New MexicoWhite Sands

10 Best Things To Do At White Sands National Park

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There are so many wonderful activities to enjoy when in the Southwest, but what are the 10 best things to do at White Sands National Park?

This is a source of discussion among my family. My daughter likes to hike, I like to take pictures of the beautiful surroundings, and my son likes to dune sled. We all think our activity is the best. There really is something for everyone at this park.

From the gleaming white gypsum dunes to the flowering yucca, the beauty of this park draws people from all over the world. Humans long to be in big spaces that make us feel small and White Sands National Park delivers on this front.

Spend Time at the Visitor’s Center

Any national park visit should always begin at the visitor’s center and White Sands National Park is no exception. The visitor’s center is not only a place to gather information, speak to a ranger, learn about the history of the area and watch a video. It’s a place to enjoy the Pueblo Revival Style of architecture, that designers so lovingly handcrafted in the 1930’s.

The structure was styled after a mission church and the grandiosity of this is evident in the hand hewn beams and spiral staircase. Small square windows let light through that highlight the earthen terra cotta floors. For the appreciator of architecture, this is a great way to start your visit.

Taking A Walk

White Sands National Park has two trails that are excellent for the visitor that is not looking to hike but to stroll a little in an environment that will still excite and induce wonder.

The Interdune Boardwalk is perfect for this patron. This area is an easy walk, or roll if you need assistance. On your walk, ten kiosks will tell you all about the ecology and geology of White Sands National Park. From the animals that live in the bush to the geologic conditions that made the park what it is today, the boardwalk is full of useful and interesting facts.

The Playa Trail is a .5 mile trail that will take you into the playa. Small exhibits talk about the changes that the playa goes through on an ongoing basis and how the plants and animals of the playa adapt to this change. At the end of the walk, there is a kiosk that allows you to feel like you’ve traveled back in time to see what the playa may have looked like when giants wandered the Earth.

Hiking The Dunes

For the more athletic type, the Backcountry and Alkali Trails will be a welcomed adventure into the dunes and what it is like to be within the heart of White Sands.

The Backcountry Trail is a two mile hike that will take you through the dunes and to the camping area where you can set up camp or turn around and head back. This is a good hike for backpackers or for hikers that want to get their heart pumping.

The Alkali Flat Trail is the most strenuous hike in the park. This five mile hike will take you to the edge of the ancient Lake Otero. It is here that many fossils of the last ice age have been found. You will be hiking up and down dunes the entire way, so it will be helpful if you are physically fit.

The Dune Life Nature Trail is a happy medium between the two tougher hikes. This is a great trail for kids where they will follow Katy the Kit Fox and her friends in a one mile hike through the dunes. They will tell you about all of the animals that live in the dunes. This takes about an hour to complete.

Hiking the dunes is a must when checking off your list of the 10 best things to do in White Sands National Park.

Biking In White Sands National Park

Biking the park can be a great way to see the park and experience the outdoors, simultaneously. Ensure that you have a mountain bike or a bike with fatter tires as a road bike may not be suitable for the changing conditions of the sand blown road. Start at the visitor’s center and bike four miles to the end of the paved road, or keep going four more miles to the end. Stop and picnic along the way and enjoy the scenery.

White Sands National Park Tips

A few other White Sands National Park posts that might be helpful are:

Dune Sledding in the Park

This is the tops for my crew! In my opinion, there is no better place in the country for this activity. The sand never gets hot and the steep angles of the dunes give you some serious speed. There are also so many dunes to choose from, you will always have a hill to yourself.

Pick up a sled in Alamogordo or rent or buy one at the visitor’s center. Wax it up for maximum speed. Coupled with wax and speed, you’ll have a day full of the best memory making fun. Furthermore, go at sunset for one of the best late day shows in the country. Dune sledding is a must when completing the 10 best things to do in White Sands National Park.

10 Best Things To Do At White Sands National Park
Kids Dune Sledding At White Sands National Park

Enjoy a Ranger Led Tour In White Sands National Park

If you’re in White Sands and want to know everything, there’s no better person to talk to than a park ranger. Take one of the many ranger led tours of the park and learn all the hidden secrets of the park. Every night at sunset, a ranger will take you on a one hour tour and tell you about how the park transforms at night.

Ranger led, full moon hikes are amazing and can be taken a couple of times a month during the warmer months. Learn about the incredible moths at the park by attending the Mothapalooza in the summer. Additionally, you can also explore deeply into how the dunes are formed by taking a tour of Lake Lucero, the birthplace of the dunes. Any visit to White Sands National Park wouldn’t be complete without diving into the in depth knowledge of a ranger.

Plan a picnic

There are three picnic areas for you and your crew to enjoy. All 62 picnic spots are equipped with a grill and a covered picnic table. Bring burgers and grill out or make it easy and dine on sandwiches. There’s something really special about eating seven miles into the dunes. Although there may be others, you still feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere. We like to take dinner and dune sled while watching the sunset. Three birds killed with one stone.

Camping in the Dunes

When thinking of the 10 best things to do in White Sands National Park, camping definitely makes the list. Camping at White Sands National Park will be the most unique camping experience you will ever have. Obtain a permit from the visitor’s center and then backpack two miles into the dunes where you will see campsite markers. Likewise, ensure you set up the tent no more than five feet from the marker. Pack out all human and household waste. Sleeping under the Milky Way in the vast desert with all its night creatures will be one of your favorite camping memories.

Post for Campsite in White Sands National Park

Stargazing in White Sands National Park

The park closes after sunset every night. But, if you go to the visitor’s center, you can get a permit to stay past closing. Then, you can spend time enjoying the best night show around. Time it so that you can see one of the many meteor showers that occur in the Northern Hemisphere every year. Bring a zero gravity chair and watch the Milky Way slowly pass the window of Earth. Count the endless satellites that are visible in an International Dark Sky Park. The night brings serenity and quiet that you can’t experience at any other time in the park.

Photographing the Park

Taking pictures in a park like White Sands is every amateur and professional photographer’s dream. The contrast of the gleaming white sand against the mountains and endless sky give you images that stir passion and emotion. Go at various parts of the day and get starkly different images. The light changes throughout the day and creates a different scene. A cloudy day will give you a different mood than a sunny day. Furthermore, a sunrise will give images that will be the antithesis to the sunset you will capture later. Don’t forget to spring for that night photography permit and get the Milky Way on film.

A visit to White Sands National Park will turn up activities that can be enjoyed by anyone. Come early in the first moments of a new day, or enjoy the last glimmer of light at sunset. But, you are bound to find fun anytime of day to add to an awe-inspiring vacation.

Wendy Edwards
Wendy is a native of Atlanta, Georgia. But for the past seven years she has traveled by RV to many National Parks, monuments and everywhere in between. She and her family of five, a furry canine friend and a bearded dragon have crossed the United States thirty one times. She never tires of hiking, biking, camping and photographing this beautiful country.