Exploring White Sands National Park: The Newest U.S. Park
By Megan Hanson
Have you heard about our newest National Park? On December 20, 2019, the White Sands National Park Monument in Alamogordo, New Mexico was officially designated as the 62nd National Park in the United States, following more than half-a-decade of attempts in Congress.
Exploring White Sands National Park will have you crossing the largest dune field in the world, with more than 275 square miles of rolling gypsum crystal. It can even be seen from space! Here’s two potential campervan itineraries to make the trip, as well as tips on what to do while you’re there!
Traveling to White Sands National Park from Denver
From the Denver depot, head straight south on Interstate 25 through Colorado Springs. If you’re really into sand dunes, take a 70-mile detour West from Walsenburg to Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado on the way, or just continue straight on into New Mexico. Be aware, White Sands National Park is a 600-mile drive from Denver, so you may want to consider stopping for the night at a New Mexico State Park or one of the many National Forests in Northern New Mexico. Wake up refreshed in your van and finish off the drive in the morning!
Traveling to White Sands National Park from Salt Lake City
Definitely a two (or even three) day trip, after picking up your van at the Salt Lake City depot, hit two of the Big Five with stops at Arches and Canyonlands National Parks on your way south. A slightly longer detour could also take you through the northern areas of Capitol Reef National Park. Continue heading south through the far southwest corner of Colorado and the western part of New Mexico before heading to White Sands through Las Cruces.
Once You’ve Arrived to White Sands National Park
Before you begin exploring White Sands National Park, first stop at the Visitor’s Center and fill up on water. White Sands recommends bringing one gallon of water per person per day, and don’t forget about your furry friends too — White Sands National Park is very dog-friendly, provided they stay on leash and you pick up after them, of course!
You can also pick up sleds at the Visitor’s Center, perfect for sliding down the dunes. Sledding is allowed on any dune the loop portion of Dunes Drive, away from the road and where there is little or no vegetation, and is one of the park’s most fun activities.
There are several hiking trails in the park worth checking out, with lengths varying from .4 to 5 miles. The shortest is the Interdune Boardwalk, which provides shade as well as an opportunity to learn about and see the dune’s plant and animal life. The longest is Alkali Flat Trail, but don’t let the name fool you — this trail is not flat! Hike up and down the dunes to the final remnants of Lake Otero, but be prepared with plenty of water and some snacks, as there is no shade on this trail. Pay close attention to trail markers, and look carefully for the next one before continuing. If you can’t see it, turn back! It’s easy to lose your way while exploring White Sands National Park amongst all the sand.
After watching a stunning sunset over the San Andres Mountains, you will need to find a camping spot outside the park. Only backcountry campers are allowed to spend the night in tents — and permits must be secured day-of at the Ranger Station. There’s several established campgrounds to pick from, as well as boondocking in the nearby Lincoln National Forest.
What are you waiting for? Exploring White Sands National Park is an adventure waiting to happen! Book your Escape Campervan today and mark it off your list.