How to Elope in White Sands National Park [Full Elopement Guide]

Post Summary: Below is a full White Sands National Park elopement guide, where I’m taking you through everything you need to know to elope in White Sands National Park! It’s seriously one of the most incredible national parks in the country, with unique landscapes, breathtaking sunsets, and a TON of cool spots to explore!

If you want to elope somewhere that makes you feel like you’re on another planet (without even leaving the U.S.), then White Sands National Park NEEDS to be on your list of options! Boasting some of the most spectacular desert landscapes in the country and a massive area to explore via walk, hike, or even sled, the glistening white dunes of this park are freaking otherworldly – just PICTURE yourself getting married to the love of your life at this insane location! That’s why I’ve put together this complete guide to help you elope in White Sands National Park and plan the most stress-free, seamless, & epic day possible. I’ve included a list of the best White Sands National Park elopement locations, the best places to stay, and fun activities to do in the area, as well as information about permits, marriage licenses, & park regulations – plus so much more! Enjoy learning about this breathtaking park!

Where is White Sands National Park?

White Sands National Park is located in south-central New Mexico, rising from the Tularosa Basin and surrounded by the White Sands Missile Range. It’s about 3.5 hours south of Albuquerque and 1.5 hours north of El Paso, so only about an hour from the New Mexico-Texas border. Being that it’s adjacent to the military missile range, the park can actually close down for up to 3 hours due to missile tests, so that’s a unique factor to keep in mind when you’re scheduling your White Sands elopement date!

How to get to White Sands National Park

To get to White Sands National Park, you’ll most likely want to fly into El Paso International Airport in Texas, which is about 85 miles away from the park entrance – much closer than Albuquerque Airport, which is around 225 away. I recommend renting a car for your elopement and driving yourself from the airport to wherever you’re staying near the park, since there’s no public transportation that currently serves the park, and you want to make sure you have the freedom to go wherever, whenever you want! You’ll find the entrance to the park between mile markers 199 and 200 on Highway US-70, and the visitor center directly off of US-70 between the cities of Alamogordo and Las Cruces.

White Sands National Park hours

One of the best parts about eloping in White Sands National Park is that it’s open all year-round, unlike many parks here in the PNW that have to close down from late fall through early spring! The park hours depend on the season, so make sure you check online ahead of time when you’re planning your elopement. Below are the hours by season, with exceptions for holidays and military closures:

Summer hours (April 9-September 9): 7:00 AM-9:00 PM

Fall hours (September 10-November 4): 7:00 AM-8:00 PM

Winter hours (November 5-December 31): 7:00 AM-6:00 PM

Winter hours (January 29-March 11: 7:00 AM-7:00 PM

Spring hours (March 12-April 8): 7:00 AM-8:00PM

If you want to arrive before the park opens or stay in the park past sunset, you’ll need what’s called an “Early Entry” or “Stay Late” permit. If your permit is approved, the fee to enter the park is up to $75 per hour or partial-hour, no matter how many people you have (e.g. if you want to stay 30 minutes past closing, the fee will be up to $75 whether you have 2 people or 8)! This is a great opportunity to experience the park at sunrise & sunset, especially if you go early enough or stay late enough that there aren’t as many other visitors around.

You can find all the info for this special entry permit here!

Why Elope in White Sands National Park?

There are SO many phenomenal national parks across the United States, so why elope in White Sands National Park?! 

