When you hear Carlsbad, odds are you immediately think of its namesake caverns at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. But what other Carlsbad activities are worthy of your time in this Southwestern town? The great thing about Carlsbad is that after you have thoroughly explored its National Park to its fullest, there are still a plethora of Carlsbad activities and attractions for the active traveler! So continue reading to find out eight fun things to do in Carlsbad, NM, for the true outdoor aficionado!
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8 Fun Things to Do in Carlsbad, NM
Although it resides smack in the center of the Chihuahuan desert, there is a surprising amount of diversity in these Carlsbad activities and outdoor active travel opportunities. From waterfalls, to local flora and fauna, to peaceful lakes, to challenging trails, Carlsbad really does have it all, including those Caverns! Here are the 8 best active travel opportunities and fun things to do in Carlsbad, NM!
- Sitting Bull Falls in Lincoln National Forest
- Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park
- Lake Carlsbad and the Pecos River
- Brantley Lake
- Run Through Carlsbad
- Guadalupe Mountains National Park
- Guadalupe Ridge Trail
- Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Map of 8 Fun Things to Do in Carlsbad NM
Use this map below to craft your perfect visit to Carlsbad, NM!
Map of 8 fun things to do in Carlsbad NM!
#1 Fun Things to Do in Carlsbad NM: Sitting Bull Falls
Sitting Bull Falls Recreation Area is located in the Lincoln National Forest, about one hour southwest of Carlsbad. This little nook has been revered by locals and out of towners alike for its oasis like qualities, in a region mostly known for its expansive desert landscapes. So naturally, many people flock here for a little taste of lushness and the chance to relax by the mesmerizing waters of Sitting Bull Falls.
Here you can sit by still pools of water, take a dip in the pools, or bask in the 150 foot tall waterfall which gives Sitting Bull Falls its name. For the active traveler, there are several hiking opportunities and day use trails available as well.
One of the best ways to see the falls is hiking the Sitting Bull Falls Trail. This 0.7 mile out and back roundtrip trail takes you to the base of the falls, and also has an option to continue hiking up to the top of the falls where you can view the springs that feeds this water source.
Hiking to the top requires extra preparation, such as the right footwear, and plenty of safety and caution due to the steepness in certain areas, but as an active traveler, I would highly recommend it as a must do. I would not recommend allowing children to attempt this hike unattended.
There are several other trails you can pick up from Sitting Bull Falls, if you are looking to extend your hiking past the immediate area, but the Sitting Bull Falls Trail is the must see.
Know Before You Go:
- Keep in mind as you plan your visit that this Recreation Area is day use only.
- No camping is allowed.
- It is currently open 5 days a week, and closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
- In the winter, Sitting Bull Falls Recreation Area is open from 8:30 am to 5 pm.
- In the summer, it is open from 8:30 am to 6 pm.
- There are picnic tables, restrooms, and water available for spending a day here.
- Entry fee is $5 per vehicle, CASH ONLY.
- There are 2 first come first serve RV spaces available for $10 a day.
- The best time of year to visit is spring and fall.
- Arrive early as Sitting Bull Falls is very popular and gets very busy, especially in the summer!
***Insider Tip: Sitting Bulls Falls Recreation Area is a great place to hike, followed up by dipping your feet in its cool waters. Bring appropriate swimwear, footwear, and towels.
#2 Fun Things to Do in Carlsbad NM: Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park
Visiting the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens is more like taking an easy hike through an environment that has been hand-crafted and cultured to give visitors the most natural experience of New Mexican flora, fauna, and wildlife. The local inhabitants are integrated into their surroundings in a very cohesive way, and the gardens and greenhouse are full of local succulents. There are over 40 species of animals that reside at the Living Desert Zoo, all native to the surrounding Chihuahuan Desert ecosystem, such as mountain lions, black bears, and prairie dogs.
Just the 1.3 mile walk alone through the zoo’s park like setting is a beautiful way to actively enjoy this Carlsbad activity and charming local spot. This path starts off downhill, and then gradually gains uphill as you return back to the Visitors Center at the entrance. The entire walk contains only 70 feet in elevation gain, making it ideal for families and all ages.
Just outside the entrance to the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, visitors can also enjoy the 2 mile long out and back Ocotillo Hills Nature Trail, which contains panoramic overlooks of the Carlsbad area and the surrounding landscape of the Chihuahuan Desert. The elevation gain on this trail is 245 feet. There is no fee to hike the Ocotillo Hills Nature Trail. The trailhead is located off of Skyline Drive, which is the same road as the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens.
