White Sands National Park is one of the most unique national parks for eloping! Maybe you’re wanting to elope at White Sands, but you’re wondering how to make it happen – let’s be honest, the park website isn’t always the best at giving you easy-to-understand information. But that’s why I’m here to help! Read through this guide for tips on when to elope at the park, what to do on your elopement day, wedding permits, where to stay, and more. And if you’d like a little extra help with planning your White Sands wedding or are looking for an elopement photographer, contact me!
What information you’ll find in this White Sands Elopement Guide:
Best Time of Year to Visit White Sands for Your Elopement
White Sands National Park is spectacular any time of year, but there are preferred seasons. While the summer months (May – September) see the bulk of park visitors, it is also the hottest time of year with average temperature highs ranging from upper 80s to upper 90s (and over 100°F is not unusual). Because the park is mostly sand and a few low shrubs, there’s no shade from the intense New Mexican sun, and it’s easy to get overheated. And although the white sand does stay cooler than average sand, it reflects the harsh UV rays and can give you a nasty sunburn. My recommendation is to visit the park in the spring, fall, and winter for more comfortable temperatures, and lower visitor numbers!
On average, October and November have very comfortable temperatures in the 70s and 60s, although hot or cold days can still happen. November is also one of the quietest months at the park, if you’re looking for a little more solitude. December, January, and February can have warm days in the 60s, or be quite cold (yes, even southern New Mexico gets cold in the winter). From a photographer’s perspective, I love the golden light that happens around sunset in the fall and winter months. It’s just extra magical! Spring (March and April) can also have pleasant temperatures, although you do run the risk of visiting the park on an extremely windy day, which is more likely in the spring.
The Best Time of Day to Elope at White Sands National Park
The short answer to the question of when to elope at White Sands is: SUNSET! Nine times out of ten, the sunset at the park is incredible. The sun dips behind the San Andres Mountains and turns the white landscape into a rainbow of colors. First the shadows of the dunes and the mountains in the background turn into a vibrant shade of blue. And if the sunset catches the clouds, the sky lights up with gorgeous reds, pinks, oranges, and purples. And even after the sun is completely hidden, the white sand of the park continues to reflect light and turns the scene into a watercolor painting of soft blues, purples, oranges, and pinks. You don’t want to miss it!
White Sands is one of the few national parks that isn’t open 24 hours a day – the gates close at a specific time, and you need to be out by then. Closing time is anywhere from 6pm to 9pm, depending on the season, so be sure to check the current park hours before you plan your sunset elopement. If you have a backcountry camping permit or Stay Late permit, you’re welcome to stay within the park after the gates are locked.
Or, if you’re early birds, visit the park as soon as it opens (7:00 AM year-round) just after sunrise. One thing to be careful of is that the park is sometimes closed for missile testing in the morning, so just make sure you check the park’s closure updates. Because of this, I usually recommend visiting the park for your wedding or elopement later in the day.
What to Do for Your Elopement at White Sands National Park
I’m a huge advocate for creating an elopement day that’s fun, meaningful, and 100% you. So I think the perfect elopement isn’t just a quick ceremony and a few cool photos, but rather an amazing experience that lasts throughout the day. If you want to elope at White Sands, there’s plenty to do to make your wedding day extra special! And if you’re looking for more inspiration for how to design your elopement day to really reflect you, check out my article on How to Elope.
Hiking at White Sands National Park
Hiking at White Sands is beautiful and a lot of fun, but don’t expect your average trail! Although there are designated hiking paths and areas, it’s difficult to find them just by looking at the dunes. Metal poles spread out along the set trails guide you in the right direction for four out of the five hikes. The remaining trail is an easy and short boardwalk over the sand for full accessibility and easy wildlife viewing. If you’d like to do a specific hike on your wedding day, the Dune Life or Backcountry Camping trails may be good options. Or, just get out on the dunes and hike around in whatever direction calls to you. Just be sure you know how to get back to your car. 😉
Sledding at White Sands National Park
Yes, you read that right, you can sled at White Sands National Park! Although the park does occasionally get snow, you’ll more likely be sledding down the white dunes of gypsum sand. You can bring your own sled, or buy a waxed snow saucer from the park visitor center. Some of the most popular sledding spots at White Sands are around mile markers 4 though 6. Can you imagine hopping on a sled and whizzing down the dunes on your wedding day? How fun!
Pack a Picnic!
White Sands is a great place for a picnic – just pick a dune, spread out a blanket, and enjoy the views while you eat! If you’re wanting a table and chairs, bring some collapsible camping furniture or use the park’s covered picnic tables. Many couples enjoy sampling a cute charcuterie board for their elopement day picnic, or you could bring a little camp stove to make a hot meal. Picnics are always a fun way to relax a little on your wedding day!
Backpacking + Stargazing at White Sands National Park
How cool would it be to wake up on your elopement day, step out of your tent, and already be at your ceremony spot?! Backpacking at White Sands is not only a fun adventure, but also a great opportunity to watch the sun rise or stargaze after dark. You’ll also have plenty of peace and privacy! New Mexico’s famously clear skies and White Sands’ wide open spaces make it the perfect place to watch the night sky. And how amazing would star photos on your wedding day be?! Backcountry permits are required to stay overnight in the park, but they’re easy to obtain and well worth it. Or, if you’d rather sleep in a real bed, you can get “stay late” permits to do some stargazing.
As of 4/21/21, backcountry camping at White Sands and stay late permits are currently postponed due to the pandemic.
