Located near Alamogordo, New Mexico, White Sands National Park is the world’s largest gypsum sand dune field, one of the natural wonders of the world, and 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.
Originally published in September 2017, this article was updated in January 2020 to acknowledge White Sands National Monument’s “promotion” to full-fledged national park.
I paid full price to slide down the dunes, hike the sandy hills, and otherwise explore White Sands National Park. But you can count on me to always share my honest opinions no matter who is footing the bill.
With 275 square miles of bright white sand dunes the delicate texture of sugar, White Sands National Park near Alamogordo, New Mexico, is a uniquely beautiful place to visit in the Land of Enchantment. But with the unique environment come additional precautions for a safe visit.
Be sure to pack these essentials when you visit White Sands National Park in New Mexico:
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What to Take to White Sands Item #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, anywhere from 20 to 30F, so bring adequate clothing for the weather conditions.
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.
What to Take to White Sands Item #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, making 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.
Pro Tip: If you have a National Park Passport, don’t forget to pack it and get it stamped at the White Sands Visitor Center.
What to Take to White Sands Item #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, including these aerial, geo-referenced, unigrid, or Dunes Drive maps.
Related Article: Fun Things to do When You Visit White Sands National Park
What to Take to White Sands Item #4 – Sun Protection
Even in cooler temperatures, the sun reflecting off of the gypsum sand can cause severe sunburns. Wear a hat, sunglasses, and at least SPF 15 sunscreen. And don’t forget to reapply sunscreen as directed!
What to Take to White Sands Item #5 – Water
LOTS of it! It’s easy to get dehydrated quickly in the arid conditions of the Chihuahuan 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.
What to Take to White Sands Item #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
Pro Tip: 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 especially in love with the new, easy-to-carry PediaLyte powder packets that can be added to regular drinking water for a boost of electrolytes.
What to Take to White Sands Item #7 – A 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, so remember that it is often possible to successfully text even if you cannot complete a phone call. If you have an emergency and are unable to dial 911, text message a friend and ask them to call 911 for you.
What to Take to White Sands Item #8 – Whistle
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.
What to Take to White Sands Item #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.
What to Take to White Sands Item #10 – Full Tank of Gas
The White Sands Visitor Center does not sell gas, and the nearest gas station is about 15 miles away in Alamogordo, New Mexico.
Have You Visited the 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.
More Information and Inspiration for Visiting New Mexico
Visiting Southern New Mexico (In and Around Las Cruces)
- New Mexico’s flavorful chiles are the best in the world. Enjoy them at the best Mexican restaurants in Las Cruces for an experience you won’t get any of the other 49 states. And if you need a break from green chiles, check out these other Las Cruces restaurants.
- While many cities add beautiful street art to buildings, bridges, and other structures, the murals in Las Cruces use a unique canvas.
- The historic town of Mesilla, near Las Cruces, New Mexico, was once the stomping grounds of Wild West legends like Billy the Kid and Pancho Villa.
- For hundreds of years, people traveled through Las Cruces, New Mexico on the famed El Camino Real as they traded goods from Mexico City to Santa Fe. Experience 2,000 years along the Royal Highway in about ten minutes via this free exhibit.
Visiting Northern New Mexico
- From its rich history to its delicious food, here’s why Albuquerque is an up and coming US travel destination. Be sure to explore the Albuquerque BioPark and Belen Harvey House when you’re in this part of New Mexico.
- With traditions like farolitos, Las Posadas, biscochitos, cozy fireplaces ablaze with fragrant pinon wood, and tamales smothered in red chile, Christmas lovers need to visit Santa Fe during the holidays for a one-of-a-kind Southwestern experience.
Throughout the State of New Mexico
- With a red Zia sun symbol against a bright yellow background, New Mexico’s flag stands out from the other 49 states. Discover how a sacred symbol ended up on the New Mexico state flag.
- Cutting horizontally through the state, what was once historic Route 66 is now predominantly Interstate 40. But you can still get a glimpse of the Mother Road that was as you travel through New Mexico. This is especially in Tucumcari where decaying roadside attractions meet active restoration projects.
- Here’s why New Mexico’s “Chile Capital of the World” license plate makes me spicy…
- Find even more advice on what to do, where to stay, and what to eat on this New Mexico Pinterest board.