Camping with Dogs at White Sands National Park

Camping with dogs at White Sands National Park is super rad. You’ll get sand everywhere. For all of eternity. It’s worth it. Just go.

Two dogs flank a human sitting on a white sand dune with a purple sunset and mountain in the background while camping with dogs at White Sands National Park

Visiting and Camping with Dogs at White Sands National Park

January 25, 2022 Update – Per the White Sands National Park website: Backcountry camping is currently closed due to rehabilitation of camping sites. No date has been determined for its reopening.

Our trip started with a speeding ticket out in the middle of seemingly nowhere when I was legit trying to follow the speed limit. Somehow, I missed a sign. Herc was NOT pleased with the cop approaching my window. All sorts of ferocious woofs and growls coming from the peanut gallery: “Who the heck do you think you are trying to give things to my mom?! Did I say you could approach the vehicle?? Scram! Skedaddle!”

Beyond that minor incident and the fact the Cool Whip was appalled that she had to carry a pack, we had an incredible adventure. White Sands National Park is a beautiful dog friendly area to explore.

White Sands National Park is just outside Alamogordo and the Holloman Air Force Base. It is about six hours from Phoenix. I considered adding the Organ Mountains to our trip, but I opted for City of Rocks State Park. But whether you add more pit stops or not, this unique desert spot is worth the trip.

The dunes are made of white gypsum, a fair bit different from the classic brown sand of Great Sand Dunes National Park. Sunrise and sunset are excellent times to see the dunes as they take on the colors of the sky.

Activities at White Sands include the following and more:

  • Hiking. Dune Life Nature Trail, Playa Trail, Interdune Boardwalk, Alkali Flat Trail, Backcountry Camping Trail
  • Sand Sledding. Bring your plastic snow saucer or purchase one at the visitor center
  • Picnicking. There are shaded tables and grills with nearby restrooms in the parking areas
  • Backcountry Camping. There are no drive-up sites or RV camping options, but you can still spend a night in a tent
Two dogs flank a human sitting on a white sand dune with a sunset and mountain in the background while camping with dogs at White Sands National Park

​Check the Weather and the Missile Launches

Visiting White Sands in February treated us to minimal people and great weather. But, like planning a backpacking trip at Petrified Forest National Park, you’ll want to keep an eye on wind speed and temperature. There will almost always be wind. 10-15 mph is average, but use caution when rates hit 25 mph or greater.

The temperature at White Sands can also get a little extreme. Summer temps average 95 during the day and 55 at night. Winter cools down to 60 as a high and lows down to 23.

And yes, be sure to check for any planned missile range testing. White Sands Missile Range surrounds White Sands National Park. Missile range tests occur about twice a week. The monument and part of highway US 70 may be closed for an hour or two during this time.

A white dog in a blue sweater; the dog has one ear lifted in the wind

​Reservations, Permits, and Cost for Camping with Dogs at White Sands

Camping at White Sands requires a permit. You cannot make a reservation or acquire a permit for a White Sands backcountry campsite until the morning of your overnight adventure. Verify hours of operation before you plan to arrive. Stop at the entrance fee station to obtain your permit.

Rangers assign the ten available camping spots on a first-come-first-served basis. Camping fees are $3.00 per person aged 16+ and $1.50 for those 15 and younger. You’ll pay this fee AND the general entrance fee of $25.00 per vehicle (waived if you have the national park pass) at the entrance station.

You must leave your site by 1:00 pm the next day, and you must request a new permit in person if you wish to stay another night.

A paper showing a map of the backcountry trail and campsite at White Sands National Park and another paper that serves as a permit for backcountry camping with dogs at White Sands National Park

​Poop: Your Dog and YOU

Yes, you have to scoop ALL the poop. Always practice the Leave No Trace principles. Check with a park ranger at the Visitor Center for a Wag Bag if you didn’t bring a waste disposal container. Or, as one crafty ranger recommended to me, you can use the bags they provide at the pet waste stations around the park (one of which happens to be located right in front of the visitor center). These pet waste bags are pretty large and sturdy, by poop bag standards, not skimpy ones that tear if you pick up more than one poop nugget.

A pet waste station with a sign on the garbage can noting a graphic of a snake and the word "Rattlesnakes"

The Backcountry Camping Trail

You checked the weather, acquired a permit, loaded up on poop bags, took one last potty break at the toilets by the trailhead parking lot, and now you’re ready to head out on your adventure—woohoo!

