Spend a night under the twinkling stars of the vast New Mexico skies, surrounded by the world's largest gypsum dunefield. White Sands National Monument offers backpackers the opportunity to enjoy a night camping on the white sands and listening to the nocturnal activities of the animals that make their home here in this unique ecosystem.
The Backcountry Loop is used most frequently by backpackers who want to spend a night under the stars in the dunes. However, it is also open to visitors that want a shorter hike through the heart of the dunes than the Alkali Flat trail. The trail is approximately 2.2 miles (3.5 km) round-trip and is a moderately strenuous hike up and down over the dunes. The average completion time for the trail is roughly 1.5 hours.
There are ten primitive backcountry camping sites available on a first-come-first-served basis. Because of the possibility of closure due to missile testing on the adjacent missile range, we cannot allow advanced reservations.
Our newest National Park offers inexpensive primitive camping along a backcountry loop trail. You'll need to carry your gear ~1 mile each way, so pack and plan accordingly. the hike isn't tough, but it will take you 20-30 minutes to get to your site and you want to be settled in time to enjoy the golden hour before sunset! There's no hiking after dark because it can be easy to get disoriented without too many landmarks in the area.
You can't make advance reservations because they can't predict when there will be missile tests that require closing the park for a bit, but they do generally know about a week in advance. Check out the website for updated information. Entry to the park was delayed until 9am two days during the week of my visit, so no camping on those nights. Be prepared to switch nights if necessary!
Arrive in time to check in with a ranger to get oriented and assigned a site. They'll provide you with a map. I arrived mid-day in early December and had a choice of several sites; there were only two other sites occupied. The trail to the site was fairly well marked, although a couple of them were lacking numbers. Your site will be in the low spots between the dunes and you'll be restricted to an area near the numbered pole. You'll be able to see others watching sunsets and sunrises from the tops of the dunes, but once at your site, you're in a private world.
Winter nights are cold and dark…I think I would have enjoyed it more in the autumn or spring with longer and somewhat warmer days, but I loved watching the full moon rise as the sun set. My tent was coated in frost by morning. Camping in the park is the only way to enjoy the sunrises, though my December morning was quite foggy. The last water is available at the visitor's center; bring plenty, esp. in the summer months. You may use a small camp stove for cooking, but it has to be off the ground. There are composting toilets at the parking area, but you'll need to dig a cathole or carry out your waste from the campsite.
White sands national monument is absolutely stunning. The campground is on a loop you have to follow signs up and down dunes until you reach your assigned site. Super cheap, super private, super beautiful! Backcountry camping makes its sound more intimidating than it is. Pack light because you do have to walk all your stuff in, but it’s not far and it’s not a challenging hike. Amazing sunrise and sunset. You don’t have to wear shoes here! Very child friendly. I don’t have kids but it seems very conducive for kid camping. It is open and spacious and you wouldn’t disturb anyone.
Came here on a spontaneous stop on a road trip through NM. Showed up at 2pm on Tuesday and they still had 4 Backcountry camping permits available, $1.50 per person with annual pass.
We were car camping and not prepared for backpacking but the hike in was < 1 mile so it was easy enough to just hike in with bags. Wasn't too hot in late May but was extremely windy.
One of the prettiest sunsets we've ever seen.
Camped for a night because I heard the sand was beautiful. It was but the hiking was sub par there was one trail about 5 miles that was fun because of the sand but just doesn’t have much challenge and no summit type view. Beautiful plants, little animals and sand.
We did the backcountry hike and the spots are nice and secluded, while not too too far from the parking. It was summer so it was super hot until sundown, but the night sky is one of the prettiest I've ever seen. We also had some fun sledding down the dunes (as evidenced in the video)!
I will say a trip here is worth more than one trip! For this reason I found myself back in the midst of the soft white sands in March of this year. Taking a few notes from my last trip I planned a bit smarter for the journey.
Packed a face shield - This is imperative to keep your mouth free of loose winds when the weather quickly decides it wants to kick up a big mess.
Remembered a hat - Being out in the white sands you can quickly forget how damaging the sun can be. The sand remains cool and though you are in the midst of all the reflections of light and and you often can forget that your head is unprotected. I made sure to bring a cap to wear for the extended stay of anything over 20 minutes.
