So, you have finally decided to act on your dream of visiting White Sands National Park. But when should you go? The best time to visit White Sands National Park depends on your primary objective.
Are you trying to avoid crowds? Do you want the best possible weather? We will provide guidance based on the following variables:
- Crowd levels
What is Special About the Park?
If, for any reason, you are still on the fence about going to White Sands, we wholeheartedly recommend it. The park holds over half of the world’s largest gypsum dune field.
It is like a giant beach wedged between two mountain ranges in southern New Mexico. But you will not find any water at this beach. With mountains on the horizon, you will swear those sparkling white sands are snow.
It is a perfect setting for a leisurely day of play. However, if you want a memorable challenge, try hiking up those steep dunes of loose sand. The views are breathtaking, but it is exhausting!
Regardless of how you choose to recreate, the sands are surprisingly cool to the touch. You can run your toes through the sand without fearing getting burnt.
Beyond its natural beauty, White Sands offers a unique activity that is a must-try for all visitors. Sand sledding! Gliding down the glistening dunes on a waxed plastic saucer will make you feel like a kid again.
Let’s analyze the best time to visit based on your goals.
Many national parks draw the biggest crowds in summer. Due to kids being out of school, it is a convenient time for families to travel. Plus, the weather is warm. White Sands National Park bucks this trend.
According to National Park Service (NPS) visitation statistics, White Sands National Park received over 700,000 visitors annually in the past three years.
Which Month is the Busiest?
March consistently sees the most guests by a wide margin, nearly 100,000. The next most active months are April and May, regularly drawing over 70,000.
When is the Park the Least Crowded?
Fewer people visit in winter. January and February are the least busy months, drawing over 40,000 visitors. Perhaps a bit of a surprise, August usually marks 40-some thousand guests.
What About the Rest of the Year?
All remaining months see 50,000 to 65,000 people go to the park. September and November are the two best months at the low end of this range.
Julie and I visited the park in March. Did crowds lessen our experience? Not at all. What is our secret? We have two simple tips to improve your White Sands National Park experience.
First, arrive early. It is not a revelation, but many people do not enjoy waking up early. This small thing puts you ahead of the masses.
Second, immediately drive to the back of the park. Most people start in the front and slowly work their way toward the back.
One road takes you through the entire park. Starting in the back gives you a lot of space from the mobs.
As a bonus, the best dunes for sand sledding await you in the second half of the park. Many guests anxiously park their cars and sprint to the first dunes to experience the thrill of sand sledding.
A little patience pays enormous dividends here. The back of the park has less vegetation, yielding cleaner dunes for sledding. With better dunes and fewer people, it is a win-win.
When is the most affordable time to visit White Sands National Park? Admission is the same year-round. The primary cost consideration is your accommodations.
In general, prices are higher in summer and lower in winter. A January or February visit allows you to avoid crowds and save money on lodging.
Yes, you can save money by going in winter. However, please do not assume winter is the only time for affordable lodging. Alamogordo hotel rates are reasonable year-round.
When planning our New Mexico travels, we found some of the cheapest accommodations in the country. As we explored the possibility of going in other months, we consistently found lodging less than most cities, regardless of the time of year.
The bottom line is winter saves you a little bit more, but staying in nearby Alamogordo any time of year will be attractive compared to what you pay most anywhere else in the U.S.
If weather is a primary decision point for your trip, note that temperatures and conditions vary considerably throughout the year in White Sands. You can also make this statement daily.
Summer (Rainy Season)
You can expect high heat and solid chances of rain. Daytime temperatures average 95 degrees Fahrenheit from June through August but may reach 110 degrees. Evenings cool down, usually from the 50s to mid-60s.
The park typically gets 10 inches of precipitation annually. Most of this happens during the rainy season, from early July to late September. During this time, late afternoon or evening thunderstorms occur frequently.
Late September through November regularly offers sunny days with light winds. Daytime temperatures average 80 degrees, with a low of 65. The average evening temperature is 40 degrees.