The backcountry camping trail is a 2-mile lollipop loop that goes up, over, down, and around many dunes. With the ever-changing nature of the dunes, there is no regular trail on the ground you’ll follow. Instead, you follow orange trail markers staked into the dunes.

Once you reach your first marker on the trail, do not continue moving forward until you see the next marker. Continue this way for the remainder of the backcountry trail. Remember, you’re in a giant sandbox with no other landmarks to guide you, so it’s easy to become disoriented and lose track of your direction. Additionally, GPS tracks have a hard time displaying accurate readings out here. So, always stay aware of where the next trail or campsite maker is staked.

A White dog standing next to an orange stake sticking into a white sand dune; the stake has graphics depicting the rules and marking the route for the backcountry trail at White Sands National Park
A brown dog with an orange backpack standing next to a wooden trail marker stuck into the white sand dune

Campsites at White Sands

​You’ll eventually see the campsites noted on the trail markers as you’re cruising along the trail. Each campsite is in an open valley among the dunes. Once you find your campsite number on a trail marker, look for another marker at the base of the dunes. This is where you’ll set up camp, keeping your tent within five feet of that stake on the valley floor.

An orange trail marker stake and a wooden trail marker stuck into a white sand dune; between the trail markers you can see a green tent in valley down below; this is a campsite when camping with dogs at White Sands National Park
View of white sand dunes under a cloudy sky, tucked into a valley in the dunes is a barely visible green tent; a great site for camping with dogs at White Sands National Park

Camping With Dogs at White Sands National Park

ALWAYS keep your dog leashed while visiting White Sand National Park, even at the backcountry site. There are plenty of lizards and other animals around that you don’t want your dog to disturb. Additionally, you need to be able to find their poop to pack it out.

What to bring when camping with dogs at White Sands:

  • Water. There is NO water out in the dunes. Not even a stream. Make sure you bring plenty for yourself and your dog. Even if the temperature is cool, hiking across the dunes takes some effort.
  • Water bowl. Cool Whip and Hercules can drink out of my hydration pack spout, but a bowl is a lot easier. Here are some of the travel dogs bowls we’ve used for hiking and backpacking.
  • Poop bags. Yes, I’m mentioning them again. Don’t be THAT person leaving poop around for others to stumble upon. Don’t bury it either. With all the wind blowing things around, it will resurface in no time.
  • Warm gear. The wind can cool you down a lot during the day, and it gets quite a bit cooler at night. Make sure your pup is comfortable. Bring a warm coat and a blanket or sleeping bag for your dog to snuggle into at night. Other than during our hike out to the campsite (mid-afternoon in February), Cool Whip and Hercules wore their fleece jackets the entire time.
  • Dog backpacks. These aren’t totally necessary, but they are helpful. Cool Whip and Hercules carried their own food and fleece sweaters.

Now get on out there and have some fun!

Looking down at two dogs, a white pit bull with a black backpack and a red stripped scarf, and brown pit bull with an orange backpack and teal striped scarf; the dogs are on leashed and standing on white sand

Backpacking Banff National Park

Make backpacking Banff National Park your new goal. Just trust me, it’s a good goal.

The dogs and I catapulted into camping and hiking with a trip to Banff National Park, Canada. I was instantly obsessed and knew I couldn’t stay away.

Five backpackers sitting on a log bench facing a lake reflecting the pine tree lined shore and mountains in the background

I prefer the company of my dogs over humans. However, dogs are not encouraged to accompany backpackers into the Banff backcountry. But my desire to explore more of Banff still prompted me to plan a group backpacking trip.

I started reading about this hike and that hike and those other hikes. There are so many options. ​And yet, I kept coming back to Egypt Lake. I felt like I had to include that area in our wanderings.

Backpacking to Egypt Lake

After reviewing a few route variations, I went with a point-to-point option from Sunshine Village to the Vista Lake Trailhead:

  • Park Car A at Vista Lake Trailhead.
  • Drive Car B and the crew to Sunshine Village.
  • Hike up Healy Pass to Egypt Lake Campground (E13) for Night 1.
  • Take Whistling Pass to Shadow Lake Campground (Re14) for Night 2.
  • Hike Gibson Pass to Twin Lakes Campground (Tw7) for Night 3.
  • Trek out to Car A the following day and pick up Car B.
A sparkling teal lake surrounded by pines with mountains in the background

Backcountry Camping Permits and Campsites

Backcountry permits and campsite reservations are mandatory for overnights in the Banff National Park backcountry. Sites are available for reservation up to three months in advance.

