One Day in White Sands National Park with Kids

Looking to spend one day in White Sands National Park? It’s easy to do and very much worth it! But what exactly should you see and do?

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I was planning this trip to New Mexico and wondered if 1 day would be enough at White Sands. Turns out, it was the perfect amount of time. Though we could have happily spent another day playing and having fun, we didn’t feel rushed through our journey with just one day.

We recently visited White Sands and had such a blast. It was the perfect national park for kids and adults all to have a great time.

So if you’ve got kids and are looking to plan a trip to this incredible national park, here’s what you need to know and what to do at White Sands National Park with kids for one day.

pinnable image of One Day at White Sands National Park with Kids, 4 images: white sand, white sand with dry plants at sunset, adobe visitor center, kids on top of white sand hill about to sled down

Where is White Sands National Park?

White Sands National Park is located at the central-southern part of New Mexico in the town of Alamogordo. Alamogordo is a great place to stay, as it’s only about 15 minutes of a drive to get to the national park.

Alamogordo is one of the larger towns you’ll drive through during your trip in New Mexico and provides plenty of hotel choices as well as big box stores like Walmart, Hobby Lobby, Home Depot and grocery markets.

White Sands is located right next to Holloman Air Force Base and the White Sands Missile Range.

white sand landscape with blue skies and clouds at horizon

Best Time to Visit White Sands National Park

The best time to visit White Sands is actually in fall or spring. Because the dunes are so far south, you’ll get pretty hot temperatures during the summer in the high 90’s and even into the 100’s.

Combine with that the effort it takes to climb up the dunes, whether you are playing or just hiking around, and you are very susceptible to heat exhaustion.

Heat exhaustion can occur anytime, but summer really worsens it because of the high temperatures.

Winter would be fine too, though you’ll likely want a jacket.

The good news is that while places like Great Sand Dunes in Colorado can get sand temperatures towards 150 degrees, the sand at White Sands is made of Gypsum which prevents the sun from absorbing into the particles. This keeps the sand on the cooler side.

👉🏼 Where to Stay near White Sands

One Day Itinerary in White Sands National Park

Ok, here is how to spend one day at White Sands National Park with the kids.

While it would be easy and really fun to hike around and get lost all day, the kids would rather play. And honestly, a lot of adults would too. So here is your guide to the park for families.

red/orange adobe style building with White Sands National Park sign in the foreground

While the sign says national monument, the park has been a national park since 2019.

1. Visitors Center at White Sands National Park

First, head to the Visitors Center. This is before you reach the fee station, so it’s a great place to use the restroom and talk to some rangers (this helped us a ton in figuring out where to go in the park).

For one of the best things to do at White Sands National Park with kids, collect a junior ranger booklet for the kids to work on as you explore the park. We have been to so many national parks, but this was the first one we stopped to check out this program. The kids are really glad they did.

You’ll also want to go past the info center into the gift shop. THIS IS WHERE YOU BUY A SLED. You definitely want a snow sled (unlike at Great Sand Dunes where a snow sled doesn’t work, a snow sled works best at White Sands)

The gift shop sells round saucers (the best design for the sands) for around $21-$26, depending on if you want new or used.

If you decide you don’t want to keep the sled, you can return it at the end of the day (before closing time) for a $5 credit to the gift shop.

Note that there is NO WATER inside the park. So grab your refillable water bottle and head to the side of the visitor center where you can fill up, or purchase bottles of water inside the gift shop.

  • Talk to rangers, get a Junior Ranger booklet
  • Purchase a sled (and wax)
  • Fill up water bottles
kids at a distance sitting on sleds at the top of a white sand hill, blue skies in the back

2. Go Sledding at White Sands National Park

Next, you’ll drive into the National Park. The nice thing about White Sands is that you don’t have to drive forever to enjoy the park. There is one road in/out and it’s 8 miles long.

The ranger at the fee station will collect admission (or show your Interagency / America the Beautiful Pass) and you’ll be on your way.

Head all the way to the back of the park first. It makes a loop at the end. This is the area you’ll want to park and find some great places for sledding.

You’ll notice at the beginning of the park that there is a lot of plant life. These sections aren’t great for sledding (since you don’t want to dodge all the plants).

But in the back sections there are very few plants, leaving you a blank white canvas of hills for sledding.

