Located near Alamogordo, New Mexico, White Sands National Park is the world’s largest gypsum sand dune field. As one of the natural wonders of the world, it is a truly magical place to visit. But there are limited services and amenities available, so here is an important list of what to take to White Sands National Park.
With 275 square miles of bright white sand dunes the delicate texture of sugar, White Sands National Park is a uniquely beautiful place to visit in the Land of Enchantment. But with the unique environment come additional precautions for a safe visit. Before you head for these beautiful, ever shifting sand dunes near Alamogordo in Southern New Mexico, be sure you’ve packed these essentials.
Sage Advice: You may be asking yourself, “What is the White Sands National Monument?” Before it was upgraded to a national park in December 2019, this unique park in the American Southwest was known as White Sands National Monument. Although a few years have passed since White Sands received this “promotion,” you may still see America’s 62nd national park referred to as White Sands National Monument in some places.
White Sands National Park is one of the natural wonders of the world and a magnificent natural playground. But its natural beauty also means there are limited amenities, so it’s important to pack wisely when you visit.
Skim the table of contents below and easily jump to any item you need to add to your packing list. Then click “Other Practical Tips” for answers to frequently asked questions and other helpful advice to help you plan your adventure.
1. Weather Forecast
Know the hour-by-hour weather forecast for the duration of your visit, including when the sun will set. It is best to explore White Sands either earlier or later in the day, avoiding the hottest midday temperatures and strongest UV rays.
If you are exploring White Sands National Park in the later part of the day, be sure you have adequate time to complete your hike before the sun sets. Also, be aware that temperatures in the desert drop drastically after sunset. And by “drastically” I mean that the mercury can plummet as much as 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit! So bring adequate clothing for the weather conditions when you visit White Sands.
Speaking of weather conditions, this is what you can expect based upon the time of year that you visit:
- February through May is windy season. Winds tend to move in quickly, reducing visibility and increasing the chances of being disoriented.
- Summer is the hottest time of year. The temperatures at White Sand in the summer months often exceed 100F (38C).
- June through September is monsoon season. Thunderstorms are common, and you may encounter lightning without rain.
- November through February is the coldest time of year and overnight temperatures are often below freezing.
2. A Plan
Tell someone who is not visiting White Sands with you where you are going within the park and when you plan to return. Never hike alone, and always keep your children in sight. The wind easily sifts the lightweight, gypsum sand. This makes the terrain look different than it did earlier, erasing your tracks, and making it easy to get lost.
Do not start a hike if the temp is at or above 85F! Tragically, a French couple died and their 9-year-old son was found severely dehydrated when attempting a hike on a 100F day in 2015.
Sage Advice: If you have a National Park Passport, don’t forget to pack it and get it stamped at the White Sands Visitor Center. And if you are forever forgetting to pack your National Park Passport (like me), buy a set of these stickers and keep them in your purse!
3. Park Map
In the ever-shifting sand dunes of White Sands National Park, it doesn’t take much for even the most experienced nature lover to lose his or her bearings. The National Park Services makes it easy for you to take a park map with you when you visit White Sands National Park
Related Article: Fun Things to do When You Visit White Sands National Park
4. Sun Protection
Even in cooler temperatures, the sun reflecting off of the gypsum dunes can cause severe sunburns. Wear a hat, sunglasses, and at least SPF 15 sunscreen. And don’t forget to reapply sunscreen as directed!
Related Article: 100+ Powerful Desert Quotes for Instagram and Photo Captions
5. LOTS of Water
It’s easy to get dehydrated quickly in the arid conditions of the Chihuahua Desert. Pack at least one gallon of drinking water per person. Water bottles can be filled at the White Sands Visitor Center, but there is no water out in the dunes.
6. High-Energy and Salty Snacks
A condition called hyponatremia can occur when you’ve had too much water without replenishing electrolytes or eating salts. If you’ve had plenty of water but begin experiencing nausea, muscle cramps, or disorientation, then be sure to munch on a salty snack.
Easy-to-carry, high-energy, salty snacks include:
- Dried fruit
- Trail mix
- Energy bars
Sage Advice: Add a few sports drinks, a bottle of PediaLyte, or other electrolyte-rich options to your water supply to help fight against hyponatremia. We are big fans of the new, easy-to-carry PediaLyte powder packets that can be added to regular drinking water for a boost of electrolytes.
7. Fully-Charged Cell Phone
Be sure your phone is fully charged before you head out into the white sand dunes. If possible, take a portable charger with you. Conserve your phone battery by placing it in airplane mode or turning it off completely while you are out exploring the dune field.
Cell phone coverage can vary throughout White Sands. Even if you cannot complete a phone call, you may be able to successfully send a text message. If you have an emergency and are unable to dial 911, text message a friend and ask them to call 911 for you.
