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Overland Elopements

How to Elope in White Sands National Park

March 6, 2023

Hi! We're Anna and Trevor.

We're a fun (and maybe a little dorky) couple of elopement photographers, traveling all over the country to help people get married in the most beautiful places mother nature has to offer.

We thrive with cameras in hand, and nothing resonates with us more than the intimacy & freedom of an elopement. We get that big events and old school traditions aren't for everyone, and that's totally cool! We're all about embracing our uniqueness and throwing tradition out the window.

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Nestled between the San Andres and Sacramento Mountains, white gypsum dunes stretch for miles in all directions. People visit the dunes to enjoy hiking, sledding & picnicking, and to view vibrant sunsets, but there’s always space to explore on your own. There’s no place else in the country quite like it, making White Sands one of our favorite suggestions in the southwest for elopements.

White Sand dunes in the foreground and a mountain range in the distance background.

What makes White Sands National Park a great elopement location?

If you’re looking for a scenic place to run and play, picnic or stargaze on your elopement day, White Sands is the park for you.

Unlike typical sand, these dunes are actually made of gypsum. The dunes form when rain falls in the mountains, dissolves the gypsum and carries it down to the basin. Because gypsum doesn’t absorb the heat from the sun, the sand remains cool to walk on, even midday.

White Sands is one of the easiest places to elope within the National Park system (we’ll get to all of those details in this post). As a plus, the park is friendly for larger groups, those with accessibility needs, and dogs, meaning your closest loved ones can easily join you too.

Follow along on this guide to find out everything you need to know about eloping in White Sands National Park.

Important Things to Note When Visiting White Sands National Park

Hours of Operation at White Sands

Unlike other National Parks, White Sands has set hours between 7am and typically just after sunset (6pm-9pm depending on the season). To remain in the park after dark for camping or stargazing, a permit is required.

Military Closures

Scheduled military tests can cause the park to close for short periods of time. They are typically scheduled from one month to one day in advance, so it’s recommended to call the park to verify there are no tests scheduled during your wedding/elopement time. It’s unlikely that testing would take place around sunset, but it’s always a good idea to check just in case!

Entrance Fees

There is a $25 entrance fee per vehicle good for seven days, or entry free with the National Park Interagency Pass

The sun sipping behind the mountains in the distant background, with white dunes glowing purple in the evening light.

How to Get Married in New Mexico

Before we dive into park specifics, here’s what it takes to legally tie the knot in New Mexico.

First, you’ll need to acquire your New Mexico marriage license. White Sands National Park is located in Doña Ana county; Marriage license information can be found at Dona Ana County Marriage License. You will both need to appear in person to acquire your license, but the great news is that its valid right away and doesn’t expire!

In New Mexico, two witness and an officiant are required to make things legally legit. Eloping without guests? If you plan on hiring a photographer or other vendors, they can act as witnesses (or in our case, an officiant if needed). Otherwise, we typically ask other visitors to sign as witnesses.

How to Apply for a White Sands Special Use Permit

To hold a ceremony or vow exchange within White Sands National Park, you’ll first need to apply for a special use permit.

Permit requests can be submitted between 21 days to six months before your wedding date.

The permit application form can be found on the NPS Website, here: Wedding Permits at White Sands

Along with the application with your elopement details, there is a $100 non-refundable application fee.

White Sands Ceremony & Portrait Locations

The Dunes Drive scenic road takes you right into the heart of the dune field, where you can hike, sled or just hang out and enjoy the views. There are a few marked trails, but the entire dune field is your playground.

There is one semi-private reservable location for large groups with a large shaded pavilion (seats 25 people), two charcoal grills, and individual shaded picnic tables. This same group use area can also be reserved for group tent camping at an additional cost. Imagine having the dunes almost all to yourselves for stargazing or moonlight sledding!

Otherwise, you are free to hold your ceremony at any publicly accesible location within the park. This is one of our favorite aspects about eloping in White Sands!

Best Time of Year to Elope in White Sands National Park

The weather at White Sands varies dramatically throughout the year, so it’s important to factor this in when choosing an elopement date. We prefer wintertime or fall for fewer crowds, cooler temps, and more predictable weather. But you can visit White Sands year round as long as you know what to expect and be prepared!