It’s great to sled right off the parking area (not into the road. Never into the road) or to hike back a short distance to find another dune away from parking.

Wax up your sled and enjoy sledding!

Going sledding is the best thing to do at White Sands with kids and pretty much the highlight of the trip.

Bring tons of water because whether you go in summer or at a cooler time of year, hiking back up the dune over and over is exhausting.

  • Pay the fee
  • Drive to BACK of park (8 miles in) and find a spot
  • Go sledding for the morning
  • *Bring Lots of Water*
car parked below, surrounded by white sand with metal picnic shelter in lower right, dark clouds rolling in

3. Lunch at White Sands

There is nowhere to purchase food inside the park. If you didn’t bring any, you can purchase a few things at the gift shop.

We love to pack our food into coolers and eat inside the park. We packed sandwich items and made sandwiches while there.

The best spot for lunch is the Roadrunner Picnic Area. This is on the right side of the loop as you enter heading right first.

This picnic area has plenty of picnic tables with wind shelters. Plus, many are right near the edge of the sand. That means you get to rest and enjoy lunch while the kids hurry and eat and run to play some more.

The Roadrunner area has a bathroom and plenty of parking space.

  • Drive to Roadrunner Picnic Area
  • Enjoy a packed lunch while kids eat and play
  • Clean up!
  • Use the Restroom
kids walking on a boardwalk with metal rails, amidst white sand with a few dry plants in the distance

4. Interdune Boardwalk

When you are finished cleaning up from lunch, head back toward the visitors center. On the left you’ll come to an area for the Interdune Boardwalk.

This is a short and easy walk on a boardwalk with informative posts along the way. You’ll end with a great view of the Sacramento mountains.

This walk is easy for kids of all ages and wheelchair accessible.

  • Drive to Interdune Boardwalk
  • Take the short walk to a viewpoint of the dune field
boy walking away in white sand with a post marking the trail in the foreground, dry plants in the distance, blue skies with a few clouds

5. Hike the Dune Life Nature Trail

From the boardwalk, continue driving toward the exit. On the right you’ll see the Dune Life Nature Trail parking area.

This is a fun trail filled with plants and dunes. It’s not a place you want to sled, but it’s a great place for an informative walk around a dune area.

Park in the lot and make the short walk to the dune.

The hike is an easy 1 mile loop around the sandy area. You can follow the posts to make sure you stay on track.

Once you go up the initial hill from the parking lot to the top of the dune, you can actually see all the way across to the other side of the loop, so it’s not too hard to get your bearings.

Strollers cannot come on this hike since it’s in the sand. So if you have little ones, bringing a carrier is the perfect choice. Let the little ones run a bit, then climb back in when their tired.

It’s a short enough trail that you can take your time and enjoy a leisurely stroll around.

  • Park at the Dune Life Nature Trail
  • Bring water along and hike the 1 mile loop
  • No sledding here

6. Visitor Center Again

If you’re like us, then you don’t have a single extra square inch in your car to drive around.

If you’re not like us, well, that’s nice you get some legroom.

Now is the time to get rid of the sleds. Make sure to head back to the visitor center before it closes. Head straight to the gift shop counter to return your sleds. You’ll get $5 credit for each sled you return.

We purchase a magnet for each place we visit, so it was nice to have that credit to get our little souvenir.

If you don’t have extra food in the car, now is a great time to grab some snacks in the gift shop as well.

After you return the sleds, head to the visitor center to get your kids Junior Ranger badges and stamps.

  • Head to Visitor Center
  • Return Sleds at Gift Shop for credit and pick a little souvenir
  • Show a ranger your Junior Ranger book at the Visitor Center and get your badge
white sand dunes with a few dry plants scattered on them at sunset.  Blue ske with pink hues on the horizon

7. Sunset Stroll

If time allows, now you can head to the ranger-led Sunset Stroll.

You may have noticed this blocked off area as you drove by during the day. It will now be open as a meeting spot to join a ranger as you get to watch the sun color the sky as it goes down over the dunes.

This is a colorful, magical experience.

There are no reservations; just show up to the Sunset Stroll Meeting area along the road in the park.

  • Drive to Sunset Stroll meeting area and enjoy a ranger-led walk as the sun sets.

That’s Your One Day at White Sands National Park!

