We left Johnson City, TN to start the big stretch of our road trip. For those of you who don’t know, all you do is get on i40 and drive west…. forever (well that’s what it feels like). After driving 23 hours straight with 2-3 hour sleep each, we arrived at about 8 am to White Sands National Park in New Mexico. This was originally not part of the plan, but a blog follower (shout out to you Melissa) reached out to me and shared some of her pictures and personal experiences there. We were able to leave for our road trip a day early so why not!
Let me say this: White Sands National Park (only a national park as of 2019) is the most underrated national park I have ever been to. Not only was this place BEAUTIFUL but no one was there! I do realize we are currently in a pandemic, but I have seen many pictures and videos of some crowded national parks.
We had an amazing time in the white sands area. We for sure learned some things that would have been helpful to know before going so:
What you need to know before visiting white sands
1. There is no water inside the actual park!
Your last chance of getting water is at the visitors center before you enter the park. There is only one little water filler station and it takes FOREVER so I suggest filling up at one of the many gas stations prior. There wasn’t a line and it took us 20 minutes to fill our packs and bottles, so I can’t imagine how long it would take if there were people there. Side note, my boyfriend thinks he got sick from the water…
2. The best time to go is in the morning or later in the day
If you are visiting during the summer months, this is important. Pop up thunderstorms happen during the day during the summer, and you do not want to be the highest point in the dunes. The heat can be pretty serious as the day goes on as well. I left in a sweatshirt at around 9 am and was sweating by 930.
3. There are multiple trail options
It can be very very easy to lose your way once you are in the dunes. I suggest using one of the already marked trails based off the maps given to you when you drive in. We did the salt flats trail which is a 5 mile loop hike that takes you all the way to the salt flats area. This is marked by red markers so you can do a little off trail but keep the red markers in sight for safety. This trail is not hard, but it does get very hot and you are doing a lot of steep uphill action, so bring plenty of water! There is also a backpackers trail that leads to campsites, but the campsites are currently closed due to the pandemic. You are still welcome to use the trail, we just opted for the salt flats instead!
Be sure to check out the awesome picnic areas after your hike!
4. Dogs are allowed
This is very important to double check when traveling with animals. White sands requires your dogs to be on the leash. Make sure if you are traveling with animals to always double check the parks rules!
5. White Sands is very kid friendly!
Earlier I mentioned a 5 mile trail to the salt flats… this is not necessary for you and your family to see the dunes and enjoy them! You can pull off and climb up to any of the dunes close to the road. I saw a lot of younger kids sledding on the smaller dunes.
6. The cost (dun dun DUN)
National parks can be expensive… that’s why if you go often then I would reccomend one of the national parks passes. If you are only heading to this one, then that’s not necessary. The cost to enter is $25 dollars per car BUT is good for 6 whole days! I don’t think 6 days is necessary but a bang for your buck if you choose!
7. Places to stay
White sands is located next to this town called Alamogordo. There are plenty of hotels you can stay at in this area. Personally, I prefer free camping. I use the app called Dyrt or freecamping.net. We would have preferred to camp at the park, but during the pandemic you can’t do that. We opted for a free campsite about 2 hours north in Corona. This is because we were heading to Taos the next day so we wanted to go ahead and drive an extra two hours to save us time.
The campsite we stayed at was called Red Cloud Campsite. You can’t type it into google maps, but we found directions on freecamping.net. This was the best free campsite I have ever found! This campsite had bathrooms, trash cans, tent pads, picnic tables, and grills.
There is also a town called Las Cruces about 30 minutes south with a ton of free camping. Like I said, we wanted to drive towards Taos to save some time.
8. Things to do around White Sands
After you have spent some time at the park, you may want to explore the other areas around it like we did. Lincoln National Forest is right there and has some amazing views and hikes. We wanted to find somewhere to swim so we asked a local. Tip: always ask locals their favorite spots/restaurants/bars etc. She sent us into Lincoln National Forest to this super cute waterfall/swimming hole! It’s not a marked trail, so you have to know where it is to find it. You take 82 out of Alamogordo towards Cloudcroft. You will go through Lincoln National Forest until you see a tunnel and you pull off at the first pull off before the tunnel. There’s a water pipe towards the tunnel you can walk to and then you will find a super easy trail to get down to the water fall. The creek is called fresnal creek. Being totally honest here, there was a lot of trash down towards the water fall 😦 so we didn’t swim. Apparently since the pandemic people have been trashing it and the park rangers can’t keep it clean. It’s still worth it though I think! Be a good person and take a trash bag with you. This hike is also amazing because the whole way down you can pick up limestone and find a TON of fossils!
Another place you need to check out in Alamagordooooo is a brewery called 565 brewery. This is locally owned and has the sweetest owners and staff I’ve ever encountered! These are great people to ask about dinner spots and where to find the best green chile! Be sure to give their cute dog, Hops, a scratch behind the ears for me.
To finish off, I just want to say please please please remember that you are a visitor in these areas.
Be safe, follow the rules, and leave places better than you found them!