There is so much beauty to behold in our country’s National Parks, but it is even more breathtaking and unique when that beauty is found beneath the surface! Carlsbad Caverns National Park is one of these such parks, and although there is much to do here above the surface, what makes this park truly shine is what is found in its subterranean caves. For a complete list of things to do when visiting Carlsbad Caverns, including Carlsbad Caverns camping, lodging, hiking, and activities, read on!
This guide to visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park includes:
- Background on Carlsbad Caverns National Park
- Location and Park Info
- Know Before You Go
- Carlsbad Caverns Camping
- Carlsbad Caverns Lodging
- Carlsbad Caverns Hiking
- Tours and Special Programs
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Things to Do in Carlsbad Caverns National Park
These impressive underground caverns are hewn from the prehistoric limestone earth outside of Carlsbad, New Mexico, in the southeastern corner of the state. These caverns share a home with the Guadalupe Mountains range, which continues to run into Texas and ironically, forms the highest point in Texas at Guadalupe Peak.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park has become famous over the decades for several of its well known, other worldly formations, such as the enormous “Big Room”, as well as an abundance of subterranean pools, fossils, and bat activity!
Location of Carlsbad Caverns
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is located 30 minutes southwest of Carlsbad, New Mexico, on Highway 62.
Visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park
What to Know Before You Go
Below you will find the basic info for visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
Operating Hours of Carlsbad Caverns
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is open daily, except for Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Check the park’s official page when visiting Carlsbad Caverns, for specific time restrictions for entering and exiting the caves, based on seasons.
Also, as of 2021, touring Carlsbad Caverns now requires a reservation, which can be made through Reservation.gov’s website. This reservation gives you a designated time slot in which to tour the Caverns.
Entrance Fees for Carlsbad Caverns
Entrance fees for adults are $15 a person, and are good for three days. Children under 15 years old are free.
Ranger guided tours to areas of the caverns that are not self-guided do incur additional fees. Check the official page for pricing on guided tours.
Permits for Carlsbad Caverns
Permits are required for backcountry camping in Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Permits are free, and must be claimed at the Visitor’s Center the day of arrival.
Pets in Carlsbad Caverns
It is worth noting that pets are not allowed to backcountry hike or camp, and are not allowed in the caverns themselves. There is a kennel facility on site at the Visitor’s Center, where pets can be held during a guest’s time in the caverns.
The kennel provides water only, but guests wishing to kennel their pet during their visit can bring in their own personal bedding to be used for their pet’s comfort during the duration of the visit. Fees are $10 a day, and overnight stays are not permitted. Owners are required to provide current proof of rabies vaccination, and advance reservations are not permitted. The kennel is based on first come, first serve.
The parking lot is actively monitored, and pets are strictly forbidden from being left in vehicles on days when the temperature will reach 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Children in Carlsbad Caverns
Carlsbad Caverns is a great place to bring children, as it allows their imaginations an opportunity to run wild amidst a magical world of mysterious formations and subterranean exploration! Keep in mind that within the caverns themselves, loud noises are frowned upon, as there is a significant echo effect.
Due to the often slick conditions and potentially hazard conditions of the caverns off the paved trail, children must be monitored closely at all times. Touching the formations is also prohibited. Strollers are also not allowed within the caverns, so if bringing young lap children, plan on utilizing some form of baby backpack, like this one I’ve used on day hikes with my own son (we both love it!).
Tips for Visiting Carlsbad Caverns
Due to the unique environment at Carlsbad Caverns, several additional precautions should be exercised!
- First, adequate footwear is a must for visiting Carlsbad Caverns. Certain parts of the pathways through the caverns can be surprisingly steep, and due to the environment of the caves, also slick. For these reasons, sturdy, closed-toed shoes with reliable traction are recommended.
- Secondly, visitors may want to pack a light jacket for their time in the caves, as the temperature here remains in the 50’s year round, despite how hot the temperature outside becomes.
- Thirdly, both cameras and flashlights are allowed in the caverns.
- Next, no outside food or beverage, besides water, are allowed to be consumed in the caverns. The only allowable place for snacks within the caverns is at the Underground Snack Bar, just before the entrance to the trail. Picnic tables are located above ground outside the Visitor’s Center.
- Lastly, there is no cell phone coverage in the caverns.
The Best Things to Do in Carlsbad Caverns
In this unique desert landscape, you can find a plethora of active, adventurous, and educational activities, including camping, hiking, tours, and wildlife programs.
Carlsbad Caverns Camping
Camping at Carlsbad Caverns National Park is limited to backcountry camping only. There are no developed sites in the park’s borders. Visitors wanting to backcountry camp must obtain a free permit at the visitor’s center the day of arrival. It is not possible to obtain a backcountry permit in advance.
There are no backcountry fires allowed, and no pets allowed. Check the park’s official page for specific restrictions for obtaining a permit and backcountry camping.
Carlsbad Caverns Lodging
Again, the only option for lodging within Carlsbad Caverns National Park is primitive backcountry camping. For all other options, guests will have to look outside the park’s borders, to the nearby towns of White’s City, or Carlsbad.
Whites City is a small establishment that offers rv, tent camping, cabins, and a motel. The motel is older, but quiet with very spacious rooms. It is located approximately seven miles from the entrance to the park. Plus, it is the perfect home base if you are looking to knock out TWO neighboring National Parks during the same visit – Carlsbad Caverns National Park AND Guadalupe Mountains National Park! Whites City is located at the entrance to Carlsbad Caverns, and also about 30 minutes from Guadalupe Mountains.