A backcountry site in Banff is enough room for one 3- or 4-person backpacking tent. I don’t know the exact dimensions, but one site can perfectly fit a 2-person Big Agnes backpacking tent and a 1-person Big Agnes backpacking tent.

Two backpacks set by a backcountry tent site, which is a square outlined with four logs, among a pine tree landscape

At the end of June, I called the listed number. I left a message with our requested sites, dates, and quantity of people. Then they called back to confirm details and collect the fees within a day. Easy-peasy!

Packing and Prep for Backpacking Banff National Park

​My spare bedroom soon became a disaster zone as I laid out gear to assess options and gaps. No matter how much gear I have, I always seem to need (want) something new for each trip. Anyone else like that?

I made a list and checked it twice. I went online to order a few items and got sucked into the black hole that is the internet. Aside from purchasing more than I needed, I saw that the Verdant Creek Wildfire spread. It had caused restrictions and closures in the Egypt Lake area. Eek!

A lake with a rocky shore surrounded by pines and mountains

The weekend before our trip, I called the backcountry reservation office Saturday morning to alter our plans. Of course, they called back while I was in the shower. I left another message that afternoon and waited for the callback Sunday morning.

Then Sunday morning arrived, and suddenly Egypt Lake was back open! Ten minutes after I saw the announcement, Banff Backcountry Reservations called me back. They confirmed we were safe to proceed with our plans. Whew!

Healy Pass: Sunshine Village to Egypt Lake

We rolled up to Sunshine Village, and I was filled with antsy enthusiasm. The type that makes you continually feel like you’re about to pee your pants. Even after you just peed twice to make sure you really didn’t have to pee. Am I nervous? Am I excited? Do I really just need to pee??

Pine trees in the foreground framing a view of mountains and lake in Banff National Park

​All of the other hikers pulling up seemed to be taking the shuttle bus up to the top of the gondola. I started to second guess our plans to begin our hike directly from the parking lot.

Two of us wandered up to the ticket desk for a local opinion of our plans.

Them: “We highly recommend taking the shuttle up.”

I felt like I had to pee again.

​Us: “Okay, we’ll hike up.”

Of course we chose to start our hike directly from the parking lot. Because that’s the type of group we were becoming. Go big or go home. And none of us had decided to stay home.

A backpacker standing along a rocky river in a pine forest

Healy Pass, Banff National Park

The hike was challenging for us, not going to lie. Not difficult like it was tricky footing or scrambling across rockslides. But some folks were new to backpacking, and some were new to the elevation (not even counting the elevation we were gaining during the hike). We started later than planned, and no matter how close we seemed to be getting to the top, it always seemed to be just over the next crest, just out of reach. It felt like a long day.

Backpackers in the distance along a meadow trail with pine tress and mountains in the background

We were beat by the time we rolled into the Egypt Lake Campground.
But we had made it.

We roamed through the campsites looking for three positioned near each other for our little caravan and dropped our packs as fast as we could shake them off.

As we sat by the river, refilling our hydration packs before dinner, we finally had a chance to sit back to take it all in — the calm but epic beauty surrounding us.

Worth it.

A calm river cutting through bushes and pine trees

After a quick pack-up of campsites, we meandered along the short hike to Egypt Lake for breakfast with a view. The water was pristinely calm, showcasing a flawless reflection of the mountains surrounding the lake. And what glorious mountains they were! The peace and calm offered a meditation of sorts, a chance to shake off the prior day and start anew.

A lake perfectly mirroring the background view of mountains and pine trees

Whistling Pass: Egypt Lake to Shadow Lake

It was going to be a 10-mile day. After leaving Egypt Lake, the trail almost immediately started going uphill. The ascent of Day 2 was more of a stair climb compared to the gradual ramp up of Day 1. I was partial to the stairs, the definite motion of going up. It gave me a straightforward sense of accomplishment.

Creeping down the rockpile, however, felt like an eternity! Testing the larger rocks for stability and trying to not slide on smaller crumbles and sand – it was a slow and steady journey to the base. After focusing so intently on my small steps down, I didn’t take in the magnitude of this rockpile. Not until I reached the base and turned around. Eyes went wide; mouth opened in awe. This is what I was out here to see.

