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Besides Snapping a Cool Photo, Is White Sands National Park Worth It?

It’s a great photo opportunity, but is White Sands National Park Worth it? The park is one of the newest in the National Park Service system. Located in southern New Mexico, White Sands is known for its white gypsum sand that makes it look unworldly.

White Sands may feel pretty empty compared to Rocky Mountain or Yosemite National Parks. It’s like a beautiful beach but without an ocean. Not to mention, a fairly remote location makes it difficult for many people to get there. It may sound kind of boring to frequent national park visitors.

Let me convince you that White Sands National Park is worth it with these five facts.

1) You Can Go Sledding

Snow is pretty rare at White Sands National Park, but you don’t need it to go sledding there. The dunes make perfect hills for using a saucer for a fun ride. Don’t worry. The park endorses this. They ask that guests be careful not to sled into any roads or over any plants. If you’re visiting and forgot your sled, you can pick one up at the park store. The park’s official website lists two locations they suggest visitors check out for a fun sledding experience.

2) The Footprints in the Sand Tell an Ancient Story

Like many national parks, White Sands is also full of history, but one recent discovery made national headlines. Researchers found fossilized footprints in 2018. Two years later, a research paper suggested the footprints could have been a woman and a small child moving quickly through muddy ground. At one point, the child is left in a safe area, or the woman picks them up to continue their journey. The footprints are estimated to be more than 10,000 years old. Other fossilized footprints in the park include a giant ground sloth and a mammoth. 

white sand feet
The fossilized footprints and an artist’s depiction of the scene. (Source: NPS)

3) The Full Moon Alone Makes White Sands Worth Visiting

Plenty of national parks are great places to see the night sky, but on nights with a full moon, few compare to the beauty of White Sands. The moon’s light is reflected off the sand, illuminating the desert. Full moon nights are so popular that the park hosts special events like guided full moon hikes and even local artists and musicians showcases to perform.

is white sands national park worth it?
(Source: Pawel Nolbert)

4) Visit Other Unique Areas Near White Sands

White Sands is about an hour and a half from El Paso, Texas, and three and a half hours south of Albuquerque, so there’s not much around. However, there are plenty of unique landscapes to explore. In just a 40-minute drive, you can head up to Cloudcroft, NM, which sits at around 9,000 feet of elevation in Lincoln National Forest. It’s a surreal drive from the flat desert into a thick pined forest in just over a half hour. In the opposite direction, visitors will find Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, another desert park with a very different terrain. The monument has rocky trails and plenty of cacti and other flora. 

desert national monuments
Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. (Source: Bureau of Land Management)

5) There is a Hiking Trail, But Try Not to Get Lost

There are five official trails at White Sands. Some are short, while others are technically a boardwalk. However, for the more adventurous visitors, Alkali Flat Trail will take people far from their cars and into the dunes. The five-mile loop is marked with red triangles, so you don’t lose your way, so pay attention. Once you’re in the dunes, it’s easy to lose your sense of direction as everything can more or less look the same. Park Rangers suggest hikers bring plenty of water.

national park hikes
(Source: NPS)

So what do you think? Is White Sands National Park worth it?

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  1. I have recently finished a lifelong goal of traveling to all 50 states. White sands vies for the top most photogenic place! There is nothing like it. Fly kites go sledding see the sunset watch a storm in the distance, hije it! It is magical!

  2. Steve Tidwell

    My favorite place to hike, I am retired now and I’m able to solo hike in relative safety when compared to the rocky terrain of the mountains. By staying on the outskirts I see plenty of animals and animal tracks which keeps things interesting. Beautiful area.

  3. It’s a cool place to visit. Since it’s gypsum it’s cooler to walk on barefoot than sand. For best photo opportunities go early in morning or late afternoon as it’s super bright and to the camera sensor offer any definition of the hills etc are washed out…unless you’re a highly skilled photographer

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