Backcountry Camping in White Sands National Monument

We spent an incredible two days in White Sands National Monument. The monument is incredible, but this is one that you really need to get off the beaten path to fully enjoy.


White Sands has been on our bucket list for years. Literally. We were planning to visit in 2013 and it didn’t work out, but I’m happy to report that this trip was a success! Not only was it a success; it is one of my all-time favorite things that we’ve done.

White Sands is home to 275 square miles of beautiful white gypsum sand dunes.


The monument is only open during the daytime – basically sunrise to sunset. There is plenty to do, but be sure to bring your sunglasses. The sand is blindingly white. There is an eight mile drive from the Visitor Center to the dunes. There are four trails, ranging from 330 yards to five miles. In addition to hiking, you can sled on the dunes! We brought plastic sleds from home but they can also be rented or purchased from the park gift shop. The sleds go faster if you wax the bottom and the gift shop also sells wax.


The only way to camp in the park is at one of their 10 backcountry campsites. The sites are .7 – 1.1 miles from the parking lot. It’s not a hard hike but it is through sand dunes.


It’s easy to get lost in the dunes so it’s important to keep the orange markers visible. From each marker you should be able to see two more.


The park newspaper recommended downloading an app called PDF Maps. You will then need to download the White Sands map. The park newspaper has a QR code for the specific map you need. The app shows you your GPS location on the downloaded map so that in the event that you get turned around you know which way to head. Be sure to familiarize yourself with your surrounding too.

The campsites are at the base of each dune, or the interdune area. There is only one site per interdune and they are spaced far apart. At sunset we could see a few heads on neighboring dunes but other than that it felt very private. The kids loved playing in the sand. They literally spent hours upon hours digging and sledding.



This was our campsite for the night. Is that amazing or is that amazing?!


This probably sounds cheesy but being out in the middle of these dunes, particularly at sunrise and sunset was magical. The pure white dunes reflected the sky and were beautiful shades of pink, orange, and yellow. I didn’t take many pictures because I was so in awe of my surroundings.

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From afar the interdune area looks like a bunch of weeds but man is it neat. We spent some time exploring the interdune areas near our campsite and were blown away by the ecosystem. The plants and animals have adapted to this white, barren landscape and it’s amazing to see it up close.

The mound in the following picture is from a yucca plant. Its roots keep the sand together and forms a mound as the sand around it changes shape. The dunes are always moving and this mound creates a home for many animals.


Those lines are lizard tracks. The line is from the tail dragging. We’re not sure what lives in the hole but we saw quite a few that looked just list this. They all had loose sand in them and the only thing we could think of is that the animal must have packed sand in the hole to keep warm.


This was another common sight. Same lizard tail lines but a small dirt mound.


This was one of my favorites. We found these tracks near our tent and they occurred while we were sleeping. They both ended in the same place so we think one animal must have gotten ahold of the other. We enjoyed talking with the kids about the possibilities of what could have occurred.


I highly recommend backcountry camping at White Sands National Monument. If you don’t have time to camp be sure to spend some time out in the dunes so that you can truly capture the beauty of this monument. We visited in early October and the temperature change between night and day was pretty drastic. Don’t let the warm temps during the day fool you. You will need warm clothes as soon as the sun drops. We almost left our warm jackets in the car and I am so thankful we decided to lug them along.

We made our first video!  Check it out to see more of White Sands.

Have you been to White Sands? Are you planning to visit White Sands? I’d love to hear about your trip so be sure to stop back by and let me know how it goes.

Happy Travels!

4 replies
  1. Vasquez
    Vasquez says:

    We’re headed out there next week! I was a bit concerned about getting lost, but I see the markers are actual posts! Should we be concerned with going off the trail?

    • Caroline
      Caroline says:

      How fun! The markers are very easy to spot so I wouldn’t be concerned about getting off trail. The mountains are pretty distinct and at night you can see the city lights in one direction. Before we headed out we familiarized ourselves with the direction of the parking lot compared to the major landmarks and it helped me feel more comfortable while out in the beautiful, white wonderland. I hope you have a great time!!


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