Since it’s only an hour and a half drive, White Sands National Park is a great idea for a family day trip from El Paso. I love the accessibility of this gorgeous park in New Mexico. The otherworldly dunes make for a truly magical destination. White Sands boasts powdery gypsum sand that shifts from bright white with blue skies during the day to cool lavender as the sun sets along the orange horizon.
If you’re new to the area or you’ve never taken kids, here are a few tips and tricks to make your visit to White Sands memorable.
1. Check the park’s website.
Sometimes it closes because of missile tests from a nearby Air Force base. Also, the park closes at different times depending on the time of year and when the sun sets. During the summer it’s open later than in winter.
2. Brings sleds!
Sledding down the dunes has got to be the highlight of any visit for kiddos. Don’t forget wax for the bottom of the sleds to help you glide down the dunes a little easier. Sleds are available for sale in the gift shop.
3. Plan Your Visit To Avoid the Heat
We arrived around 5:30 pm (during the summer), which allowed plenty of time for sledding in the bright sunshine, appreciating the gorgeous sunset, and marveling at the moon rise. I loved that we were able to avoid the heat of the day. The park closes at 9pm during the summer, 8pm during the spring, and earlier at other times of the year. It’s open until 11pm on some evenings that have full moon or an eclipse. We just happened to visit on the day of a full moon and it was amazing!
4. Bring flashlights and glow sticks if you plan to stay after dark.
Like I said, we did stay to view the full moon. And it gets dark. Like really dark. So make sure to bring flashlights and glow sticks or glow necklaces.
5. Bring an umbrella or tent.
If you want to go during the day, make sure to bring a beach umbrella or pop-up tent so there’s a place to get some shade and cool off. There are some picnic tables with shade.
6. Pack lots of water and food.
Bring lots of water (more than you’d think you’ll need) and of course, food. You do have children after all. There are a number of picnic structures available. We loved watching the sun set as we ate dinner.
7. Sun protection is a must.
Sunscreen and sunglasses are important due to the glare from the sand.
8. Pack toys.
Buckets, shovels, and other sand toys for young kids would be a big win and would keep them busy for a long time. My older boys had a great time with a frisbee and a soccer ball.
9. Plan for your pets.
Pets are allowed but must be kept on a leash. Personally, I was having so much fun sledding that I wouldn’t have wanted to deal with my dog on a leash. If you do bring your doggo though, don’t forget extra water. It’s the desert, after all.
10. Check out the junior ranger program.
When your kids take the time to learn about the park and how to protect it, they can become junior rangers. There are four different activities for different age groups from preschoolers up to teenagers. Get all the info here.
Bonus tips: take more photos than you think you’ll want. And make sure to stop at Caliche’s in Las Cruces on the way home.