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Camping in the Incredible White Sands National Monument

white sands national monument, where is white sands, camping at white sands, best time to visit white sands, things to do in new mexico, amazing places in americaIt’s crazy to think that it has been almost a month since we visited White Sands National Monument in New Mexico… and we still can’t believe that a place like this exists… in the middle of the desert! We awoke before the sun that morning, grabbed a cup of joe to go and began our 10 hour journey from Arizona to New Mexico. Along the way, Drew met a burly Saguaro Cacti and I ran through my first ever cotton field!

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After admiring the beautiful sites and sitting still for way longer than either one of us could have otherwise done, we finally arrived! And just in time for the sunset too:

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We highly recommend checking the Missile Closures schedule prior to planning your trip. It’s crazy to think, but the missile range that surrounds the dunes performs missile testing up to twice a week, requiring closure of the park and sometimes even Highway 70. We had originally planned on camping the night we arrived, but because of the missile testing that was scheduled for the morning, we had to arrange other plans. Luckily, the Oliver Lee campground (map) was just a short distance away.

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It was the warmest and most comfortable camping experience of the trip. We awoke to a clear blue sky, and because the White Sands wasn’t reopening until noon, we went on a long hike and enjoyed lunch before heading back to scale the dunes.

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As soon as we arrived we stopped in the visitor’s center to reserve our camping spot. With a total of 10 spots in the entire park, we would be the only ones camping amongst the dunes that night.

We parked our car on the snowy, sand-covered parking lot, piled on all of our camping gear and began our trek.

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Because we didn’t have any space for our backpacking packs in the car, we were left with at least 5 bags each to strap on our backs, hang around our necks, arms, ears and anything that had a vacancy:

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The trek to our campsite consisted of following steaks in the sand that acted as trail markers. We could only see our next direction when we got to the top of the next dune. It’s important to note that you can download the White Sands App on your phone. It costs $3 but it will be worth every penny when you find yourself lost in a sea of white mounds, miles away from anything that isn’t… white.

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In search of untouched, pristine sand, I soon found out that Drew had chosen the farthest camping spot available… as we went up and over each new dune, which seemed to be made with the finest, softest, squishiest of sand, my stamina began to fade. The bags were getting heavier, the dunes larger, the sun hotter, me tired- er, and yes I’ll admit it, whinier too. Here’s the face of a not so happy camper:

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Shortly after becoming aware of my pleas for help, Drew came to the rescue. With 80% of the weight on his shoulders, we both managed to make it to our campsite with a smile.

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As soon as we arrived, we set up camp, as they require you to do so before the sun goes down. You can see our little orange tent in the rolling sea of white below:

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As soon as our tent was set up, we ran to the top of the closest dune to enjoy what the evening’s stunning sunset had in store for us.

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With the softly rippled, white-as-snow sand blanketed in front of us, I understood and appreciated why Drew chose the furthest spot possible.

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As the sun went to bed, it took our warm weather with it. Before we knew, it was 30 degrees and the sand beneath us felt like it had turned to ice. We were the only ones in the entire park, surrounded by nothing but giant white mounds, thousands of glittering stars and complete silence, possibly the closest we’ll ever get to sleeping on the moon.

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We decided we would wake up with the sun that next morning and so got up at 6am to be greeted by this beauty of a site:

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And if you think we were kidding about how cold it was, check out the frost that formed on our tent!

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It was at least 45 minutes before the sun actually rose, so we paced back and forth for warmth, enjoying the sky’s incredible transformation above the calm, white seas.

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With all this pacing we found ourselves getting hungry, here’s Drew making our morning oatmeal and tea, the perfect thing to help thaw us out:

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white sands national monument, where is white sands, camping at white sands, best time to visit white sands, things to do in new mexico, amazing places in america, frost on tent, camping in cold, camping foodAnd then the moment finally came when the sun shone her bright and beautiful, WARM face:

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It was magic.

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And no trip to White Sands is complete without some sand sledding! You can buy a snow saucer at the park’s gift shop for $15 each, and if you return it you get $5 back, so they’re basically only $10. We happened to have Drew’s snowboard in the the car so we decided to go that route. This was actually my first time sledding, ever! It was awesome:

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To really get a feel for the awesomeness that is White Sands, be sure to watch our video below!