Alternatively, visitors can lodge in Carlsbad, which offers a variety of accommodations, including hotels, vacation rentals, and camping.
Check Availability for Your Trip HERE!
Or for those looking to enjoy two National Parks, you can also camp at Guadalupe Mountains National Park, approximately 40 minutes from Carlsbad Caverns, in Texas. Here guests will find plenty of campground amenities and availability.
Carlsbad Caverns Hiking
Despite popular belief, there are options for both underground and above-ground hiking at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, though admittedly the underground trails are the most popular and well known!
Visitors have the choice to participate in either self-guided or ranger guided hikes beneath the surface. In order to access Carlsbad’s underground, self-guided, self-paced hiking, guests can either take the elevator located in the Visitor’s Center, or hike down the Natural Entrance Trail.
The Natural Entrance Trail is a steep and moderately challenging 1.25 mile long jaunt that descends into the caverns, and takes an hour on average to complete. This gaping hole in the earth is definitely a sight to behold, if you can handle the series of steep, descending switchbacks. If unsure, opt for the elevator route down.
Once below, guests can pick up the beginning of the self guided cave trail. The aptly named Big Room Trail is a 1.25 mile, mostly flat trail that leads past some of the more fascinating formations in Carlsbad Caverns, such as the stalagmite laden Hall of Giants, the stalactite Sword of Damocles, Top of the Cross, and the sinister sounding Bottomless Pit. One cannot begin to describe all of the other sights along this trail, as the Big Room itself is large enough to house six football fields!
For those looking to shorten their explorations, there is a shortcut offered that cuts the trail down to 0.6 miles in length.
Insider Tip: Continue reading to discover more information about ranger guided tours in Carlsbad Caverns.
Though in a vastly different form, Carlsbad Caverns offers stunning views on its above ground trails as well. Adjacent to the parking lot near the Visitor’s Center, guests can enjoy a sunny and expansive nature trail with views of the Chihuahuan Desert, perfect for families.
The Juniper Ridge Trail is an easy, 1.9 mile long trail that offers guests a glimpse of desert life here in southern New Mexico.
The Walnut Canyon Trail is another brief, 0.3 long hike that sums up the regional characteristics of the area.
Rattlesnake Canyon is a more challenging hiking option, at 5.4 miles along a humble creek bed.
Looking to really up your game? The Guadalupe Ridge Trail is a 100 mile out and back hike that connects Carlsbad Caverns National Park to the highest point in neighboring Texas, Guadalupe Peak, located in Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
Ranger Guided Tours in Carlsbad Caverns
There are several areas of the caverns that are only available to view with a guided ranger tour. Some tours are daily, while others are only offered on certain days or seasons. Check out the park’s official page to see guided tour listings, costs, and to make reservations. Offerings include tours such as King’s Palace, Left Hand Tunnel Tour, Lower Cave, Hall of the White Giant, Spider Cave, and Slaughter Canyon Cave, in addition to several others.
The King’s Palace Tour is a popular program that highlights the deepest part of the caverns.
The Left Hand Tunnel Tour is a program that takes guests along an undeveloped, unpaved, lantern lit portion of the caves.
The Lower Cave tour allows guests to descend a series of ladders in their explorations.
The Hall of the White Giant tour encompasses portions of ladder climbing, rock climbing, and crawling through tight passageways, a real modern day Indiana Jones! Not for the claustrophobic adventurer though!
Spider Cave tours include another chance for guests to climb and crawl their way through the caverns.
Finally, the Slaughter Canyon Cave program highlights some of largest cavern formations and other rarely seen formations.
Bat Flight Program
Not only are the caverns home to towering, twisted, and mind boggling creations, but it is also home to a colony of resident Brazilian free-tailed bats. This ranger led program occurs each evening from May-October. Rangers will give a background on the bats while waiting for their emergence, and will lead the crowd in knowing how to react to their impending presence.
This nightly event is free and does not require a reservation, and is located in the outdoor amphitheater near the entrance to the Natural Entrance Trail. Come in August and September, and have a chance to witness newborn baby bats taking flight along with the rest of the colony. Cameras and pets are strictly forbidden during this program, in order to ensure the safety of the bats.
Night Sky Program
On several nights throughout the summer, which dates can be found here, Carlsbad Caverns sponsors Star Walks and Moon Hikes. These events are free, though it is first come first serve, and the groups are limited to 25 individuals. Register at the Visitor’s Center the day of the program. These events are ranger led, and participants are encouraged to bring a headlamp or flashlight for the walk.
Also on several nights in the summer, the park hosts Star Parties. Rangers will guide participants on how to enjoy the night sky with the use of a telescope.
All events take place following the nightly Bat Flight Program.
Dawn of the Bats Program
Dawn of the Bats is an annual program that takes place the third Saturday in July. Participants can enjoy the return of the bats from their nighttime escapades, free of charge and no reservation required. This program usually starts around 5am on the designated Saturday in June, and is usually followed with daytime festivities celebrating this once a year program.
****Once you’re there, check out 8 other awesome outdoor adventures to have in Carlsbad that are worthy of your time! Carlsbad has mesmerizing waterfalls, serene lakes, and challenging hikes all in its desert setting.
So, What’s Next After Visiting Carlsbad Caverns?
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