White Sands National Park is like a beach that never meets the ocean. Even without catching a sunrise, or sunset (we hear they’re magical), a playful, romantic day can be enjoyed within the world’s largest gypsum dune field. Making the most of a day there takes a balance of prior preparation and a laidback mindset, it seems the best mindset for capturing the wonder of each passing moment.
Preparing to visit White Sands National Park
1. Check the night before and the morning of your trip to the park to see if any missile testing is going on. Otherwise, you might head out to find you have a 3-hour wait before being able to pass a portion of the road to the park. Click here to see road and park closures due to testing. Also, park hours change throughout the year. Click here to see their current schedule.
2. Check the weather. On one of the park’s easier paths, posted signs warn against hiking the trail when it’s 85-degrees Fahrenheit, or above. We recommend visiting White Sands between October and April when average highs don’t top 85-degrees.
3. Let a trusted friend, or family member know where you are going in the park and how long you expect to be there. Give them the make, model, color of your vehicle, and your plate number. Cell phone service can be scarce and people have died of heat related causes while hiking in the White Sands National Park. Whenever we hike, we let my brother know. He’s an avid hiker and the person we know who would best know what to communicate with authorities if he suspected that something was amiss.
4. Dress in bright layers, put on a hat, shoes you don’t mind getting sand in (or hiking sandals, though I think closed toes are wise for the nature hike), and bring sunglasses! Temperatures can swing 30-degrees, or more during a day at White Sands. Plus, the sun is bright and reflects off the gypsum just like it does off snow. While I did remove my shades now and again, I kept my hat on. My outfit at October’s end: Lululemon leggings, sports bra, and coral tank top. A turquoise tentree long-sleeve hoodie tee from our hike to the top of the Grouse Grind , my DownEast denim jacket, and the coral hat I picked up from GrandView Lodge in Minnesota.
5. Bring water! Lots of water! One gallon per person per day is recommended. They sell gallons of water in the gift shop, but once beyond the gift shop and visitors center, no water is available. It is drier and hotter than you think. Really!
7. Bring sunscreen and put it on! Even if you dislike sunscreen (like me), wear it. When we went, temps were only in the mid-70s, yet I could feel the sun’s heat beating on my skin. I’m so glad I wore some.
While at White Sands National Park
There is plenty of fun to have at the park without taking on an adventure beyond your abilities and know-how. Relax and take in your surroundings. Play some frisbee. Enjoy a picnic. Sink your toes into the sand. If you’re an accomplishment driven hiker this may require a different mindset. My M.O. is to get that workout in, get to the top of whatever height I’m hiking up to, and finish the trail. At White Sands, I let that go and it was so much fun.
If we had more experience with desert hiking, or survival, we might have done another trail. After reading cautionary tales of hikers dying on the Alkali Trail, we decided it wasn’t for us. We’re sure it can be done safely with proper training and skills, but we have neither. When our knowledge is limited we do one of three things:
On Sledding White Sands
If you’re a minimalist, or nomad, or otherwise have no use for a sled once done with the sand dunes, you can buy a sled without taking it with you, or having to dispose of it. You can buy a new sled at the park’s gift shop. Use the sled, return it, and receive an exclusive White Sands koozie in exchange. The salesperson at the counter said that the design of koozie we received is only given to those who return their sleds. Cheers to White Sands National Park! We bought a sled, had our fun, and exchanged it for a more travel friendly and useful item. Chris loves a good koozie for his beer!
Sled better than we did. Neither of us thought of running and jumping onto the sled for momentum. Next time, at least one of us will.
Next Time We Go to White sands National PArk
Another next time plan we have: scheduling our visit right, so that we can take the guided sunset stroll. They start about an hour before sunset every day that the park is open. Reservations are not required.
Have you hiked White Sands before? What was your experience like? We’d love to know!
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