Spanning across 275 square miles of the Tularosa Basin in Southwestern New Mexico, White Sands National Park’s gypsum crystal dunes are something to be marveled at! While the dunes aren’t all that tall, maybe 40 feet at the highest, when finally climb to the top of one (and let me say, it is more difficult than you’d think!) you will look out on endless rolling hills of white. It is such a magical place that multiple movies, documentaries, and even music videos have been shot here! Go turn on Transformers and Transformers 2 and see if you recognize anything! (I’m about to go do that!)
White Sands National Park is very close to the White Sands Missile Testing Range. This is where the first atomic bomb was ever tested on July 16, 1945. Missiles are still presently tested in the White Sands Missile Testing Range, and as a result the road back into the dunes can be closed for up to three hours while testing is happening. The visitor’s center will stay open though, so check in with them first!
Who SHould Travel to White Sands National Park?
The absolute BEST thing about White Sands National Park for us was that it was DOG FRIENDLY! Dunes on dunes on dunes, and Auggie could come with us wherever we went, as long as she was always on leash. We are constantly having to leave Auggie in the van when we visit National Parks, so it was such a refreshing change to let her come with us everywhere we went. (The park rangers do drive around to look and will call you out on their bull horn if they see your dog off leash!) There are a few hikes through the dunes within White Sands National Park, but the huge attraction here (at least for us) was the sledding! So, if you are excited to sled somewhere other than the snow, this is the place for you!
Something to Note:
White Sands National Park also allows horses (just like Guadalupe Mountains National Park!) While we don’t have horses or really understand the rules for horses, White Sands does have a horse unloading area, and we saw (and heard!) some horses as we were sledding!
Sledding in White Sands National Park
White Sands Sledding Gear
Okay, so let’s talk about what you actually come to hear about: sledding! You have three options for sleds.
- You can bring your own sled.
- You can buy a new sled at the gift shop in the park ($24.99 as of February 2023).
- You can buy a used sled if they are available ($19.99 as of February 2023).
This is expensive for sure, so maybe bring your own sled. The gift shop sells the round snow saucers, which work the best in snow too, in my humble opinion! The only thing that we suggest you go get in the gift shop is the wax that goes on the bottom of the sled. Apparently this helps you go down the dunes better. Sand is not nearly as slippery as snow!
By the way, if you buy a sled from the gift shop, you are more than welcome to take it home with you (you bought it!). If you decide you want to bring it back after use though, you can bring it back for $5 (as of Feb 2023) in “sled bucks” which is basically store credit—so consider this a sled in exchange for an ice cream or small trinket. Lol. I think they will take back your wax block too, so you don’t just throw it out, but they won’t give you any money for it.
Here are our tips for sledding in White Sands:
- Park somewhere, and usually the dunes facing the parking areas are the steepest and make for the best sledding.
- It’s tough to get going sometimes, so you may have to have someone push you.
- Lean back, or curl up and lean back like an egg! This worked best for me!
- Put wax on the bottom of your sled often. (Honestly, I have no idea how this works, but the people at the park swear by it? So who am I to say no?)
- Try to go in the same path that you have created. This packs down the sand a bit and it makes it easier to sled down and you go faster!
- Running up dunes is SO much harder than it looks!!!!! I was EXHAUSTED running up my first one. Auggie had the best time ever chasing us and the sled and then running back up the hill. Plus this really tired her out!
Once you drive back towards the dunes you will hit a fee station, and the fees are pretty standard for a national park. I think about $25 per personal vehicle (vans included). However, if you are traveling full time, we HIGHLY suggest the annual America the Beautiful Pass, which is an $80 one time fee, but that thing pays itself off in about 3 trips to a national park!
Driving Back to the Dunes
Okay, so driving back, the roads are long and the first bit is paved, but then you will hit a loop around the dunes. The loop is just packed sand. This area is VERY well packed, and we had absolutely NO issues driving on it- honestly, I wouldn’t have known the difference between the packed sand and the pavement.
Phone Service in White Sands National Park
Zak has AT&T and I have Verizon. We have a Verizon MiFi that we use for internet.
The phone service for both Verizon and AT&T is spotty back in the dunes. For most of our time in the dunes, we got what “looked like” good service 1-4 bars LTE, but didn’t actually work. We call this “fake service”. However, towards the back of the loop, I got good enough service with our MiFi and my phone that I could tutor (with video!) for an hour. So it MAY be possible to work in White Sands, but you may have to move around some!
Camping/ Overnight in White Sands National Park
There are no RV sites or developed camp grounds in White Sands National Park, but there is backcountry camping, if you’re excited to have a tent full of sand! — I’m just kidding… I’m sure this would be a very magical experience, and looking at the stars among the dunes would be stunning.
Zak and I stayed in Alamogordo, which is maybe 20 minutes tops from the park. Las Cruces is about 50 miles from the park, and both of these places offer accommodations. If you’re in a van, we suggest downloading iOverlander, which has a ton of great overnight options, and there is BLM (Bureau of Land Management) around that area as well where you can park overnight for free.
Have Fun in White Sands!
Honestly, Zak and I weren’t really expecting to have all that much fun at White Sands, but we ended up having such an amazing time and spending a full day there. In fact, if we weren’t planning on heading to Mexico, we would have stayed even longer! I think the best thing about White Sands was that it was pet friendly because we didn’t have to leave Augs in the van while we went out and had fun. Overall, we highly suggest that you check this place out if you want to spend a day (or more!) playing around the dunes like a little kid! But BEWARE of ALL of the sand that will get into the van!
As always, if you have any questions at all, please feel free to email us at zak.fal.aug.blog.com or through our contact page. You can also find us on Instagram and YouTube at @zakandfal.
Before we go here, I just want to say that Zak is always the one behind the camera and has a really artistic eye… So while he’s not in the majority of these pics, we would have no pictures without him! – Thank you Zak!!!! You make me and Auggie feel beautiful 🙂