What to Do at White Sands National Park

White Sands National Park Travel Guide

In the heart of the Southwest, where the desert meets endless blue skies, lies New Mexico’s White Sands National Park. Mountainous dunes of gypsum have created a sea of powdery white sands, making this park unlike any other. Complete with rare plant species and extensive wildlife, historical spots (like the remnants of ancient Lake Otero, which has human footprints that date back thousands of years), and truly unparalleled opportunities for adventure, this preserve was made for the explorer. Learn more about where to stay, eat, drink, and visit while at White Sands National Park.

Where to Stay:

Credit: Maria Ponomaryova

Hotel Encanto de Las Cruces 

Approximately 50 miles from White Sands National Park, Hotel Encanto de Las Cruces blends modern luxury with the rich cultural heritage of the New Mexico region. This 203-room stay is both inviting and chic, featuring rustic Spanish Colonial decor, unique local artwork, and cozy furnishings in each room. Plus, the hotel has a special package for those visiting White Sands, which includes two sand sleds, bottled water, and sunscreen. 

Stanton House

A luxury boutique hotel located in downtown El Paso, Texas, Stanton House is one and a half hours away from the national park. Situated in a carefully restored 100-year-old building, this 42-room hotel is perfect for an art lover. Each roomy suite and individually curated room features one-of-a-kind art pieces from the hotel’s collection. What’s more, it has a cool restaurant called Taft-Diaz, which has a happy hour that features unique libations composed of locally sourced gems and craft-made spirits.

Where to Eat:

MAD Jack’s Mountaintop Barbecue

One of the hottest restaurants in the area, MAD Jack’s Mountaintop Barbecue usually has a line out the door. This local joint is known for its mouthwatering barbecue sauce, which you can buy by the bottle. In addition to the sauce, guests can also enjoy delicious ribs, brisket, sausage, and more. Plus, the sandwiches are pretty big, so they’re great for noshing on in the park.

Our Country Kitchen

Fuel up for the day at Our Country Kitchen. Located 15 minutes away from the park, this highly-rated restaurant is the best spot to enjoy hearty meals. The menu features breakfast and lunch specials each day, with fan favorites being the chorizo and cheese omelet, tuna melt, and “The Breakfast Thing” (which is an over-easy egg atop a bed of warm, cheesy French fries.

Where to Drink:

Picacho Peak Brewing

Tucked away from the main road, Picacho Peak Brewing is an inviting microbrewery that attracts locals and travelers alike. Drool-worthy classics appear on the food menu, including loaded nachos, towering burgers, and the house’s favorite fish and chips. Plus, there are beer-battered fries that pair well with any and all dipping sauces. In terms of drinks, enjoy an extensive selection of both year-round and seasonal craft beers.

Where to Visit:

Lake Lucero

Tucked away in the heart of the Tularosa Basin, Lake Lucero is the primary source of the park’s iconic gypsum sands. Ranger-guided tours are offered, allowing park-goers to learn about the formation of the dunes and the geological processes that contribute to one of the most unique landscapes in the world. The best part? This is the spot where fossilized footprints have been found, showing what appears to be ancient humans stalking a giant sloth. 

Interdune Boardwalk

Located near the park’s visitor center, this short boardwalk guides visitors through the interdune area. Signs along the way give information about the park’s ecology as well as the diverse plants and animals that call this environment home. This is a great spot to rest, have lunch, or simply enjoy nature. 

Playa Trail

The Playa Trail is a short but worthwhile hike that leads visitors to a seasonal playa, or dry lake bed. Surrounded by the towering dunes, this spot provides a unique perspective of the landscape as well as a chance to discover the importance of the playa’s constant change. Depending on the day, the playa could be filled with water, brown and crunchy, or growing crystals. 

Alkali Flat Trail

For those seeking a more extended hike, the Alkali Flat Trail is a challenging (and rewarding!) option. This five-mile loop takes you into the heart of the dune field, where you’ll be surrounded by views of endless dunes with very few footprints. (For history buffs, the Alkali Flat is the dry lakebed of Lake Otero, a lake that filled the bottom of the Tularosa Basin during the last ice age.)

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