Overall we had an incredible time. Definitely a place we would return to and recommend to anyone looking to have an unforgettable experience.white sands national monument, where is white sands, camping at white sands, best time to visit white sands, things to do in new mexico, amazing places in america, frost on tent, camping in cold, white sands sunrise

Tips:

  • Check the Missile Closures schedule prior to visiting.
  • Download the White Sands App on your phone.
  • Bring a tripod and your nice camera, this place is amazingggg!
  • Bring something to sled on, you don’t want to miss out on the fun!
  • Sunscreen/ sunglasses, with all that white it gets pretty bright out there.
  • If you’re camping, check the weather, it’s generally pretty chilly there at night.
  • Camp spot #5 is the farthest one away, where you will find the picture perfect, untouched sand. It’s about a 1.5 mile hike, but I’ll admit it, it really is worth it.
  • Bring an under the tent tarp, also referred to as a footprint, to help keep your tent from getting wet inside.
  • Hand and foot warmers, these things have saved our fingers and toes more than once!
  • Toilet paper, there are no restrooms by the campsites, you just have to designate a spot at least 20 feet from the site marker.

 

 

26 Comments

  1. Reply

    Madonna

    May 19, 2018

    Love all the information you provided. Would like to bring a bigger tent-will it be practical to bring a beach caddy to lug heavy items?

    • Reply

      Brittany Rouille

      May 20, 2018

      The sand is so soft an you’ll be going up and down the dunes, we don’t recommend binging anything you can’t carry. The caddy would be a huge struggle. Try and get one of the closer spots and maybe just make 2 trips if need be. It’s such a magical experience ?

  2. Reply

    Staci

    April 3, 2018

    Hello! Great post! I just moved to New Mexico and am planning to head here soon! Quick question. if we plan to camp is it necessary to plan for any additional time in the rest of the park? Should we allot for additional time or is the hike to the camp spot and camping area sufficient for all the photo ops and good sledding spots? We will for sure be there for sunset & sunrise but didn’t know if we should arrive around the time we want to hike and be at the camp location for the evening or earlier in the day?

    • Reply

      Brittany Rouille

      April 3, 2018

      Hi Staci! Great questions. We recommend getting there before noon. Camping spots are 1st come 1st serve and getting there before noon is usually a good way to ensure a spot (depending on if you are there during a popular time you may want to call and ask what time they recommend arriving to get a spot). Then you can plan around on some of the other dunes + make sure you are all set up at your camp spot at least 1.5 hours before sunset so you can really enjoy the colors. Then plan to wake up and enjoy everything, maybe hiking out before noon. Hope this helps!! You are going to love it. It’s so so magical.

  3. Reply

    Emily

    August 13, 2017

    Great blog post! Can’t wait to camp there! We just moved to New Mexico. Where did you find that pretty cotton field? Was that on the way from AZ?

    • Reply

      Brittany Rouille

      August 19, 2017

      Hi Emily! I believe we spoke on Instagram about this earlier this week 🙂 but yes, it was somewhere in the main highway on our way east after AZ. It was early December too, hope this helps!!

  4. Reply

    Sasha Dosenko

    March 28, 2017

    I am planning to camp for a night in White Sands in the end of April. It has been my dream for a while to see a sunrise and sunset and also watch the stars in the desert. Your pictures look amazing! I am a bit concerned with the wildlife in the area, specifically snakes, scorpions (?) and spiders. How abundant is the wildlife in White Sands and would you have any tips on how to camp safely? Thanks in advance for your response!

    • Reply

      mrandmrsadventure

      March 28, 2017

      We are happy to inform you that we have never seen a bug or spider or scorpion when camping/hiking at White Sands 🙂 I think it simply gets too cold at night for anything to survive in the sand. Sunset/dusk will gift you with the most incredible colors and lighting, be ready with your tripod and enjoy the show! Sunrise is magical because of how peaceful it is, sound doesn’t travel, we imagine it’s what it sounds like in a padded room or space or something. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.

  5. Reply

    reluctantroadie

    March 1, 2017

    My husband and I are planning on visiting White Sands in a couple of weeks. You took great photos and I’m hoping to get a few as well, though not as nice as yours because I don’t have a fancy camera. 🙂 Question: which White Sands app did you use? When I clicked on the link you provided (3/1/2017), I got an error message saying that app isn’t available in the US store. Thanks!