Honestly, you probably won’t need any more convincing once you keep scrolling through the photos of this insane park, but here are a few of the MAIN reasons why you should have a White Sands National Park elopement:

  • The unique landscapes are absolutely epic, and unlike any other location in the country! The white sand is actually composed of something called gypsum crystals, which are broken up by winds and blown across the park to form the dunes. It literally feels like you’re on a whole other planet.
  • You can bring your dog – as long as they’re on a leash! Many national parks in the U.S. unfortunately don’t allow pets due to the messes & disturbances they can create, but fortunately White Sands is dog-friendly if your four-legged friends are respectful, and you keep them on a leash + clean up after them.
  • The sunsets are stunning: The way the sky lights up with colors as the sun sets over the sand dunes is pretty freaking phenomenal, so be sure to get a late entry permit if the park is closing before sunset depending on the season you visit!
  • There aren’t a ton of restrictions: White Sands National Park has significantly less restrictions when it comes to elopements in comparison to a lot of other U.S. national parks, which I’ll talk more about later in the permit section of this guide.
  • You can elope anywhere in the park: Most national parks in the U.S. have a certain list of permitted ceremony sites for elopements, but at White Sands, you can elope anywhere you want!

How to Elope in White Sands National Park

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of this guide, I wanted to give you a quick look at how I recommend going about planning your White Sands National Park elopement, based on my professional experience working with tons of couples!

Here’s how to elope in White Sands National Park:

1. Pick a date

I always recommend picking your date before anything else, so that you make sure you get the season you want + have a set date to tell your vendors when you inquire with them. This also ensures that you can get the permit process started as quickly as possible! And if you can’t settle on a date quite yet but you want to start reaching out to photographers, officiants, planners, etc., then at least have a time frame in mind – a specific month or at LEAST a specific season is best.

2. Apply for your permits

Next, start applying for your permits as early as you can. The process can take a while, and you want to be sure you get your date of choice – so the earlier the better!

3. Book your vendors

Once you feel like you have a good grasp on your plan (or at least a date) for your elopement, it’s time to start booking your other vendors! The earlier you do this, the better, too, since a lot of vendors (especially photographers, videographers, and planners) book out way in advance. And the sooner you have the help + guidance of the pros by your side, the sooner you can start to relax a little bit more, knowing that you have trusted vendors to help bring your vision to life!

4. Have the best day ever!

And when the day FINALLY arrives, freaking make the most of it! It’s important to set proper expectations beforehand so that even if something goes wrong, even if something runs behind or the weather is bad or the location you wanted is closed down, you KNOW you’ll have an incredible day no matter what. I definitely recommend reading my article about Why You Need to Have Backup Plans for Your Elopement so you can make sure you’re prepped + ready for anything when the day arrives!

Important Things to Know About Eloping in White Sands National Park

Now that you’re familiar with White Sands National Park and why it’s such an epic elopement location, I wanted to go over a few more important pieces of info you should know while you’re planning your big day!

  1. Military closures: Like I mentioned earlier, White Sands is adjacent to the military White Sands Missile Range, so definitely check with rangers to make sure nothing is scheduled on your elopement date.
  2. Entrance fees: It costs $25 to enter White Sands National Park per vehicle for 7 consecutive days, or you can get an America the Beautiful Pass that grants you access to all national parks in the U.S. for $80!
  3. Shade: There’s not a lot of it, so make sure you bring the proper attire to keep you dry, as well as shade tents and plenty of water.
  4. There’s only one trail with a boardwalk: Each trail throughout the park is marked with a specific colored post (i.e. green, blue, orange, or red) and a symbol (i.e. hearts, clubs, spades, or diamonds). Familiarize yourself with these colors and symbols to help you orient yourself to the trail before you start your hike, as this info is critical if you become lost! The Interdune Boardwalk is the only trail with no colored posts or symbols.
  5. Public facilities: There are no indoor facilities available for public use, but there ARE picnic shelters,  grills, and restrooms throughout the dunefield.

When to Elope in White Sands National Park

Best time of year to elope in White Sands National Park

As I mentioned before, one of the top reasons to elope in White Sands National Park is that it’s open all year-round – meaning you can elope whenever you want to as long as the weather permits! Unlike the mountains of the PNW or the deserts of Utah, which have more extreme weather throughout the seasons, White Sands stays pretty comfortable year-round. 

