat Trail: 5-mile hike where you will trudge up and down dunes.  This one is a workout!

The first three trails listed provide better chances of observing wildlife.  The last two are for more serious hikers or those seeking exercise.  

You can find more details about hiking in our White Sands National Park travel guide.

Sand Sledding

Do you have fond childhood memories of sledding in the snow? Well, you can relive those memories in the desert! 

Can you really sled in the sand? Yes, and it is a blast! Saucer sleds and wax bars can be purchased at the gift shop in the park. Or, you can bring your own.  

Apply a thin layer of wax to the bottom of your saucer before each sled run and you are ready for takeoff.  

Sand sledding may not be the fountain of youth, but it certainly is the sandbox of youth. Climbing up the dunes can be tiresome, but the joyful laughter on the ride down makes it all worthwhile. 

Playing in the Sand

Imagine an ocean of white sand for as far as you can see. Picture mountains on the horizon. You are now in the largest sandbox you have ever seen. You can’t help but want to play!

The sands here at White Sands National Park are made of gypsum. They do not absorb heat. The sand is soft and cool to the touch. Feeling the sand between your toes soothes the soul.

Bring a pail and shovel, and you can play until your heart’s content. This is perfect for kids. It is also fun for adults.

You can bring your dog for a romp in the sand too. Just be sure to keep Fido on a leash. You can all have fun together. We even saw someone sledding with her dog!

Photography

Sparkling white dunes of sand below an infinite blue sky begs for pictures. Be sure to bring your camera. You will want to capture the scene for posterity.   

You do not need a specific spot. The vistas are breathtaking in all directions. Snap away.

Observing Wildlife

white sands national park

Seeing animals in the wild is exhilarating. Admittedly, this can be challenging in White Sands. Most desert critters are nocturnal. Many blend in with the white sands.

Your best opportunities for wildlife sightings are near the visitor center and on the Interdune Boardwalk, Playa Trail, and Dune Life Nature Trail.  

Why is this?  There is more vegetation in these areas.

Another tip is to stay for sunset. As the sun fades from view, the desert comes to life. This dramatically improves your odds of seeing and hearing wildlife. Plus, you will get a great view and a chance for more pictures.

Searching for Wildlife Tracks

Do you like looking for clues? Then searching for wildlife tracks is the activity for you! Some of the more common tracks found at White Sands National Park belong to:

  • Greater roadrunner
  • Horned lark
  • Bleached earless lizard
  • Apache pocket mouse
  • Kangaroo rat
  • Desert cottontail
  • Kit fox
  • Coyote

Stay in the areas suggested above for observing wildlife and you should find tracks from various desert creatures. This is a great chance to learn more about the park and its inhabitants.

Watching the Sunset

I find sunrise and sunset to be beautiful no matter the location. However, there are a few places that make this feel a bit more special. White Sands National Park is one of those places.  

The park offers a sunset stroll. It is a leisurely ranger-guided walk to enjoy the sunset.

This is such a wonderful way to close out the day. Watching the blue sky give way to a fiery orange glow brings a sense of calm. It’s as if the white sand dunes are wishing you sweet dreams.

Camping

white sands national park view

Camping in White Sands National Park is one of the more popular activities. Sleeping under the stars allows you to connect with nature.  Unfortunately, it is closed right now for rehabilitation of the camping sites.  

Hopefully camping will be available again in the near future. You can monitor the park website for updates.

Stargazing

Because of its location, White Sands National Park has very little light pollution. Watching the black sky light up with millions of stars, revealing the Milky Way, is such a treat.  

Camping in the park allows you to accomplish this on your own schedule.  Until that becomes available again, you still have a couple opportunities for stargazing.

The park offers full moon nights and full moon hikes. On full moon nights from May through October, the park stays open later. You can sit and watch the moon illuminate the dunes.  

Each day before the full moon from April through October, the park offers full moon hikes. You can hike the sand dunes beneath the glow of the moon.  

Note that the full moon hike requires a reservation and an additional fee.

Both of these activities provide possibilities of wildlife sightings and stargazing. You will need to schedule your trip accordingly to participate in either of these.

You can find the 2022 dates for the full moon nights and full moon hikes in our White Sands National Park travel guide.

Picnicking

white sands picnic

Are you looking for a surreal picnic lunch location?  You found it! White Sands offers three designated picnic areas. Each has shaded picnic tables, grills and restroom facilities. The vistas are stunning.  

There is plenty of sand for playing. This just might be your most memorable picnic yet.

Bicycling

Looking for a different bike riding experience? You can bike on the hard-packed sand road through a sea of sand dunes.  

Dunes Drive is 8 miles to the back of the park. The first 5 miles are paved. The last 3 miles are hard-packed sand.

The scenery is spectacular the entire way. The experience will be quite different from your standard ride. It is one you will not forget.

Planning Your Visit to White Sands NP

white sands national park

There are plenty of things to do in White Sands National Park. Whether you want a casual play day or hard core exercise, you can find an adventure to meet your needs.

See our complete guide for White Sands National Park for more details on the park, activities and planning your adventure.  

If you are looking for travel guides to other national parks, check out our site at Miles with McConkeyNever stop exploring.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
White Sands National Park in New Mexico
Scott McConkey

We are Scott and Julie of Miles with McConkey. After nearly 30 years, we took a leap of faith out of the corporate world to enjoy a life of travel and adventure. We hope to inspire you to find ways to travel more and enjoy life now.