Winter: In wintertime, expect cool daytime temperatures in the 60s and mostly sunshine. There may be an occasional winter storm bringing snow or rain.

Spring: The days start to warm up between March and May, with temperatures averaging in the mid 70s. Along with warmer temperatures, March is also the beginning of windy season here in New Mexico. Afternoon windstorms can bring high winds up to 50mph!

Summer: July through September marks the rainy season, with afternoon and evening thunderstorms being common. Temperatures average 95 degrees during the day, but can drop as long as 50 in the evening. The sand (which is actually gypsum and not silica) does not hold heat like you may expect, so you can walk barefoot even in the summer.

Fall: White Sands is beautiful in the fall, with daily temperatures between 65 to 80 degrees, this is a great time to elope here.

Leave No Trace Guide

White Sands National Park is one of the most flexible national parks when it comes to Leave No Trace rules. There are however a few wedding-specific rules in place to prevent the spread of non-native species and protect the environment. The following wedding decor is not permitted within White Sands National Park:

  • Living plants, live flowers or non-domesticated animals.
  • Balloons, rice, birdseed, confetti, live flower petals.
  • Glass bottles, wine bottles, beer bottles etc.
  • No Open Fires on Sands

There is however a very generous list of allowable details within the park! This is a much more lenient than most other locations within the NPS, where rules are typically much stricter due to the more sensitive environments. The following decor is permitted:

  • Silk, dried, paper or fake flower arrangements.
  • Kites or pinwheels
  • Candles
  • Bubbles, bells, flags
  • Tarps, tents and arches are allowed as long as they are properly roped or staked to the ground.
  • Chairs tables and runners that do not harm vegetation.
A person walking alone in the white sand dunes, holding an orange disc sled.

Activities to Include on your Elopement Day

We’ve established that the white sand dunes are absolutely beautiful, but what’s the best way to enjoy your time in the park?

Sled down the slopes.

Feel free to bring your own sled, or rent one from the visitor center! This is one of the major highlights of the park, and a sure way to feel like kid again. Pro tip: The dunes are less slippery than snow, so use a freshly waxed disc for the best experience!

Go on a hike together.

While the park is basically one big playground, there are five designated trails to explore. Trail difficulty ranges from easy & ADA accesible, to a strenuous 5 mile loop. The Dune Nature trail follows along the edge of the dunes, and provides a different view than the heart of the field.

Have a picnic.

White Sands has its own shaded tables, but you can also hike to your own private dune for a private picnic together. Bring a blanket, umbrella, and whatever goodies you’re craving! From the park’s website, here are some tips for a great picnic:

  • Use colored plates, napkins, cups, and silverware. White, plastic dinnerware is not easily visible on the white sand. Remember to Leave No Trace.
  • When you are done with your picnic, use our recycling bins by the vault toilets to recycle plastic and aluminum.
  • Consider using reusable tableware to reduce the amount trash left behind in the park.
  • Trash dumpsters are provided in the picnic areas for your use. If the small trash cans are full please throw trash in the large dumpsters.
  • Bag your trash. Wind will pick up things like paper plates and napkins and carry them into the dunes.

Bring your pup.

Dogs are allowed on-leash in all areas of the park. This is super unique for National Parks, so we highly encourage you to bring your furry friends along!

Organ Mountains at Sunset

Explore the area.

Within driving distance of White Sands National Park, there are other stunning recreation areas, hiking trails, and even another National Park! If using Las Cruces as your home base, be sure to check out these other local destinations.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks National Monument

Farm and Craft Market of Las Cruces (Also the best place for outstanding street tacos)

Go skiing or mountain biking in Cloudcroft, NM

White Sands National Park Elopement Packages

Southern New Mexico and White Sands National Park is a seriously underrated destination, making it one of our favorite places to introduce to couples looking for more unique and intimate elopement setting.

Want to elope in White Sands? We take all the hassle out of planning your own adventure elopement, by walking with you every step of the planning process. Reach out today to get started on building your own perfect adventure.

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