Here’s when you should elope in White Sands National Park, depending on what your priorities are:

  • For fewer crowds & cooler temperatures: Winter (November-March)
  • For warmer temperatures & wind: Spring (March-April)
  • For the warmest temperatures & rain: Summer (April-September)
  • For the most comfortable temperatures: Fall (September-October)

My personal favorite times to visit White Sands National Park are fall and winter, since the temperatures are super comfortable for hiking in the fall & winter comes with way fewer crowds!

Best time of day to elope in White Sands National Park

No matter what time of year you choose to elope in White Sands National Park, I recommend eloping at sunset for the absolute best views. The park is beautiful at all times of the day, but the sun can get really hot and bright during the late morning & afternoon, especially in the spring, summer and fall. Sunrise is beautiful too, but sunset and golden hour are really when the sky comes alive with color, and you’ll start to see really cool shadows & patterns on the dunes cast by the setting sun!

6 Best Locations to Elope in White Sands National Park

Like I mentioned earlier in this guide, you are allowed to have your elopement ceremony ANYWHERE in White Sands National Park! However, there are still some spots I’d recommend over others – so this section is dedicated to all of the top elopement locations in White Sands National Park.

1. Group use area

First up is the group use area, which is the only area in the park that you may reserve for your wedding. This is a semi-private location with limited access for the general public, which makes it a great spot to have a ceremony if you don’t feel like hiking through the dunes or crossing your fingers that you’ll have space to yourselves!  There’s an additional $100 non-refundable reservation fee to use this area, and there’s a shaded pavilion with enough seating for up to 25 people. You can hold your wedding in other areas of the park, but just keep in mind that those areas are open to the public – so this is a good option to consider! You can find more info on how to reserve this area here.

2. Alkali Flat Trail

Difficulty: Moderate

Length: 5 mi

Elevation gain: 52 ft

Trail type: Loop

Trail marker color: Red

Alkali Flat Trail is one of the more strenuous hikes in the park, totaling around 5 miles round trip – but the views of the dunes are SPECTACULAR and are so worth the trek! You’ll walk up and over steep dunes to get to the edges of the Alkali Flat, which is the dry lakebed of Lake Otero. This is a foot-only trail, so no bikes, horses, or motorized vehicles are allowed.

3. Dune Life Nature Trail

Difficulty: Moderate

Length: 1 mi

Elevation gain: 0 ft

Trail type: Loop

Trail marker color: Blue

Dune Life Nature Trail is a much easier hike, just one mile round trip with pretty much no elevation gain. It’s a family-friendly trail that takes you through the dunes at the edge of the dunefield, and it’s much more vegetated than other areas of the dunefield, so you’ll see more greenery. There are a couple of steep dunes you’ll need to climb, but other than that it’s a walk in the park (literally)!

4. Area 19

Area 19 is a lesser-known area you can stop at along Dunes Drive, with gorgeous panoramic views of the heart of the dunes – and no, there are no UFO’s in sight 😉 You can find it on the park’s Dunes Drive Map near Alkali Flat Trail & the Amphitheater.

5. Interdune Boardwalk

Difficulty: easy

Length: 0.4 mi

Elevation gain: 0 ft

Trail type: Out & back

The Interdune Boardwalk is the easiest of the trails on this list, just 0.4 miles round trip and a super easy stroll through the dunes via a boardwalk above the sand! You’ll even learn about the science, geology, plants, & wildlife in the park and might see some wildflowers if the time is right.

6. White Sands Backcountry Trail

Difficulty: Moderate

Length: 1.8 mi

Elevation gain: 6 ft

Trail type: Loop

Trail marker color: Orange

White Sands Backcountry Trail is a perfect middle ground between super easy trails like the Interdune Boardwalk & steeper treks like the Alkali Flat Trail. It’s a 1.8-mile loop through the park, and you can hike it if you want to get to backcountry camping spots or just enjoy a fairly easy hike on your elopement day! There are a few scrambles up and down the loose dunes, but not so many that you’ll be totally drained by the end of it.

Legalities of Eloping in White Sands National Park

How do you get a White Sands National Park wedding permit, and how do you legally get married in New Mexico? Let’s talk about it!