Daytime temperatures average 60 from December through February, while the average night temperature is 23 degrees. The park occasionally gets a winter storm, yielding rain or a bit of snow.
Spring (Windy Season)
Daytime temperatures average 75 degrees from March through May. Nights average about 40 degrees. Spring days are typically sunny but with powerful winds, up to 50 miles per hour.
The crisp morning air was chilly during our March visit, and the winds were steady. Our pictures show that we started the day in winter coats and beanies. Due to our winter gear and snow-like sand, it probably looks like a mountain getaway.
By late morning, the air warmed considerably, and the sun felt hot on our faces. However, windy conditions can sometimes make you oblivious to the warm sun.
No matter when you visit, we suggest packing layers so you can adjust to the weather conditions throughout the day.
Drink lots of water. You can quickly get dehydrated before you realize it.
Bring sunglasses. The sun gets very bright, reflecting off the white sand. Plus, they protect your eyes from sand swept up by the wind.
The wind-blown sand can also present issues while you navigate Dunes Drive. It is like driving in snow. Take it slow, and you will be fine.
If you properly prepare for the conditions, a visit during any season is manageable. That said, fall and winter are attractive times to visit White Sands. You will likely enjoy comfortable temperatures and avoid the windy and rainy seasons.
Visitors can enjoy primary park activities year-round, like hiking, sand sledding, picnicking, and photography.
However, trekking up and down dunes in the hot summer sun may zap your enthusiasm. If you plan a summer visit, we encourage you to start hiking early in the day before the desert sun hits scorching levels.
The park offers a few ranger-guided activities. Some are seasonal, while others take place all year.
During a sunset stroll, rangers educate guests on the park’s geology, flora, and fauna. It is an excellent opportunity to learn more about the park while admiring the stunning panoramic view. These regularly occur throughout the year on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Full Moon Night
For each full moon from May through October, the park extends its hours so guests can relax as the moon illuminates the desert dunes.
From March through November, the park offers a moonlight hike on a night near but not on a full moon. It is an excellent opportunity to hike the desert under the moon’s magical glow. Please note this is a ticketed event with limited capacity.
Lake Lucero Tour
Once a month, from November through March, rangers lead guests to the “birthplace of the dunes” to learn how the sands formed. Please note this is a ticketed event with limited capacity.
You can visit the park during any season to explore independently. If you want to participate in one of the ranger-guided programs, please visit the official park website to verify the schedule and plan your trip accordingly.
It is challenging to experience everything in any national park due to so many things to see and do. While Julie and I thoroughly enjoyed our visit to White Sands National Park, we plan to go back one day to experience the full moon night and moonlight hike. They both sound fantastic!
The White Sands Missile Range regularly conducts missile tests adjacent to the park. During a missile test, the park may close Dunes Drive for up to three hours.
The NPS attempts to post these dates in advance on the park website. We suggest you monitor the park site when planning your vacation and as the trip approaches.
Plan Your White Sands Adventure
White Sands National Park offers stunning landscapes and unique experiences. The best time to visit differs for each person or family.
Weather varies significantly throughout the year and may impact your decision. If you dress accordingly and pack layers to adjust as needed, you can enjoy a visit during any season.
White Sands goes against the norm with its busy season. If you genuinely want to skip the crowds, looking at the visitation numbers is essential rather than listening to general advice that says summer is the busiest time. That is not the case here.
Accommodations in the Alamogordo area are cheaper in winter, but rates are affordable all year.
Independent exploration is always an option, but to experience a ranger-guided tour, you must plan your visit around those schedules.
We hope you find our insight helpful as you plan your White Sands National Park visit. Please view our complete guide to White Sands National Park for more details.
We visited two other national parks during a road trip on “The Loop.” If your schedule allows, we strongly recommend it.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park are each within a 3 to 3.5-hour drive. The three parks offer different but equally rewarding experiences. Visiting these three parks in one week is one of my most cherished memories.
Featured image credit: Miles with McConkey
More Articles from Miles with McConkey