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.

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!

Camping in the NHAL State Forest in Wisconsin

If you’re looking for that quintessential Northwoods camping experience with big trees, lakes, and wildlife, camping in the NHAL State Forest is it. The Northern Highland–American Legion (NHAL) State Forest is a beautiful space in northern Wisconsin.

Camping in the NHAL State Forest

There are many options, so this truly depends on what you’re looking to do and what type of amenities you want. Most of these campgrounds have sites you can reserve.

Modern Campgrounds

Want to be able to shower and use a regular flush toilet? These are the campgrounds you’ll need to check out. There are no electrical hookups, but you can get a free permit to run a generator if that’s your thing.

  • Clear Lake
  • Big Musky
  • Firefly
  • Crystal Lake

Rustic Campgrounds

Just the essentials—hand-pumped water, pit toilets, and no electricity. However, these campgrounds usually offer wider site spacing than the modern campgrounds. This is what we opted for. Six campgrounds in this list (East Star through West Star) were non-reservable as of Fall 2020.

  • Big Lake
  • Buffalo Lake
  • Carrol Lake
  • Cunard Lake
  • Indian Mounds
  • Plum Lake
  • Sandy Beach Lake
  • South Trout
  • East Star Lake
  • North Trout Lake
  • Razorback Lake
  • Starrett Lake
  • Upper Gresham Lake
  • West Star Lake

Primitive Campgrounds

Just the basics—tent clearing, fire ring, picnic table, box latrine.

  • Allequash Lake
  • Bittersweet Wild Lakes Area
  • Clear Lake
  • Day Lake
  • Nebish Lake

Backcountry Camping in the NHAL State Forest

For those looking for even more solitude and adventure, you can request a permit for backcountry camping.

Camping with Dogs at Carrol Lake

While having a shower sounded luxurious while camping, we wanted a small campground—this meant fewer amenities, fewer people, and more seclusion (for the dogs and us). Carrol Lake won partially due to availability when we made our reservation and because it has some tremendous walk-in sites.

Don’t worry; you’re not going to be hauling gear across a football field. It’s more like walking the length of your house (if you have a small, 1300-sq-ft house like me). Easy peasy.

Our site, 102, had a lot of room and a lovely view of the lake. If all the sites there had been open, I might have chosen 103 because it had a little more grassy space and a more open view. However, it was slightly closer to the boat ramp (not that the boaters were noisy, or at least it didn’t sound like it from 102). Site 101 was a bit uphill from us, so more seclusion, but closer to the road. Even from our site, you could occasionally hear cars (noisy ones).

There were also regular campsites you could pull right up to and a few other walk-ins at the other end of camp. I don’t think those walk-ins had a great view of the lake. Plus, on our side (101-103), we were closer to the docks and dog-accessible waterfront. The actual beach area farther into camp does not allow dogs.

Carrol Lake is just a few minutes from town (Woodruff) and Clear Lake Campground, which has a ranger station and access to firewood.

Note: Pets must be on a leash. A State Parks and Forest sticker is required for camping (throughout the NHAL State Forest).

​Hiking in NHAL State Forest

Our camp host gave us a great local newspaper guide filled with things to do, from local shops to local hikes. The Wisconsin DNR also has a great breakdown of hikes in NHAL State Forest. Try to check in with local guides whenever you can, whether it’s your camp host, a ranger, or some locals in town. They typically have a better grasp of current conditions and what’s accessible, plus they may have some “locals only” trail knowledge they can pass on.

While we spent part of our trip exploring the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness in Michigan, we did some local hiking as well. We headed up to Escanaba Lake for the first part of our day and then explored Minocqua in the second half. The Escanaba Hiking Trail offers several loops, from 2.36 to 8.48 miles. The trails are well-maintained and relatively wide. There is some logging regrowth you’ll hike through, but most of the time, it’s just beautiful forest views along with an occasional lake sighting.

Also, bring mosquito spray. There were zero bugs at our Carrol Lake campsite, but we encountered quite a few on the Escanaba hike.

Extra also: Don’t forget to bring some local(ish) brewskis!

Camping at City of Rocks State Park NM

Add camping at City of Rocks State Park NM to your to-do list. This is the type of place that blows my mind. A seemingly random, relatively small space that stands out in stark contrast to the surrounding landscape. Small but mighty.

Visiting City of Rocks State Park

You’ll roll into the area on some quiet highways and paved roads, passing Faywood Hot Springs, a small resort with – yes, you guessed it – hot springs.

City of Rocks doesn’t even appear until you’re practically right at the front entrance of this massive cluster of giant boulders melting into each other. This monolithic structure is volcanic rock. Wind and water etched the formation over time, leaving smooth, rounded surfaces.

As always, I recommend making the visitor center your first stop. The rangers on duty can give you up-to-the-minute details along with the usual maps and souvenirs. I let them know I had two dogs and asked if I should be aware of anything besides keeping them on leash throughout the campground.

They told me they had spotted a mountain lion nearby the day prior, and that elk and bear were in the area, so I should keep a close eye on my pets. ​Of course, when they met Cool Whip and Herc later, they realized we didn’t have quite as much to worry about than if they’d been small, snack-sized dogs.

Camping at City of Rocks State Park NM

You can’t pick a bad spot in this park, but our friendly ranger did offer a couple of recommendations to help us stay out of the wind that day. Just one of the many reasons to make time to talk with the local rangers. It’s their job to know these parks, so they can provide information on things you didn’t even think to consider.

​Campsites are $10.00 per night. You can make reservations for some campsites, but others are first-come-first-served only. I wasn’t visiting during peak season, and I didn’t need electrical hook-ups, so I relied on the FCFS options.

Each site has a picnic table and campfire ring. There are garbage cans tucked throughout the campground and several pit toilets. The visitor center also has flush toilets and showers if you want to feel fancy.

Cell Reception at City of Rocks

I didn’t have cell reception throughout most of City of Rocks State Park.

So, then what do you do when it starts pouring rain right after you pull into your campsite? ​Like your-tent-isn’t-even-set-up-just-pulled-in.

You turn your vehicle into your tent. Redistribute a few gear bags, blow up some sleeping pads, and spread out sleeping bags. Kick back and relax.

I listened to my downloaded podcasts. And, ironically, this is when I came across How to Unplug with Danny Kim, episode 100 from Wild Ideas Worth Living. It covered exactly what had been running through my brain: Do we need to unplug, and, if so, how can we?

Honestly, to answer that, I’d just be repeating what I heard on that podcast, so give it a listen for yourself. Trust me; it’s worth listening to.

Because once the sun did come back out and I inadvertently found cell service while hiking, I resisted the urge to jump on social media. I heard a few notification dings, then turned my phone on silent. And challenged myself only to use my phone for pictures until I left City of Rocks the next day. It was refreshing!

Is City of Rocks State Park Dog Friendly?

Yes, City of Rocks State Park is very dog friendly! Once the rain cleared, we scurried all over the park. The whole place is dog-friendly aside from inside the buildings. There are trails to hike, but we mostly stuck to scrambling around on the boulders because there seemed to be endless nooks and crannies to explore.

Whether this is a destination or a pitstop on a more extensive adventure, I highly recommend it. After backcountry camping at White Sands National Park, we spent the night here. And I’ll definitely stop again if we’re cruising through southern New Mexico.

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