A whistle is louder and carries farther than a human voice, especially a human who is experiencing dehydration or other distress. So be sure you always take a whistle to White Sands.
9. Flashlight and Extra Batteries
Taking in the sunset at White Sands National Park is an amazing experience. But once the sun sets, it is very dark in the park. Be sure to have both a flashlight and extra batteries on hand. Or, better yet, explore after dark with a rechargeable lantern or hands-free with a rechargeable headlamp.
10. Full Tank of Gas
The White Sands Visitor Center does not sell gas, and the nearest gas station is about 15 miles away near Alamogordo, New Mexico.
Most people don’t visit the American Southwest with a snow sled in tow. And, it’s not necessarily practical to add it to this list of items to pack, especially if you’re visiting White Sands on a road trip.
However, one of the best things to do at White Sands National Park is sand sledding down the steep dunes. Fortunately, you can rent a sled at the Visitor Center and spend all day dune sledding!
Other Practical Tips for Visiting White Sands National Park
What's the Best Place to Stay Near White Sands National Park
Camping at White Sands National Park is extremely limited and very rustic. There is no water, no restrooms, and you’ll need to haul all of your gear over the shifting white dunes. I’m sure it’s an amazing experience if you’re into that. But I’m not ashamed to admit that I prefer running water and electricity!
For modern-day accommodations, you have two options:
- Alamogordo, about 20 miles east of the park
- Las Cruces, about 50 miles southwest of White Sands
While Alamogordo is closer to White Sands, Las Cruces is a larger city with a wider selection of attractions, accommodations, and amenities.
If you head east to Alamogordo, a safe bet is the Holiday Inn Express Hotel and Suites on Kerry Ave. For more unique experience, stay at the Tavares Inn. Located on five acres just west of the Sacramento Mountains, this beautiful bed and breakfast is a pet-friendly accommodation.
Hotel Encanto de Las Cruces is a beautiful hotel that embraces the city’s Spanish and Mexican culture with original artwork, beautiful textiles, and tasteful furnishings.
Or fully immerse yourself in the area’s rich history by staying at Josefina’s Old Gate. This quaint adobe house is located in historic Mesilla, a small district in the southwest part of Las Cruces once frequented by Wild West legends like Billy the Kid and Pancho Villa.
Sage Advice: Here are several recommendations for visiting Las Cruces including the best Mexican restaurants in town.
What to Wear to White Sands National Park
It’s not uncommon to experience a 30 degree Fahrenheit difference in temperature at White Sands National Park. Dress in layers so that it’s easy to bundle up or strip down accordingly. It’s also a good idea to sport bright colors — like hot pink or hunter safety orange — so that you’re easier to spot if you get lost or disoriented.
The gypsum sand is very fine and will get into every nook and cranny of your tennis shoes or hiking shoes. So unless you plan on walking several miles or really need the ankle support, I recommend wearing hiking sandals or even going barefoot at White Sands National Park. I absolutely love my Keen hiking sandals because I can toss them in the washing machine when I get home!
No matter what time of year you visit White Sands, the sun reflecting off of the soft white sand can cause severe sunburns. Be sure to wear a apply sunscreen and wear a hat and sunglasses.
Sage Advice: Here are more tips on what to wear to White Sands National Park.
Best time to visit White Sands National Park
My favorite time to visit White Sands is in the spring or fall. The days are longer than in winter, but the weather is more mild than summer. Visiting White Sands in the spring allows you to see the desert in bloom. And when you visit White Sands in the fall, the summer heat is usually gone (and so are most of the visitors).
Can you take dogs to White Sands National Park?
Yes, dogs are allowed to visit White Sands National Park with you! Your furry best friend needs to be on a leash and under your control at all times.
Related Article: Petiquette – Etiquette Rules to Follow When Traveling with Your Dog
Can you take sand from White Sands National Park?
An important component of Leave No Trace is that you leave what you find when enjoying our national parks. That includes the soft cool white sand at White Sands National Park.
Have You Visited White Sands National Park?
What did you do when you visited? Is there anything you’d add to this list of what to take to White Sands? Share your comments below.
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32 thoughts on “What to Take to White Sands National Park (Don’t Forget These 10 Essentials)”
What is it like in the winter? We are planning on going this December. I know that’s not an ideal time, but it’s what our schedule allows. Will the sand be wet or just freezing?
I’d say neither. It will definitely be cold, but I live in the Midwest and Southern NM is so much nicer in the winter. And the sand always has this slight moisture to it — not wet at all, but not scratchy and dry. You’ll still have a blast! Just be sure to dress in layers, pack plenty of water, and wear sun protection. Have fun! Tag me in an Instagram pick or two, if you think of it! I’d love to hear more about your adventure!
