White Sands National Park has easily worked its way to the top of my favorite U.S. National Park’s list, and there’s a reason why. The minute you see the cotton candy skies or sled down one of the +200ft slopes, you’ll definitely agree. BUT with everything, there are some features you should know about the park before you go.

White Sands was established as a national monument in 1933 and re-designated as a national park in 2019. When you visit the area, you may still see some road signs for the National Monument which can be a tad confusing.

White Sands NP isn’t like your typical NP, it’s also used as a missile testing range. For visitor safety, the only road into the dunefield, Dunes Drive, may be closed for periods of up to three hours during missile tests. Check the website for closures.

White Sands has a curfew. The park typically closes around 9 pm, and you must be on your way out of the park or you’ll be subject to a potential fine.

You can obtain permits to go in early or stay late at White Sands. There is a fee of $50 per hour and it must be sent in 14 days before your visit for approval. You can find the permit form at rec.gov.

Sleds are available at the visitors center so you can get out there and play.

Hiking In The White Sands

“Hiking” is a funny word to use to describe the “hikes” that are within White Sands. There are a few hikes that take you on elevated boardwalks featuring signs educating you on the wildlife and environment in the park. Other than that, most of the “hikes” are really parking lots, and from there you kinda create your own path. With that being said, here are 5 of the hikes located in White Sands NP.

White Sands does offer backcountry permits, but they are on a first-come-first-serve basis.

Camping On and Near the Dunes

If you can snag a backcountry permit to sleep on the dunes, this is 1000% your best option.

National Parks Services – Permits to Backcountry Camping

Holloman Lake Campground – Located roughly 5 minutes away from the turn-in to White Sands National Park, Holloman Lake Campground is the closest dispersed camping option near the park. The lake is relatively easy to find and easy to get in, and large enough for a class A towing vehicle if you stay around the lake.

GPS Coordinates: 32.81218, -106.12174

Lincoln National Forest Wild Camp: We stayed at the Lincoln National Forest Wild Camp during our visit to White Sands National Park. There were plenty of spots, some spots even have bonfire pits and pull-outs, however, they do fill up. This location is free and very remote.

GPS Coordinates: 32.91252, -105.72531

If you are looking for an established campground, there are a few options but all are more than 30 minutes from the entrance. at Boot Hill RV Resort, Oliver Lee State Park, and Aguirre Springs Campground

To find more camping options, iOverlander App.


Time of Day – By now you probably know that if you want to catch the best lighting, shooting at sunrise/sunset is key. The White Sands are no different. As the sun sets, the ripples and shadows start to surface and the mountains light up with bright colors before it settles with the softest pinks and purples. Because the park closes at sunset, the only way to get the full, un-rushed experience is to grab a permit, take a tent, and setup in the backcountry camping area. If sunrise /sunset isn’t an option for you then the daytime with the bold white on a bright blue backdrop will still make for an incredible photo.

Compress and Contract – We found that using both our wide-angle and tele were the best lenses to showcase the depth of the dunes, however, I absolutely loved how the tele compressed the dramatic turns and hills of the dunes together. I felt like the wide-angle left the dunes feeling a little flat.

Wander Far – During the day the dunes are also flooded with people wandering and sledding down the dunes, leaving footprints behind. If you want pristine, untouched sand, head back about another .5 mile. We found the best spots were starting from the backcountry camping lot.

Add Subjects – Because of how large the dunes are, it’s slightly hard to see the full range without a subject. Add a little

Unique Plant Life or Dunes – Add some variation to your shots. The White Sands has a diverse ecosystem with shrubs, trees, and bushes and you don’t have to go far out of your way to find them.

Add Patterns – Wind is constantly changing the landscape at White Sands and creates all kinds of fascinating patterns – from repeating geometric to crazy weird. You can’t see many of these until the sun is low in the sky, so morning or evening is where the patterns really start to shine for photography.

While you are in New Mexico, you might as well try to make it to some of New Mexico’s most gorgeous outdoor destinations. Find all New Mexico hot springs, unique accommodations and so much more by on my google maps.

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