8 Tips for Visiting White Sands National Monument

Posted By Natalie on Feb 6, 2018

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Hello Fellow Adventurer!

Planning a trip to New Mexico?

My family took a long road trip through New Mexico and were amazed at how much there is to do in this desert state. You can read all about our trip at Utah’s Adventure Family. We explored lots of National Parks and Monuments, but our favorite find in New Mexico was White Sands National Monument.

White Sands National Monument is located in Southern New Mexico just outside of Alamogordo. The white sand is dazzling, and makes for great photo opportunities. There are a lot of fun activities for everyone, too, especially kids. Our boys loved playing in the huge white sand dunes of White Sands National Monument.

We want to make sure you are prepared for your trip to White Sands, so here are our tips for visiting this National Monument.

Image with photo and text. Photo of a young boy sledding down a white sand dune at White Sands National Park in New Mexico.

Bring Sleds

Bring sleds or something to slide down the sand dunes. Everyone will want a chance to sled down the white sand, so bring enough to share. We were unprepared, but luckily we were able to purchase some sleds at the store by the Visitor Center. They will even buy them back at half price if you don’t want to keep them. The best deal is to throw a few sleds in the car when you head to White Sands. Check out our sledding adventures on our post about White Sands National Monument at Utah’s Adventure Family.

Watch the Movie

We love learning about the history of the parks that we visit, and the short video in the Visitor Center is definitely worth watching. It helped us understand where this white sand came from, and we also enjoyed learning about the animals that dwell in White Sands National Monument

Junior Ranger Program

We always encourage families to participate in the Junior Ranger program. It helps kids learn about nature and take some responsibility for protecting our National lands. Pick up the booklet in the Visitor Center when you stop in to watch the movie.

You can also print booklets ahead of time on the White Sands National Monument website. This is our best secret! We work on the books on the drive, and then complete any hikes or programs that need to be done in the park when we get there. We find that having a head start really helps our kids not be frustrated trying to get 15 pages done all at once. It also builds excitement for the adventure.

Wear Sunglasses

The sun is blinding as it reflects off the white sand. We were so glad that we had sunglasses when we visited. We highly recommended sunglasses for everyone in the family. Another benefit of sunglasses is it helps keep sand out of your eyes if it happens to be windy or you crash when sledding. Also, make sure to wear sunscreen with those sunglasses. The reflection of the sun off the sand can bring a quick sunburn.

Footwear… Optional

We thought that the sand would burn our feet, so we were surprised when the sand was cool even in the hot afternoon sun. We were there in June, so August might have different temperatures, but we loved that we could walk around shoeless through the sand. If you plan on doing some hikes, take your hiking shoes. And you probably want flip flops for trips to the bathroom and in the Visitor Center. But when you are out on the cool white sand, enjoy going barefoot.

Pack Sand Toys

We were traveling for 10 days on our New Mexico trip, but we managed to squeeze a few sand toys in our vehicle. We were so glad that we did. Our boys loved sledding, but once they wore out from climbing up the dunes, they sat down to dig in the sand. We would highly recommend packing a few shovels and buckets, especially if you have young children.

Bring Your Own Food

There are lots of picnic spots along the drive through White Sands National Monument. They have a table, a shady cover, and a little barbecue space for cooking food. We were there in the afternoon and evening, so we took along a cooler with the fixins’ for hot dogs. We roasted them over the fire, and enjoyed hot dogs, chips, fruit and veggies for dinner. It saves time and money by bringing in your own food instead of running back to town to eat.

Check for Missile Tests

White Sands National Monument is located next to an Air Force Base. There are certain times they will close the monument due to missile tests going on in the area. Don’t let your whole vacation be ruined because you show up and the gates are closed. Check with the monument to make sure there are no tests scheduled on your visit. They usually know two weeks ahead of time! The Visitor Center will remain open, but you will not be able to drive out and see the actual white sand. So make sure to call ahead!

Good to Know

Where: The Visitor Center and Dunes Drive is located directly off of Highway US-70 about 15 minutes from Alamagordo. The entrance to the monument can be found between mile markers 199 and 200 on Highway US-70.

When: The park is open year-round, but the Visitor Center is usually only open from 9-5 while the Dune Drive is open at 7 am. The gates close depending on when the sun is setting, so they are open later in the summertime.

How much: The entrance fee was $5 per adult (anyone over 16), and children are FREE. We got in free with our son’s Every Kid in a Park Pass. Click the button to learn more about that in Allison’s post 4 Ways to Save on National Park Fees.

How Long: 2+ hours

Amenities: Visitor Center, gift shop, restrooms, picnic areas. There is no fuel or food sold inside the park. There is only backcountry camping in this park, which requires at least a one mile hike to a camping spot.

Website: www.nps.gov/whsa

How else can we help?

Need a flight? The nearest major airport to White Sands National Monument is El Paso International Airport. It is in Texas, about 85 miles away. There are several domestic and regional airports that are closer, including the Alamagordo-White Sands Regional Airport.

Click the button to visit Tips for Family Trips’ Air Travel page. It’s filled with ways to save on flights, and tips for making your flight with kids better.

Need a rental car? There is no public transportation into White Sands National Monument, so you’ll need your own car or a rental. Click the button to find the best rates from dozens of agencies at RentalCars.com.

Need a place to stay? We stayed in our RV in the Alamagordo KOA, which was only 15 minutes away from White Sands National Monument, but there are lots of camping locations and hotels in the area. Click the button to check rates and availability for local hotels at TripAdvisor.com.

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Natalie is a mother of three boys and one husband. She started Utah's Adventure Family in 2010 to help her friends and neighbors get out and enjoy their beautiful state. Since then she has written about adventures in over ten states out west. Natalie loves hiking, camping, reading, and finding new places to have fun with her family.

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