A hiking trail going through a mountain pass near the tree line and a backpacker to the right looking small among the landscape

Leaving the rocks, the trail took us back down into the the trees toward Haiduk Lake. Two-thirds of the way in we saw our first sign of bears: several piles of bear scat along the trail. I tried to reassure myself by noting that none of the piles was ultra fresh, but I still caught myself looking behind me more than I care to admit.

Three backpackers hiking through pine tress with mountains in the background

Haiduk Lake

Bears were instantly forgotten though the moment the view opened up to the glacial waterfalls filling Haiduk.

​Stunner. ​

In the distance is a waterfall cascading over a rocky ledge with mountains all around

In our awe-induced stupor, we lost track of the trail and opted to follow the lakeshore until we were back on track. Two steps into the chest-high brush was the exact moment we remembered the bear scat. Singing and overly vocalized chatter immediately commenced.

As we tumbled out onto the trail our singing abruptly ended at the sight of seemingly fresh bear tracks in the mud. Excitement. Awe. Wariness.

“Wow, fresh tracks!” “Whoa, look at the size of that print!” “It may be heading away from us, but we should probably still skedaddle on out of here…”

From Haiduk, the trail took us into a mossy floored pine forest and eventually followed along the river leading to Shadow Lake. Along the way we passed the Ball Pass Junction Campsite, which was still closed due to the fires. It had a bit of an eerie feel to it, and whether that was due to the knowledge of it being closed, or because it was seeming out in the middle of nowhere, I’m not sure. I just know I was quite pleased to leave it behind us and I made a mental note to skip that site if I return to this trail again.

A wooden bridge for a trail crossing through a marsh with pine trees and mountain in the background

Shadow Lake Campground

Shadow Lake almost felt like a false summit to me. Only in that I was exhausted, hungry, and ready to ditch my pack for the evening. As much as I wanted to sit on the bridge admiring the view for more than a short break, I was definitely antsy to reach camp. One more mile to go…

A lake and mountains with some glaciers in the background, a common view when backpacking Banff National Park

By the time we arrived at the Shadow Lake campsites, I was hungry and tired. Add in lacking signage for tent sites and bear hangs (which we later realized was due to the direction we arrived from) and water that required boiling for consumption, I was grumpy as heck.

Thankfully for my adventure companions, I just needed a little food to calm me down. But that didn’t solve our minor annoyance with having to boil water. There is no easy access to the lake or streams from the campsites. The spigot available for backpackers has a sign indicating you must boil the water before consumption. Rough lives we lead out in the woods (insert overly exaggerated eye roll).

​The guys went exploring around the Shadow Lake cabins nearby. We couldn’t imagine they boiled all of the water needed for guests. There had to be another way to access drinking water. Luckily a friendly employee clued the guys in on a drinking water spigot along the side of one of the cabins. A nice bonus to help us set out on the right foot in the morning. ​

This was a nice campground, but my least favorite of our trip backpacking Banff National Park.

Gibson Pass: Shadow Lake to Lower Twin Lake

We set out as a group on Day 3, climbing up and out of the woods. A solid hike pleasantly rewarded by stunning views (as if there is any other sort of view out there). At 7,500 feet, we reached Gibson Pass.

A hiking trail leaning up to a mountain in the background, Gibson Pass,

Three groups hiking up (two on foot and one on horseback) dotted the downward trek from Gibson Pass. We connected with the horse crew right as we came upon a large fallen tree blocking the path. It would have been quite tricky but doable for us to shimmy over. On the other hand, the horses seemed stuck. That is until one of the men hopped off his horse and appeared at the tree with a saw. Ha! Perfectly prepared!

Another highlight from the passing groups was receiving a suggestion for stopping at Upper Twin Lake. “Right before you cross the bridge, take a small path to the left along the shoreline. You’ll wind up in a perfect location for lunch.”

Looking out at two hiking poles in front of a aqua-colored lake with a background of a pine covered mountain, a glacier, and a taller rocky mountain, a common view when backpacking Banff National Park

And perfect it was. We settled in for a couple of hours of relaxation. Sam decided he would finish his hike out to the road that afternoon. He’d gotten a somewhat severe cut on his hand, and he was ready for a real shower. Understandable. We said our goodbyes, and then we set out for camp shortly after.

Lower Twin Lake Campground

As it turned out, Lower Twin Lake was equally as perfect as Upper. It had just one slight advantage: it was our campsite for our final night!

TW7 was easily THE best camp of our trip backpacking Banff National Park. Tent sites set back in the trees. A dining area snuggled up to the shoreline. And this view. Oh, what a place of wonder!