White Sands National Park elopement permits

To get married in White Sands National Park, you’ll need to obtain a Special Use Permit. You can submit your request for a permit up to 6 months in advance of, and no fewer than 21 days of your requested date – meaning if you want to elope on July 1st, you can submit your permit request anytime between January 1st and June 10th. While you technically CAN submit your permit request so close to your desired date, I always recommend applying as far in advance as you can to ensure the park office has plenty of time to process your request & get you your permit! There’s a $100 non-refundable application fee to apply for the Special Use Permit, and you’ll need to pay the regular park entrance fees as well. 

Here’s how to apply for your White Sands National Park wedding permit:

  1. Download & complete the Special Use Permit application
  2. Download & read the White Sands Special Park Uses FYI document
  3. Submit your completed permit application to whsa_permits@nps.gov 
  4. Pay your $100 non-refundable application fee via phone at 575-479-6124 ext. 206
  5. Wait for your permit request to be approved
  6. Once approved, you’ll receive your permit via email or you can pick it up in-person at the park

Easy as that! You can reach out to the permit office at whsa_permits@nps.gov if you have any further questions, or I’ll be more than happy to help you out during the planning process.

How to get your New Mexico marriage license

Lucky for you two, it’s SUPER easy to get married in New Mexico due to the fact that there’s no waiting period once you have your license, the license never expires, and your ceremony can be performed anywhere in New Mexico! So basically, you can get married as soon as you have your license, and you don’t have to get married within a certain period of time in order for it to be good.

Here’s a list of the basic New Mexico marriage laws you’ll need to follow in order to legally get married in the state:

  • Minimum age: 18
  • Witnesses required: 2 over the age of 18
  • Waiting period: None
  • License is valid: Indefinitely
  • Cost: $25
  • Blood test required: No
  • New Mexico residency required: No

Best Places to Stay For Your White Sands National Park Elopement

Where should you stay when you elope in White Sands National Park?

If you don’t want to go backcountry camping in the heart of the dunes, I’d recommend finding a hotel or Airbnb in either Alamogordo, Cloudcroft, Ruidoso, or Las Cruces. Alamogordo is the closest to the park, only a 15 minute drive and providing easy access to all the other attractions in the area. Cloudcroft is a bit further out, about 40 minutes from the park, and is a much more forested & mountainous area perfect for fishing, golfing, skiing, camping, hiking, mountain biking, you name it! Las Cruces sits on the edge of the Chihuahuan Desert a little over an hour from White Sands, and is home to attractions like the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum as well as Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park. And lastly, Ruidoso is also about an hour’s drive from the park, set in the Sierra Blanca mountains and boasting a great ski resort, the Lincoln National Forest, & historic 19th-century adobe buildings.

It’s totally up to you where you stay and how far you want to drive to get to White Sands, so here are some great Airbnbs, hotels, & resorts in each of these 4 towns to make your search a little easier!

Where to stay in Alamogordo:

Where to stay in Cloudcroft:

Where to stay in Ruidoso:

Where to stay in Las Cruces:

10 Fun White Sands National Park Elopement Activity Ideas

If you’re taking the time out of your busy lives to travel to White Sands National Park for your elopement, then you absolutely have to make the most out of it by planning rad things to do! Incorporating activities and excursions into your elopement timeline is one of the best ways to really customize your special day & have it reflect what the two of you love, so here are a few fun activities & things to do near White Sands National Park to get you started:

1. Go sledding down the dunes

2. Go stargazing once the sun goes down

3. Go hiking through the sands

4. Have a desert picnic 

5. Go backcountry camping among the dunes

6. Take in the scenery via bicycle

7. Go horseback riding

8. Drive along Dunes Drive

9. Explore Guadalupe Mountains National Park or Carlsbad Caverns National Park nearby

10. Explore the Lincoln National Forest & Sacramento Mountains nearby

How to Leave No Trace With Your White Sands National Park Elopement

One of the most important parts about adventure elopements is preparing in advance to Leave No Trace wherever you’re going. We are SO fortunate to have such a stunning world to explore, so it’s only right that we protect the great outdoors every time we step foot outside, whether it be to enjoy a wide-open desert, swim in the ocean, or hike through the mountains. So I wanted to include a list of what IS and ISN’T permitted for weddings at White Sands National Park, to make sure you know how to take care of the unique dunes and leave them just as breathtaking as you found them! This is all taken straight from the NPS website, so check out their “Weddings” page for more details.