    • Reply

      mrandmrsadventure

      March 2, 2017

      Hi there! Happy to hear you’ll be going to one of our favorite places in the US! I’ve updated the link, looks like they’ve recently changed it – sorry for the confusion – you should be all set now. Have a wonderful, wonderful time 🙂

  6. Reply

    Audrey

    August 15, 2016

    Oh my goodness I loved this so much! I was wondering what month you guys went? I am planning a camping trip here in January I hope it’s not too cold :p

    • Reply

      mrandmrsadventure

      August 16, 2016

      It’s ine of the most magical places, you will LOVE! We were there in early December and it got COLD at night. We made soup in our tent + hot cocoa and oatmeal + tea in the morning. The sand feels more like snow, we woke up with icicles on our tent… Just be prepared and check the weather leading up to your trip 🙂

  7. Reply

    Kristi

    May 18, 2016

    I love your post! We are hoping to camp there in 2 weeks with our dogs (fingers crossed there will be a permit left when we arrive!) and are curious how long it took to hike to your campsite? I know you mentioned you chose the furthest site. Thanks so much!

    • Reply

      mrandmrsadventure

      May 19, 2016

      Maybe try arriving earlier rather than later to ensure a permit 🙂 And I would say it took us 30 minutes… it’s hard to remember but that sounds about right… definitely not longer than an hour though. Wishing you the best time!

  8. Reply

    T. C.

    April 13, 2016

    This might sound stupid but I love nearby and we have been there many times but never camped. How did you deal with the sand in your camping gear? Whenever we leave, that gypsum sand seems to be everywhere! Advice?

    • Reply

      mrandmrsadventure

      April 16, 2016

      Just being there in White Sands is enough, but camping there for the sunset and experiencing the early morning sunrise was spectacular. Really there is no place like it. We loved the endless curves and shadows formed by the ever-changing colorful hues of light that hit it. Burning Man was a close second, but it doesn’t have the seclusion. This is a fair question, we packed the wet tent up in the morning (there was ice under it and on it from the night) and carried it out and dried it on a grass lawn the next day miles away from White Sands. That’s sand sticks like no tomorrow, but there is not much way around it. Be one with the sand until you leave the place 🙂

  9. Reply

    Chitra R

    September 22, 2015

    Your pictures are breathtaking! Inspired us to plan a trip this Friday but it’s our first time camping. Any advise on a checklist I should keep in mind so far just have the tent, led tent light, hand and foot warmers, is a small propane gas allowed to warm food or water? Also do we need to carry water gallon containers or does the visitor center provide us with some. Any advise? Any info could help. Thx much !

    • Reply

      mrandmrsadventure

      September 24, 2015

      We are so excited for you! Tent, tent light (we like headlamps best), hand and foot warmers (get the LARGE ones), sleeping bags, thermarest, beanies, comfy sweater, thick socks, long johns and a warm jacket. We had a little boiler to make soup and tea at night and coffee and oatmeal in the morning, so your propane should be just fine 🙂 You have to bring in all the water you need, there is no where to fill up your water containers once you are in the park, no spigots at the hike-in campsites. We recommend being there for sunset and waking up for sunrise, bring your best camera and a tripod if you have one. That’s all we can think of for now… Oo a sled! Walking barefoot was easiest, but bring closed toed shoes and flip flops. Have a blast and let us know how it goes! xo

  10. Reply

    The Road We've Traveled

    July 23, 2015

    Your post settles it. I am taking my family to White Sands in October. We were supposed to visit in October 2013 but then the government shutdown the week my kids were on fall break. It’s been on my mind since and I can’t shake it. Your post is the best one I’ve found regarding the backcountry camping. Incredible pictures and great tips. Thank you so much!

    • Reply

      mrandmrsadventure

      July 23, 2015

      You and your family are in for a real treat! Be sure to take a sled for sliding down the sand or you can by one at the gift shop 🙂 have a blast!!

      • The Road We've Traveled

        July 23, 2015

        Thanks!

      • The Road We've Traveled

        October 13, 2015

        Update: We visited White Sands over the weekend and camping there is one of the coolest things we’ve ever done!

      • mrandmrsadventure

        October 13, 2015

        Us too!! Our favorite camping experience in the US yet!! Unlike anything anywhere.

  11. Reply

    sac529

    March 11, 2015

    Wow! This place looks awesome! Started reading your adventures when I was looking up posts about The Wave. You guys have been to some pretty amazing places! 🙂

    • Reply

      mrandmrsadventure

      March 11, 2015

      Yes, we feel very blessed to have been able to visit so many incredibly beautiful places 🙂 We are so happy to know that you have found our posts helpful for planning your own adventures. Looks like you had the perfect blue sunny skies when you were at The Wave. You were brilliant to pack a cute little dress for photos.

      • sac529

        March 12, 2015

        Yes, we ended up going to quite a few of the same places you did! Yeah, it was helpful looking at your pictures and posts. The weather in February happened to be 70 for us at The Wave, so it was so crazy and lucky!

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