Used a shade shelter/sand shelter - When camping sure you remember this, but when playing you should also have it on hand. Many come out recreationally and find themselves into midst of a harsh wind storm which can create white out sand conditions. This can be scary, dangerous and overall just very frantic. Winds often will reach these conditions making it impossible to drive or hike, so a quick shade shelter/ sand shelter is the way to go for protection.
Lots of water -Over the past few years I have learned more and more how continually improve my campaign experience at various locations. With no two locations being the same it can be a learning curve to say the least. Because of the location I improved my packing for this trip adding additional water to my gear. While you might not realize your body is in need, all the trudging around in the dunes can quickly dehydrate you without you realizing it.
Checked the weather- While you can't predict the sand you can get a good handle on when it for sure will not be manageable. Usually in Alamogordo the news will share if there is a wind advisory. If you ever see one of these, just DON'T try to get out on the sands. From the first trip here to the second I will say there is a massive difference between a gentle breeze and a lightly windy day. Now just imagine straight line winds… NOPE!!
Checklist aside, the White Sands is a place you need to remember to educate yourself about before taking on one of the backcountry sites. I advise visiting the visitor center and taking in the entire experience to emerge yourself in the surroundings, the why, the what and the how. Then make sure you talk to a ranger before attempting any kind of camping in this location. Unlike a mountain camp or even a regular desert camp, this location comes with its own unique set of rules that you will want to be aware of.
This is an awe inspiring and unique camping experience. It is not a place to relax all day, make a fire, and hang out camping experience. White Sands IS a place to experience at night, preferably during a full moon.
There are 10 spots and the office opens at 9:00, be EARLY (I always get there an hour before).
Once you get your spot do some local stuff, Alamogordo is 20 minutes to the east, not great but you can also head up to Cloudcroft which is nice and has great hiking. Or you can go to Los Cruces which is nicer and bigger and also has some hiking in the Organ MNTs.
Head back to camp 2 hours before sundown. You’ll have to hike about a mile in sand to your campsite. Set up and prepare to enjoy the night!
I’m usually set up an hour before sunset and then stay up till midnight or so. It’s amazing and no words or pictures can really do it justice (at night especially). In the morning it gets hot pretty quick so be prepared to leave early.
Enjoy, I’ve hit this every 6 months, three times in a row and it never gets old!
This is a must see! It's hard to explain the beauty of White Sands in words, but it's definitely worth the stop and 1-2 mile hike in to a primitive spot. Primitive is the only option here and be sure to check weather patterns for the times you go. I went in early spring and the wind was pretty ferocious - luckily I was prepared and had all the necessary gear. It's a tough hike in depending on your pack and the sites are as bare as it gets, but the scenery makes this place what it is. Beautiful.
Backcountry camping can be interesting anywhere you go, but what about in a place where you will have your footsteps covered within hours of you entering and dunes constantly shifting to reveal new beauty?
If you are up for a challenge The White Sands National Monument is the place for just that. Of course this is a hike in camping experience so you can park your car along one of the numerous pull offs in the area and hike to your destination of choice. This trek will require a permit which is $3 for adults in addition to any entrance fees which are charged, of course if you have your park pass you can avoid an entrance fee.
You will need ALL your gear for this one and take into consideration a lower profile tent because winds will whip at taller ones. The official definition of backcountry camping here is a hike of a mile so that means you will need at least 1 liter of water per mile you are hiking and enough to sustain your needs during the evening as well.
I did notice that using my small camp burner was a little difficult here because of the wind. Though I was able to get it to work finally I had to turn it to the highest level and really make an effort to shelter it while it worked.
I really wanted to get some awesome night sky photography because of the brilliant sky you see above at this location, however I noticed that I had not come fully prepared to do so and so it turned into more of a quiet night than a night of activities.
I was very excited about this trip and I learned that for days and days I would continue to pull sand out of everything I owned, so it was one of those trips that keeps reminding you of your journey to say the least.
- Bring a facemask or bandana to cover your mouth when you are out here otherwise you will be miserable and your lips will be very chapped.
- Also try sledding while here, the white sands are slick like ice and almost have the same effect as snow sledding which can be very fun. If you choose to do this you can purchase a disk or rent one in the Visitor Center.
Not really sure how good the camp grounds are. Great for just sand boarding