This White Sands 1 day itinerary packs in the majority of great things to do at White Sands without rushing anything. Since it is a smaller park, it’s much easier to enjoy all it offers in a smaller amount of time.

If you have another day, you could spend it sledding (in that case, keep your sled, don’t return it), walking around the dunes, or participating in various ranger led programs like the full moon viewing.

You could also check out a few of the fun activities nearby.

Here is a little more information to prepare you for your visit to White Sands National Park with kids.

Sledding Tips at White Sands National Park

Purchase your sled at the gift shop. One extra tip is to purchase a bar of wax as well. Rub the wax lots on the bottom of the saucer before sliding down. This will make it much easier to get down the sand!

Find an area without vegetation. The back of the park (as noted earlier) is best for finding those smooth, plant-free areas. Please don’t ever sled into the life that grows at the park.

This isn’t specific to sledding, but while you visit White Sands, make SURE to wear sunscreen. Just like snow, the sun reflects off the crystal white sand and can burn you quickly!

two kids in the far distance running across white sand, blue skies with one cloud at top

White Sands National Park Hours

Hours: 7:00am to sunset.

Admission: $25 per car

The park is open everyday of the year except Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Because no one wants to get lost among the dunes, the park closes at sunset everyday. So the closing hours vary depending on what time of year you visit.

And technically, the website notes that the park closes at sunset. But a park ranger said it really closes an hour after sunset.

Either way, don’t get stuck in the dark at the sand dunes unless you’ve got a permit for backcountry camping at one of the available spots.

Find more info on the park at their official website.

Holiday Inn hotel.  White flat front with red sides, covered pull in area at front door, cloudy day with plenty of blue sky

Where to Stay at White Sands National Park

The town of Alamogordo is the best place to stay. It’s only about 15 minutes from the park entrance, and the town is full of any resources you may need.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn in Alamogordo. It was a great, budget-friendly place that could fit all 6 of us in one room.

Yes, that means a pull-out couch for a couple kids. But they didn’t mind this one as it had a thick, memory foam topper on it! We had never had that kind of luxury on a sofa bed before.

Plus, they got to swim in the indoor pool and we all enjoyed an included hot breakfast in the morning.

FAQ About White Sands

Is White Sands a National Park?

You may see White Sands noted as a national monument. That’s because it used to be.
It was originally named a national monument in 1933, but in 2019 it was established as a national park.

What Kind of Sand is at White Sands National Park?

The sand at White Sands National Park is made from gypsum. Gypsum layers were created millions of years ago from the ancient Permian Sea. Now, water and wind separate the water from the gypsum and selenite crystals. As the crystals break down, they turn into the tiny particles of sand.

Is White Sands National Park Worth a Visit?

Absolutely, yes White Sands is worth a visit. The park is not only incredibly beautiful and unique, but it’s a lot of fun to spend the day sledding and walking around these beautiful dunes.

Is the Sand Hot at White Sands National Park?

No, luckily gypsum does not absorb the heat like other types of sand. So the sand at White Sands stay comfortable, or even cool to the touch. You’ll feel quite comfortable walking barefoot at White Sands.

Can You Camp at White Sands National Park?

Yes, back country camping is allowed in designated spots at White Sands. Spots are first-come first-served and you must get a permit at the park when you arrive.

How Much Does it Cost To Go To White Sands National Park?

Currently (2024) it is $25 per car to visit White Sands, or $15 per person if coming in on foot. You can also access the park with your interagency or America the Beautiful pass.

How Long Do I Need to Visit White Sands National Park?

One or two days is enough to really explore and enjoy all the park has to offer!

What to do at White Sands National Park with Kids: Wrap Up

Whether you are looking to spend an entire day sledding or walking around the sand, you’ll be absolutely mesmerized by the smooth white sand that surrounds you wherever you and the family go inside White Sands National Park.

Whether you spend a weekend or just one day in White Sands National Park with kids, it will be such a fun time for the whole family. It’s one of those special and unique national parks that the kids will love.

Next on the route: Driving to Carlsbad Caverns from White Sands

And Guide to One Day at Carlsbad Caverns

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pinnable image of One Day at White Sands National Park with Kids, 4 images: white sand, white sand with dry plants at sunset, adobe visitor center, kids on top of white sand hill about to sled down

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