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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!