Great tips and advice on what to do and bring. A detachable whistle is now attached to my backpack for all future trips! Thank you! Sage advice indeed!
Fantastic! I keep one in my camera bag/backpack so one is always with me, too!
A whistle is a great tip! When I saw it I wondered what it was for. Thanks for the idea.
Believe it or not, I’ve used mine a time or two!
Great post. Somehow, in all my trekking through New Mexico I’ve never made it to White Sands. That needs to change as soon as possible!
You’d love it! It’s such a great place!
Although this national park looks amazing – and I’m a big fan of dunes’n’deserts – your warnings are making me a bit nervous. Sounds like if I don’t follow your recommendations, the following generations will find -Dmy bones under a thin layer of sand. However, remembering to take your fully charged phone with you is crucial. I also went on hikes without my phone – and felt really foolish.
Oh, gosh, I don’t mean to cause alarm, but you DO want to be very careful about a) having PLENTY of water with you and b) not losing track of your surroundings. If you’re a dunes and deserts person, you know all too well how easily the landscape can change (and how simple it is to lose your bearings).
White Sands National Park sounds like such a fantastic place to visit! Sun protection and lots of water are such critical recommendations when entering a desert, but I often forget things like the high energy snacks. These are all great suggestions.
After reading this article I am not going to lie, I am a tad scared to go. But, in the best type of way. Its that fear that makes you want to do it so you can say you conquered it. A challenge. I defiantly think its worth it too! It sounds beautiful from what I have heard and the things you have said. I really like how it starts off with the safety of this journey. I didn’t fully realize how dangerous it can be out in a desert. I really like the whistle idea too! I would’ve never thought about that. Thank you for such a great article!
Gosh, I don’t mean to cause alarm, but I am always reminded of a French couple who visited with their middle-school-aged son. They went on a hike, didn’t have enough water, got lost, and the parents both died. As a parent, that just breaks my heart! You can go and have a TON of fun. Just be smart (and now you have all the tips to enjoy this natural wonder safely)!
This sounds exciting and exhausting! I think it would remind me a bit of the Sahara (not that I’ve ever been there) or something like that. New Mexico isn’t too far away, so maybe we will have to visit sometime down the line. Thanks for the suggestion and all the info about it!
I’ve always wanted to visit White Sands. It looks so other-worldly and I’m sure I would love the expansive views of nothing but sand! In fact, my parents used to RV in the southwest and it was one of their favorite places. Thanks for a great list of what to bring when I go. I would have never thought of brining a whistle!
Great list- I love the whistle tip! Small and easy to fit in any bag I just heard about this park and have definitely added it to my places to visit – your pictures are gorgeous!
We’ve just about visited all of the National Parks in the west, and now that White Sands has become one as well, it’s on our short list. Definitely looking forward to getting to New Mexico and checking this place out, hopefully in the near future. Thanks for all the tips in making for a successful visit!
I have been seeing a lot about White Sands Park lately. I can see why, its gorgeous and certainly is a place I’d love to see. The tips on what to bring are great, especially the whistle. I would have never thought to bring that.
I think it’s been in the news a lot lately because it’s officially a national park now (and no longer a national monument). Hooray!
You just introduced me to a must-see destination when taking a road trip through New Mexico – definitely adding this to our bucket list. 275 square miles of bright white sand all around sounds like a sight to behold! Will definitely keep all these helpful packing tips in mind when planning this visit.
I’d love to hear what you think after you get a chance to visit!
Wow, it’s so white it nearly looks like snow! I can imagine it’s stunning to look at, but being so white in colour, it’s going to refelct every bit of sun. I’m glad you talked about sunscreen. It looks so peaceful there.
White Sands offers all of the fun of snow without any of the cold!
What an amazing place to experience! Great advice on making sure you are properly prepared, both to make the most of it and to stay safe!
It is an absolutely unique and beautiful place, but it certainly requires planning ahead!
These are such great suggestions, Sage. I love the whistle idea. You definitely want to be sure you can be found if you get lost 😉
Although I purchased the whistle for hiking, I tend to carry it everywhere I travel. It can also get someone’s attention in the middle of Times Square, for example, if needed! 🙂
This is a great post! I would not have thought of most of these tips as a city girl. It is quite scary to think it could be dangerous to visit if the temperature is above 85! Seems worth seeing despite the prep wok based on the beautiful pictures!
Oh, it’s surprising how fast a arid environment can dehydrate you, especially when you live in a more humid destination!
It must be an amazing landscape to visit. I can see why thorough preparations are necessary though, very useful!
Amen on the sun protection! It was so hot during my visit here but was so beautiful I wanted to stay all day. Thanks for sharing!
That tip was written by someone who had her first bit of skin cancer removed from her let in her 30s. (Me) I’m a big fan of sunscreen! 🙂