We soaked up every last ounce of sun and wild we could experience.

A man sitting on a boulder in the shallows of a lake with pine trees and mountains in the background, a perfect spot while backpacking Banff National Park
A grassy marsh leading out to pine tress and a pink-tinged mountain at sunrise, a common view when backpacking Banff National Park

Lower Twin Lake to Vista Lake Trailhead

Our last day was the easiest. Just a handful of miles to hike from Lower Twin Lake Campground up to Vista Lake Trailhead. We encountered a fair amount of day hikers along the way. As well as more fantastic views. There will never be a shortage of great view when backpacking Banff National Park.

Once we reached the car and picked up the other car, we headed into town. Banff is a cute, mountain tourist town with a lot of shops and restaurants. We grabbed lunch and a beer and then started our trek home.

Golden leafed trees in front of a sparkling lake with pines on the mountainside behind, a common view when backpacking Banff National Park

Hiking Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park

​Embarking on what I considered to be our first actual day of adventure, we set off for hiking Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park. The journey there was, of course, spectacular. No amount of rain or stormy weather could diminish the beauty of this wilderness.

View while hiking Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park, looking from behind pine trees at a mountain side, aqua colored lake

Emerald Lake Trailhead

​I pulled into the Emerald Lake parking area and crossed every finger and toe. It looked busy – definitely hoping that what I’d read about the touristy areas was true: 20 feet away from the main viewpoint, you’ll encounter hardly anyone. I saw the trailhead, then off to the left was a bridge leading to several lovely lodge buildings. Fancy. Canada, you are one legit classy broad.

Looking out at Emerald Lake, an aqua colored lake and a resort barely visible through thick pine trees

​But first things first, I had to pee. I spotted an outhouse by the trailhead. Jackpot.

​Let it be noted that not only do Canadian’s have stunning lodges, but their outhouses also are really freaking nice! There may not have been running water or plumbing of any sort, but each one I stopped at was clean and equipped with plenty of TP and hand sanitizer. Small but significant comforts.

I assessed the trail map by the bathrooms and walked back to collect the pups. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was the start of our new routine: First, park the car. Then stop at the trailhead bathroom. Next, assess the maps. Return to collect the dogs. And finally, hike!

View while hiking Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park, Canada, a white dog and a brown dog looking out at an aqua-colored lake surrounded by pine trees and foggy clouds
View while hiking Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park in Canada, from a viewpoint behind a large rock looking out at an aqua-colored lake and pine trees

Hiking Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park

Emerald Lake Trail: 3.2 miles (5.2 km)​, approximately 2 hours of hiking, minimal elevation

We shimmied past the crowd of people collected by the maps. I chatted with a park ranger for a moment. Then continued down the path. The first thing I noticed was the silence. Or rather, the lack of human noises. It was like everyone had disappeared. Bliss.

​The trail was wide enough for the pups to walk along my sides most of the time. First, the trail was mostly dry, with just a few puddles and muddy sections along the way. The trees blocked most of the rain, not that I minded it too much – nothing could distract me from the scenery!

​Aptly named, Emerald Lake was a vision of color! Standing there, looking directly at it, it was still hard to accept the colors as real. I just stopped and stared many times along the way.

View while hiking Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park in Canada, an aqua-colored lake surrounded by pine trees

​We came across a few other hikers. Many seemed to turn around once they reached the end of the lake opposite the parking lot and trailhead. At first, I wondered if I’d missed something. But it was actually rather convenient because now the trail was getting muddy. I was becoming quite a mess!

The dogs were barreling through not just some but all of the mud puddles. Cool Whip now had brown legs, and if my pants hadn’t been a dark color already, they’d have been brown as well from all the dirt and water the dogs splashed up. Perfect. My car is about to get really dirty!

We made it back to the car just as the rain stopped—a perfect time to brush off some of the mud and give the hooligans a snack.

Hiking along Emerald Lake, Canada, a white dog looking up a mountain trail heading into pine trees
View of a pit bull dog and a woman with short, aqua colored hair in front of a foggy, aqua colored lake

Hiking with Dogs in Yoho National Park

Leashed dogs are welcome on all trails in Yoho National Park unless otherwise noted. Some trails are closed to pets and small groups during times of heavy grizzly bear activity. Be sure to pack poop bags, a water bowl, and water for your hiking adventures.

A white pit bull in front of a foggy, aqua colored Emerald Lake
A woman holding the leash of a brown dog looking out at a foggy, aqua colored lake, the standard view when hiking Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park