In December 2017, Kim and I paid a visit to White Sands National Monument for a weekend getaway from Tucson.
Tip: Want to hike Tucson’s best trails? Read my Best Hikes in Tucson article or check out our individual Tucson Hiking Guides.
We had a wonderful time hiking around on the stark white dunes and took the opportunity to get some photos of Kim at 31 weeks pregnant.
The scenery at White Sands has a dreamlike quality to it and is unlike any other place I have been to.
I wrote this guide to help you plan a trip to White Sands and avoid some of the mistakes we made while we were there. I did plenty of research beforehand, but still learned a few important things.
- Fee: Adults – $5, Children – Free
- Dogs: Yes
White Sands National Monument is located in New Mexico, about 16 miles southwest of Alamogordo and 52 miles northeast of Las Cruces. The Visitor’s Center is just off of US 70 on Dunes Drive.
One of the trivialities that took us by surprise is that White Sands National Monument has hours of operation. The monument opens at 7 am and closes at sunset irrespective of the season.
During our trip, we parked at Yucca Picnic Area and went for an evening stroll to photograph the sunset. Once the sun had sunk below the horizon, we made our way back.
When we returned to our vehicle, we heard radios warning that the park gates were about to close. We hurried to pack up our gear and rushed out of there. To our astonishment, rangers drove pickup trucks up and down the road to corral everyone out.
The only way to stick around without getting the bum’s rush is to backcountry camp at the monument’s designated campsites. This requires a 2-mile roundtrip hike over the dunes. Permits are required and can be obtained at the visitor center.
The weather at White Sands National Monument is typical of North American deserts, with large diurnal temperature variations. This means that there is a large difference between the daytime and night time temperatures. On average, you can expect the temperature to dip by 40 degrees overnight. Expect it to reach its coldest point in the early morning.
The monument’s summertime highs are hot, in the 90s-100s, with lows in the 50s-60s. Winter days are brisk, with average highs in the 50s and lows in the 20s. Spring and fall are considered the best seasons to visit due to mild temperatures in the 70s-80s and lows in the 30s-40s.
White Sands receives only nine inches of annual precipitation. Late summer monsoons bring 1-2 inches of rain each month July – September. Snow is rare, but not unheard of.
To get an accurate weather prediction for the time of your trip, click the button below.
White Sands National Monument has no developed campgrounds and only allows backcountry camping. If you plan to camp within the monument’s boundaries, you must acquire a permit from the visitor center. The sites are located a mile from the Backcountry Camping Trailhead and the route is made identifiable by orange trail markers. For more information, visit the monument’s Backcountry Camping webpage.
If you prefer to car camp or sleep in an RV, there are several campgrounds nearby. Below are a couple great options:
Aguirre Spring Campground
- Contact: 575-525-4300
- Hours: Gates close at 8 pm in the summer, 6 pm winter
- Location: 40 miles southwest of White Sands Visitor’s Center
Oliver Lee Campground
- Contact: 575-437-8284
- Location: 27 miles east of White Sands Visitor’s Center
Things to Do
A visit to White Sands is rewarding regardless if you have two hours or two days to spend there. I recommend the following activities depending on your timeline:
1-2 Hours: Stop by the Visitor Center and drive along the 16 mile Dune Drive loop. Take a stroll on the Interdune Boardwalk.
3-6 hours: Pack a picnic for one of the monument’s three well-shaded picnic areas. Better yet, bring some steaks and coals for the charcoal grills! After lunch, take a hike through the dunes. Bring a sled for one of the more popular activities in White Sands, dune sledding. Sleds can also be purchased for $15-$20 at the gift shop.
Multiple days: Camp overnight in one of the backcountry sites so you can experience both sunrise and sunset over the dunes. Head back to Alamogordo for a visit to the New Mexico Museum of Space History and the Alameda Park Zoo.
No matter what you do, be sure to bring a camera! The dunes are a beautiful sight and with the right techniques, you will capture some tremendous photos.
For more information on things to do at White Sands, click the button below.
All photos were taken by me with a Sony a7 and Sony 35mm F2.8 Sonnar T FE ZA Full Frame Prime Fixed Lens.
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Love your photography. Your Instagram account is an inspiration. The White Sands photos are amazing, but I have to say the photos of Kim in the red dress are AMAZING! You are going to treasure those forever. Too bad (or maybe it’s a good thing) the monument is so far from anywhere – it would be THE place for family photo shoots.