Located in south-central New Mexico, White Sands National Monument almost 225 sq. miles of high desert terrain, including the vast expanse of white, gypsum crystal sand dunes for which the enclosure is named. The extreme heat and arid conditions at White Sands pose campers with harsh challenges, especially in light of the lack of facilities available for campers in the park. As a result, those in search of a little outdoor adventure by camping at White Sands should do so only after taking special precautions.
White Sands National Monument offers backcountry camping. Ten hike-in campsites line the backcountry trail, in an area between three-quarters of a mile and just over a mile from the trailhead. These primitive campsites offer a fairly secluded area to enjoy a night under the desert sky, but no facilities of any kind. Campsites at White Sands are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Campers must register and pay a modest fee at the park visitor center at least one hour before sunset.
Daytime highs at White Sands surpass 85 F by early May. Summers average in the 90 F and greater range. Temperatures above 110 F are common, and mild weather does not return until October. The nightly low from November to March is below freezing, and sub-zero temperatures are common. Campers at White Sands must plan ahead for extremes and bring along an appropriate tent, sleeping bag and clothing.
Safety and Regulations
Because of the lack of facilities at the park’s primitive campsites, water is a major concern for campers. Natural water sources inside White Sands National Monument require the use of water filters or chemical sanitizers. Park authorities recommend that visitors plan on two gallons per day, per person. Tap water is available at the park visitor center.
White Sands is a habitat for poisonous spiders, scorpions and rattlesnakes. Campers must take appropriate precautions, like turning their boots upside down and shaking them out before donning them, and keeping their tents zipped up overnight to keep out snakes looking for a warm place to sleep.
Campers are required to pitch tents within five feet of the post marking the location of the campsite, and have their camp set-up by sunset. Campers and hikers at White Sands must operate on a strict “leave no trace” footing. Constructing improvements at campsites is banned, and all trash must be packed out. Fires outside of designated areas at White Sands are strictly forbidden. Alcohol is banned from February through May.