White Sands National Park: Sledding in June
We just returned from a two-week trip to six National Parks. Our first two stops were to the Guadalupe Mountains and Carlsbad Caverns National Parks. Next up, was White Sands National Park just three hours away near Alamogordo, New Mexico.
Dunes of white sand stretch out as far as the eye can see. The sand is formed by crushed gypsum, part of the ancient Permian Basin. It is the largest gypsum dune field in the world.
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Where is White Sands National Park?
White Sands NP is located next to White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) and nearby Holloman Air Force Base and resides within the land owned by the military for the Missile Range. WSMR became a permanent resident during World War II and was the Trinity testing site for the Manhattan Project, later known to the world as the Atomic Bomb. Today, it continues to be used as an important scientific research and testing facility for both missile defense and space exploration.
The entrance is just off Highway 70. As you drive down Dunes Drive, you pass by the Ranger Station. The Pueblo Revival-style adobe building was built in the 1930s as a job-creation project during the Great Depression. There is a small gift shop, and you can purchase your day passes or park pass there. As of June 2021, they were only allowing two groups into the stop/temporary ranger station at a time, one group to shop and another to check out.
What is there to do in White Sands?
There are public restrooms on the side of the Visitor's Center. There’s only one road (Dune Rd) into the Park with a few stop-offs along the way. One of those stop-offs is a boardwalk that walks out to the dunes and provides information about the desert plants and life in the area.
Where is the best place to sled at White Sands National Park?
The ranger told me that the best sledding is at the end of Dune Rd, so that’s where we drove. It's easy to see why that is the case: when you first start driving, you can see some plants sticking out of the bottom of the dunes. As you continue into the park, the plants disappear and give way to towering sand dunes.
The sand is pleasantly warm – not hot – despite being in the middle of summer. You can easily park your car, walk straight up a dune, and slide down in a matter of minutes. You can also walk further along the dunes and find undisturbed sand. Despite being a small Park, there were seemingly few people there. You'll notice in the picture at the beginning of this article that I took a picture of Bill and the kids with no one else in the panorama.
Where can I buy or rent a sled for White Sands National Park?
There is another gift shop behind the NPS visitor center that is owned by the Western National Parks Association. There, you can buy a round sled to take down the dunes.
In front of the register, they sell surfer’s wax to break up friction and produce a smoother ride, (read: to make you go FAST!). It’s worth the $1.50 investment. The sled prices vary and were $25 in July 2023 to purchase new.
If you return your sled at the end of your visit, they’ll give you a White Sands National Park magnet or a koozie. We purchased one when we went in 2021 and then actually remembered to bring the sleds back this summer when we went in July.
How to Sled in White Sands National Park
Most of us have probably sledded before, but just in case, I’ll give a tip. Create a trail and use it! Once you have a trail created, you can go pretty fast with your surfer’s wax generously applied to your sled. All you have to do is take the wax and rub it on like a crayon each time before you go down the hill.
Lake Lucero Ranger Tour
Once a month, from November to March, a White Sands National Park Ranger leads a tour to Lake Lucero and explains the origins of the gypsum sands. Lake Lucero is usually a dry lake bed that only fills when there is a lot of snow or rain in the area.
The tour takes you into the lake bed and onto a geologic exploration of the area. You will see exposed selenite crystals which help to form the gypsum sand that we know and love.
Tickets for the Lake Lucero ranger-led tour can be purchased on recreation.gov and are available two months prior to the tour date.
White Sands Full Moon Tour Led by Park Ranger
Hike along the Dune Life Nature Trail (moderate) and enjoy the light of the full moon on a ranger-led hike.
Note that there is a steep climb up the dunes from the start on the desert plain. The trail is about 1 mile long.
Hiking Trails in White Sands National Park
There are really only 2 trails to take and they are very different from each other. Most people will opt for the Interdune Boardwalk Trail and then continue on to sled on their favorite dune.
Alkali Flat Trail - A Mesmerizing Journey
The Alkali Flat Trail is a 5-mile round trip adventure that immerses you in the heart of this pristine gypsum dune field. As you set foot on this trail, the striking contrast between the pure white sands and the blue New Mexico sky is truly something to behold.
The trail itself is marked with orange trail markers, guiding you through the shifting dunes.
The hike may be challenging due to the shifting sand underfoot, but the unique experience is well worth it. Remember to carry plenty of water, especially during the hotter months, and wear sunscreen to protect yourself from the intense desert sun.
Interdune Boardwalk Trail - Unveiling Micro Wonders
For those looking for a shorter, family-friendly option, the Interdune Boardwalk Trail is perfect. This easy half-mile loop offers a unique perspective of the park's ecosystem that's often overlooked. As you stroll along the elevated boardwalk, you'll be able to observe the diverse plant and animal life that thrive in this seemingly harsh environment.
Is White Sands good for visiting with kids?
This is one of those small parks that you can get easily into and out of whenever you are ready. Bill and I were previously here 20 or so years ago and we remembered coming in and going out pretty fast. Going with kids – or a large group of friends – would probably make you want to add time. Out of the six regional National Parks that we did on this trip, the kids decided that this one was unequivocally their favorite. I have to admit, I had more fun than I had anticipated because it was so much fun sledding with them. Of course, you also have to factor in that we are Texans and rarely see snow so sledding alone was quite a novelty.
This Park is worth a visit on its own or as previously mentioned, it can easily be combined with Carlsbad and Guadalupe and/or heading west to Saguaro National Park in Tucson. As a matter of fact, that's our next stop - check back next week for an article about it.
White Sands Important Information
The entrance is off of Highway 70, 54 miles east of Las Cruces, NM
The park is open from 7a – 6p
Check NPS’s White Sands page for road closures because Hwy 70 and Dunes Drive are sometimes closed for up to three hours during missile testing
Bring sunscreen and hats for your protection. Also, make sure to bring plenty of water.
Fees per the NPS website (as of February 2023)
White Sands National Park Entrance - Vehicle - $25.00. Per vehicle fee is charged to visitors for entry by a single, private non-commercial vehicle. Entrance fees are valid for reentry for seven consecutive days from the date of purchase.
White Sands National Park Entrance - Person - $15.00. Per person fee is charged to visitors for entry by means other than a single, private non-commercial vehicle. This includes, but is not limited to, individuals who enter the park by walking and bicycling. Entrance fees are valid for reentry for seven consecutive days from the date of purchase.
White Sands National Park Entrance - Motorcycle - $20.00
America the Beautiful - Annual Park Pass - $80.00. The America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass covers entrance, standard amenity fees, and day-use fees for a driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle at per vehicle fee areas (or up to four adults at sites that charge per person) at over 2,000 federal recreation sites across the country. Children age 15 or under are admitted free
The parks passport station is in the temporary gift shop / ranger station when you first enter the park (near the register). Here's a fun fact that we learned while we were there - some National Parks actually have secret stamps that they keep behind the counter. White Sands is one of the parks that has them!
How to Get TO White Sands National Park FROM:
I-25 to US-380E
Las Cruces, NM
El Paso, TX
I-10W and US-70E
US-180W/US-62 AND US-54E
US-90W and I-10W
Things to Do Near White Sands National Park
Alamogordo is the nearest town to White Sands. It's a rather sleepy town aside from Holloman Air Force Base.
In the 1980s, a couple of families started pistachio farms. The most famous is McGinn's Pistachioland which actually was the 2nd one to the area. It has the world's largest pistachio made out of concrete and metal. They have a wonderful tour and they have a variety of pistachios to try and then buy. We love their bags of red and green chile pistachios.