Unacceptable wedding decorations in White Sands National Park:

  • Living plants, live flowers, plant material, or non-domesticated animals
  • Balloons of any size, shape, or style
  • The throwing of rice, birdseed, confetti, live flower petals, etc.
  • Glass bottles, glassware, wine bottles, beer bottles, etc.
  • Chinese wish lanterns or release of live birds

Acceptable wedding decorations in White Sands National Park:

  • Silk, dried, paper, or fake flower arrangements; garlands; bouquets;
  • Kites or pinwheels
  • Candles, torches, and candelabra – just be sure to bring an appropriate fire extinguisher! Open fires are NOT allowed on the sands.
  • Bubbles, bells, or small flags
  • Tarps, tents, awnings, canopies, arches, lattice, and columns
  • Plastic and paper dishware of any color except for white
  • Chairs, tables, red carpets, and runners
  • Motorhomes and trailers to be used as dressing rooms
  • Horses and carriages – horses must be brought in by trailer, and you have to get a horse and other pack animals permit at the fee station. Carriages will only be allowed in designated areas, and they must also be brought in by trailer.

If you’d like some more in-depth education on how to leave no trace for your White Sands National Park elopement, I definitely recommend checking out my Leave No Trace Planning Guide for Adventure Couples, where I go through how to incorporate each of the 7 LNT principles into your special day. Let’s take care of the great outdoors so that couples after you can enjoy those to-die-for views just as much as you did! For even more info, head on over to the official LNT website, or to this article that the NPS put together on Leaving No Trace in U.S. National Parks.

White Sands National Park Elopement Photographer

You’re a total pro now when it comes to White Sands National Park elopements, yeah? So what comes next?!

It’s time to inquire with your White Sands National Park elopement photographer – a.k.a. yours truly! I’m freaking OBSESSED with this park and think it’s such an underrated elopement location. Don’t get me wrong, I love the PNW and all the parks along the West Coast, but there’s something so magical and otherworldly about this one that just makes it the ultimate adventure elopement destination. Take a look at my White Sands National Park elopement packages & pricing below, and get in touch with me here when you’re ready to start dreaming up your special day in this epic park!

Elopement Packages and Pricing for White Sands National Park

  • Full day of elopement photography coverage anywhere in White Sands National Park
  • Your own personal elopement guide & consultant
    • Unique and personalized location scouting
    • Vendor recommendations
    • Permit and marriage license assistance
    • Hand-crafted elopement timeline
    • Created just-for-you activity list
    • Unlimited guides and resources
    • 100+ page How to Elope Guidebook
  • Optional complimentary officiant service
  • Digital online gallery with full resolution image and printing rights
  • Sneak peek images within 1 week
  • Photographer travel fees covered anywhere in White Sands National Park

Starting at $6,500


Loved this guide but haven’t quite settled on White Sands National Park as your location yet? I’ve got plenty more National Park elopement guides to help you find your dream place – check out a few of my recent favorites below!

How to Elope in a National Park: Permits, Costs, & More

How to Elope in Zion National Park

How to Elope in Saguaro National Park

How to Elope in Glacier National Park

How to Elope in North Cascades National Park

How to Elope in Olympic National Park

How to Elope in Mount Rainier National Park

In order to make your dream elopement day happen, it's super important that we connect and that you feel comfortable with me! The best way to do this is to reach out and schedule a call so you can learn more about me and I can learn about you two so i can document what's real + the most important to you.

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