White Sands National Park, New Mexico

Everything the RV Renter Needs to Know

You’d almost think it’s an illusion the first time you come upon it, or a mirage. You’re in the desert, after all. The pristine sands stretch out in every direction, and they’re a pure, cloudy white. You’d think the color had drained out of the world, except for the bright blue skies and green turfgrasses growing everywhere.

This is White Sands National Park. The sands are the color they are because of a high concentration of gypsum. In fact, it’s the largest gypsum dune field in the entire world. It’s a place that’s quite unlike almost anywhere else on the planet and that makes it the perfect place to visit on your RV vacation.

Why Visit White Sands National Park in Your Rented RV?

Some places in the United States feel otherworldly, and these are some of the best to see from the seat of a rental RV. White Sands National Park is one of these. White gypsum dunes are rare in this world, and to find them in a place where you can drive right to them makes them an obvious choice to visit.

Hiking

Some areas almost look like snow, they’re so driven and white. Of course, you’ll know better because of the heat. Hiking through the area offers some beautiful scenery and views unlike any other on the planet. There are four trails that run through the park, each marked with a playing card symbol and a boardwalk.

The boardwalk is an accessible trail, allowing for wheelchairs and strollers. The others range from half a mile to five miles round trip and are moderate to strenuous. The elevation of the park is more than 4,000 feet, so it’s advised that you understand your limits and know that the altitude will have an impact on you as you hike. It’s also not suggested to hike when temperatures reach above 85 degrees—but that means there are plenty of early morning and late afternoon hikes available to you. 

Dunes Drive

It’s a little like driving on the moon, but with more gravity. Dunes Drive is an eight-mile stretch of road that leads into the heart of the park. There and back takes about 45 minutes, but you’ll likely want to pull off at different points for photo opportunities or to better explore the dunes.

The first five miles of the road are paved, while the last three are hard-packed gypsum sand. This means any vehicle can drive on it, and you don’t need anything fancy or with four-wheel drive. Along the road are outdoor exhibits and restrooms. On occasion, the nearby White Sands Missile Range conducts tests, which will close the road for visitor safety.

Sledding

You’d never think it, but winter sports can be a thing here in the desert. Of course, you can do these at any time—not just winter. One of the big favorites in the park is sledding. The gypsum sands are soft, making them ideal for sledding. That said, it’s not slippery, and it can take practice.

Waxed, plastic snow saucers are best for sledding on the property and can be purchased at the park’s gift shop, though you can also bring your own. It’s ill-advised to stand while you’re sledding, as this can cause injury. But once you find the perfect slope and get the hang of it, you can spend a full afternoon sledding away. 

Local Flora & Fauna

Despite being a desert, White Sands is full of local flora and fauna. That includes some plants and animals that are endemic and only found in this park. The area was once the home of many now-extinct animals, including the Columbian mammoth, ground sloths, and dire wolves. Today, you’ll find generally smaller animals, but some larger mammals do call the desert home.

A native plant garden is in front of the visitor’s center and is an easy way to learn about all of the native flora that exists inside the park. Plants begin blooming in the middle of April and will continue through late summer. In the fall, Rio Grande cottonwoods begin to bloom and skunkbush sumac also turns a vibrant red.

There are 800 animal species in the park, though many are nocturnal thanks to the heat of the desert. Forty moth species are found only in this area, and there are more than 600 insect and invertebrate species living here as well. Coyotes, bobcats, porcupines, badgers, and other mammals can also be found here.

Biking

Biking through the dunes is a one-of-a-kind experience. You get sweeping views of the white dunes all around you, and you’re able to experience the heart of the park on a bike. Cruising on a fat-tire or sand cruiser bike is easiest, thanks to the wide tire structure that grips many different kinds of terrain.

Biking is limited to Dunes Drive, and despite the appeal, biking off road on the dunes is a fineable offense. It pays to be alert as you’re riding on the road, because there’s not much of a shoulder and you’re sharing the road with cars. And remember, you’re in a desert: wear sunscreen or other protection from the sun, a hat, sunglasses, and bring plenty of water with you.

Campgrounds and RV Parks for White Sands National Park

White Sands National Park doesn’t offer any RV camping inside (while there is backcountry camping, that’s not why you’re renting an RV). There are, however, several public and private campsites nearby. Depending on the type of camping experience you’re after, you can find something that you’ll enjoy. It’s worth noting that dry camping or boondocking isn’t recommended in the desert, as the extreme temperatures aren’t healthy for you or your rental RV.

Boot Hill RV Resort

A classic campground in New Mexico, Boot Hill RV resort has all the basic amenities you could hope for. Full utility hookups let you stay cool in the hot summer sun and give you plenty of water to drink. Showers and laundry facilities help you clean up after a long day at the park. Wi-Fi keeps you entertained when you’re back at the camp, and a gift shop and art gallery can help you find something so you won’t go home empty-handed.

White Sands RV Community

White Sands RV Community can feel like a home away from home when you’re traveling. It’s loaded to the brim with amenities, starting with full utility hookups for your rental rig. Otherwise there’s an internet cafe and clubhouse, multiple sports facilities like basketball, shuffleboard, and tennis, a fitness area, on-site showers, a barber shop and beauty salon, swimming pool, and more. And, let’s not forget cable TV and Wi-Fi.

Alamogordo/White Sands KOA

RVers love Kampgrounds of America. At the Alamogordo KOA, you’ll find everything that makes each one special, like full hookups and sites for some truly large RVs—up to 100 feet in length. There’s Wi-Fi and cable TV available, as well as bike rentals. More amenities include horseshoes, tetherballs, laundry facilities, and a pool. 

Mountain Meadows RV Park

Smack dab in the middle of several attractions, Mountain Meadows RV Park is the perfect base for your RV vacation. You’ll get full utility hookups including sewer and Wi-Fi, plus a lot more. Laundry facilities, showers, and even trash service are available to keep things clean. There are hiking and scenic drives nearby, plus historic sightseeing. The Park also offers off-roading and RVing.

Oliver Lee State Park

As for a nearby public campground, Oliver Lee State Park fits the bill. It offers rustic, quiet camping in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert. There are two nature trails nearby, and, with several pools of water in Dog Canyon, it’s a literal oasis. The campground has water and electric hookups, plus a dump station. It’s best to reserve a site in advance to make sure you’ve got everything you want in your RV camping experience. 

Places to Eat Near White Sands National Park, New Mexico

New Mexico is a haven for Tex-Mex and standard Mexican food; you’ll no doubt find some of the best options around while you’re down there. Plus, you can buy lots of local fare to enjoy in the comfort of your RV after a long day hiking in the dunes.

Dining at White Sands National Park

There aren’t any proper restaurants inside White Sands National Park. That said, a gift shop at the Visitor’s Center offers sandwiches, burritos, snacks, and drinks. Otherwise, it’s a good idea to stock up your RV’s refrigerator and pantry and plan a meal or two at your campground. You’ve got a full kitchen at your disposal, after all.

Dining Outside of White Sands National Park

The towns of Alamogordo and Las Cruces both offer plenty of good eating. You’ll find some of the best Mexican food and Tex-Mex style eating you’ve ever had, but there’s plenty more to enjoy as well. You’ll find great barbecue, burger joints, and classic style delis. A range of other ethnic food, like Chinese and Thai are available as well.

Alamogordo sits closer to the park than Las Cruces, but either trip will definitely put you in an area with several restaurants you’ll enjoy. Even for the pickiest eaters, these towns offer a little something for everyone. Why not make an afternoon of it and take in some of the historical sites in each, while you’re there?