Becca and Matt
Apr 02, 2022

1 Day in White Sands National Park

If you find yourself in the southern part of NM on HWY 70, it is definitely worth your time to make a stop at White Sands National Park. 

You could easily spend a full day here at this park but if all you have is a day or even a couple of hours, it is an easy park to check out for a brief visit.

The biggest hurdle is getting to the area which is a bit remote, but if you are already nearby then the visit itself is easy and straightforward. 


Unfortunately, there isn’t any overnight RV camping in the park although you can go backcountry camping. For those in campers or RVs, there are a few campgrounds in the area where you can stay.

When we visited, we decide to stay at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park which was about 30 minutes away. It was a nice campground with epic sunsets over the mountain range.

During our time here in January, it was VERY cold but the campground offered electric hookups so we stayed nice and toasty inside with our heater. 

The only complaint was the walk to the bathroom. They made a nice trail for all the campsites to have a route to the facilities but it was a bit of an adventure to wander into the windy, dark, cold night to get to the toilet.

The bonus part was getting a front row view of the star-filled skies that even in the cold were hard to not stop and awe at. We had a great stay here and would go there again when in the area. 


What to do in the park

The park doesn’t have a ton of hiking trails. I viewed the park more like a huge play area and less of a hiking destination if that makes sense.

The dunes are irresistible and you will find yourself at some point gleefully running (or sledding if you rent or bring a sled) down the dunes. 

There is an interdune boardwalk that is an 0.4-mile roundtrip stroll through dunes. Playa trail is a self-guided trail and is an easy 0.5 mile round trip with outdoor exhibits along the way. 

Dune Life Nature Trail is a moderate 1-mile self-guided loop hike with 2 steep dunes along the way. The Backcountry camping trail is a moderate 2-mile round trip hike. 

The grand finale is the Alkali Flat trail which is a strenuous 5-mile round trip hike. The biggest challenge of this trail is that it requires going up and down dunes the entire way. 

We chose the Alkali Flat Trail and although it was hard to walk up the dunes (you feel like you are sliding half a step back with each step) we are by no means advanced hikers nor were we super prepared for the hike.

We did go in January on a cold but sunny day so during warmer temperatures I don’t think I would have enjoyed it nearly as much. There is no shade so I can imagine in the heat it would feel like a very lonely, hot desert. 

In Summary

Whatever you end up deciding to do, be sure to get out and play in the sand. Bring a picnic, watch the sunset, and most importantly, be prepared to play in the sand! :) 

Let us know in the comments below if you have been to this National Park before. What trail did you explore? 

You can check out our video of White Sands National Park where we explore not one but two national parks in 1 week! 

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I was born in Switzerland, grew up in North Carolina, and now live in sunny California when we are not traveling! Registered Dietitian by trade, but a full-time traveler at heart!

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