Explore the Area Around White Sands National Park
One of my favorite ways for couples to make their White Sands elopement epic is to include a mountain excursion into their day. Just an hour from the national park, the Ruidoso area has so much to offer! You could start your day with a forest hike or have your ceremony atop one of the beautiful mountains in the Lincoln National Forest. Or, if you prefer deserts over mountains, head to City of Rocks State Park or the Las Cruces area.
If you’re a fellow National Park Geek like me, check out Carlsbad Caverns National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park which are just over three hours away from White Sands. Both national parks have something unique and totally different to explore! At Carlsbad, hike through stalactites and stalagmites into impressive caverns that will take your breath away. Or cross the New Mexico border into Texas for beautiful rocky desert views at Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
White Sands National Park Wedding Permits + Regulations
Wedding Permits at White Sands National Park
Whether it’s just the two of you eloping or you’re bringing family and friends for your wedding ceremony, White Sands National Park is an amazing place to get married! However, the size of your guest list does make a difference when it comes to wedding permits at the park.
After speaking with the permits ranger at the park, it’s my understanding that very small ceremonies do not require a permit, as long as there are no props (arches, chairs, etc.) involved. I highly recommend emailing or calling the park to get up to date information and make sure your elopement qualifies for this exemption. But if you’re having a bit of a larger wedding at White Sands, don’t worry! Applying for a permit is fairly easy – just a bit of paperwork and a small permit fee (nowhere near the price of a fancy wedding venue!). Just remember that you need to submit your permit at least 30 days before your wedding date. Here’s the official low down on wedding permits and regulations for the park.
Note: In 2022, the park was overwhelmed with the number of applications for wedding permits, and it was taking as much as 5 months to receive a permit after application. My hope is that the park will be able to make some adjustments to their process so that this doesn’t happen again. However, I highly suggest applying as soon as you can for your White Sands National Park wedding permit.
Wedding Regulations at White Sands National Park
Regardless of whether or not you require a permit for your White Sands elopement, there are a few regulations that you need to follow in order to help protect the park and its visitors.
- No alcohol is allowed in the park from February 1st to May 31st. If you want to pop some champagne during that time period, I recommend bringing a sparkling juice or flavored sparkling water (in a non-glass bottle) and save the champagne for after your time in the park.
- Bouquets must be made from dried or artificial flowers and greenery since no living plant materials are allowed in the park. But don’t worry, I can suggest some amazing paper, wood, or silk flowers that look just as amazing as a live arrangement!
- Your guests won’t be allowed to throw confetti, rice, or bird seed, but you can use bubbles or bells for your celebratory send-off.
- Although a wedding permit is always required for this, you can have furniture and decorations like chairs, arches (if properly anchored), tents, etc. Candles are also allowed, as long as you pick up any dripped wax and have a way to extinguish the flames.
- Dogs are allowed! Yup, your fur babies can come along for your elopement, as long as they remain on a leash in the park. And if you’re an equestrian, you may bring horses into the park as well (just make sure to follow the specific guidelines).
- No glass is permitted in the park (imagine stepping on that in the sand!), but you’re welcome to bring paper and plastic products as long as they aren’t white.
How to Legally Get Married at White Sands National Park
Good news, the process is pretty easy! All you need is a legal officiant, two witnesses, and a New Mexico marriage license. To get a marriage license, both of you will need to take photo ID’s or birth certificates to a county clerk’s office, and you’ll be able to take the license with you (and use it) the same day. White Sands National Park is in Doña Ana County (appointment required), but you can get your license at the nearby clerk’s offices of Otero County or Lincoln County. A New Mexico marriage license from any county in the state is valid, and costs only $25. For more information about marriage licenses, check out How to Elope in New Mexico!
If you’d like to have someone officiate your wedding for you, you can hire an officiant or have a friend become “ordained”. If you prefer a totally private ceremony, you can say your vows to each other, and then I can sign your marriage license for you. If you aren’t planning to have any guests at your elopement, we can find some park visitors to sign as your two witnesses!
Places to Stay Near White Sands
If you’re looking for a place to stay near White Sands National Park, you have a few options. Just outside the park is the town of Alamogordo, New Mexico where you can find hotels and Airbnb options. If you don’t mind driving a little farther, check out the cute little mountain towns of Cloudcroft (45 minute drive) or Ruidoso (1 hour drive). Both have a few small hotel options and plenty of cabin rentals and Airbnbs/VRBOs. The closest city to White Sands National Park is Las Cruces, just an hour away to the southwest.
White Sands National Park Wedding + Elopement Photography Inspiration
Whether you plan to actually get married at White Sands or you’re just stopping by after your ceremony, it’s a spectacular place to have your wedding photos done. The endless dunes and white, minimalistic landscape are like no other. Golden hour (the hour before the sun is fully set) and just after sunset are spectacular times for wedding photography. In some instances, a photography permit is required to take wedding photos in the park, so be sure to talk to a ranger or find out more information on the park permit page. As your White Sands photographer, I’ll help you with the planning like navigating permits, building a timeline, picking the best spots, designing a fun elopement day, and more.
Do you love the idea of a White Sands elopement, but can’t make it happen? Check out this list of other Underrated National Parks to Elope At or get inspiration from this Great Sand Dunes National Park photo session in southern Colorado.
Want to have a wedding or elopement at White Sands National Park?
It’s clear that having your wedding or elopement at White Sands National Park would be an unforgettable experience, and I hope this guide has given you the information you need to make your dream day happen. After all, you deserve an amazing, tailored-to-you elopement day without stressful planning! I’d love to guide you through the elopement planning process and ease that burden with my ideas, experience, and expertise. Fill out the form below to get in touch, and let’s create your perfect White Sands elopement!