Know Before You Go:
- Entrance fees are $5 a person
- Hours are 9 am – 5 pm, with last entry at 3:30 pm
- The path through the Living Desert Zoo is 1.3 miles in length, and 70 feet in total elevation gain, making it ideal for families.
- There are hiking trails around the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens that can be enjoyed
- There are picnic areas available
- There is a playground on the premises of the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens
- No camping
- No dogs allowed
#3 Fun Things to Do in Carlsbad NM: Lake Carlsbad and the Pecos River
This waterway represents the heart of Carlsbad activities outdoors. If you wish to walk or run, check out the Pecos Riverwalk that winds along the shoreline. This 4.6 mile loop roundtrip trail is a great way to parallel and enjoy the Pecos River. This is a great urban trail perfect for families, runners, picnikers, and sightsee-ers!
If watersports are your preferred way of interacting, then paddleboats, paddleboards, and kayaks are available to use. Or you can always just swim at the Lake Carlsbad Beach Park, located along the Riverwalk.
All in all, the Riverwalk is just short of 5 miles (4.6 miles exactly) long, so you can definitely enjoy a full day actively in the outdoors here!
#4 Fun Things to Do in Carlsbad NM: Brantley Lake
Another local state park that should be on your list of Carlsbad attractions is Brantley Lake State Park. Located on the shores of Brantley Lake (and also a northern section of the Pecos River), this state park is only a 30 minute drive northwest of Carlsbad. And just like Sitting Bull Falls, it provides a diverse change of scenery in the middle of the desert.
Here at Brantley Lake State Park one can camp, hike, boat, and fish. There are just over 100 available campsites composed of developed and primitive options. Shoreline and boat access only primitive sites are available.
It is $5 entry to the park, and starting at $14 nightly to reserve a campsite. Reservations can be obtained online. Please note that reserved spots will be released if the reservation holder fails to show up or contact the park by 4pm the day following the scheduled arrival date.
There are about two and a half miles of hike-able trails here, so it is the perfect place to spend a lake front day or weekend getaway outside of Carlsbad!
#5 Fun Things to Do in Carlsbad NM: Go on a Run Through Carlsbad Past Historical Buildings, the Pecos River Flume, and Quintessential Southwestern Touches
There’s nothing “official” about this pick from the list of Carlsbad activities, but I will personally continue to say that going for a run is the best way to get actively acquainted with a new place. Carlsbad was one of my most surprising and enjoyable impromptu places I have had that experience while going for a run.
My preferred route starts at Sunset Park along the river, and runs north towards Heritage Park and the Pecos River Flume. Along the way, pass bright, turquoise painted bridges and local Carlsbad neighborhoods, before coming to the top of a ridge overlooking Heritage Park with the Pecos River Flume in the distance.
Located at Heritage Park are several historical establishments and artifacts from the early days of founding in Carlsbad, including the Eddy House, whose history is intertwined with the namesake of the county in which Carlsbad resides. It is worth a stop and a read. Then continue on to take in the mammoth Pecos River Flume and enjoy the quiet serenity that is found at its base at Carlsbad Spring Park.
If You are Open to Driving a Little Further…
Venture a little further from the borders of Carlsbad, and you will find the largely unknown gem of Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
#6 Fun Things to Do in Carlsbad NM: Guadalupe Mountains National Park
This National Park, though located in Texas, is often considered a sister park of Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Both the Caverns and the highest point in Texas, Guadalupe Peak, are part of the same mountain chain that houses both these parks.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park is home to secluded trails and camping, expansive and unfiltered night skies, and of course, the highest point in Texas. Hiking Guadalupe Peak can be done in a day, and it is by far the one trail you have to do when visiting Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
Only an hour southwest from Carlsbad, this is a prime location for a day visit when based in Carlsbad. Visitors are sure to appreciate the juxtaposition of the Carlsbad desert clashing with the mountain ranges and summits of the Guadalupe Mountains! Here’s your complete guide to Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
And if you need a bonus reason to check out Guadalupe Mountains National Park, consider the camping possibilities. Whereas in Carlsbad Caverns National Park where camping is only allowed in the backcountry, Guadalupe allows those craving a night at a campsite a solid option, within easy reach from both these National Parks. In fact, you can even camp just beneath the summit of Guadalupe Peak at a designated primitive campsite area! Visit the park website HERE for more information on campsites, reservations, and permits.
#7 Fun Things to Do in Carlsbad NM: Guadalupe Ridge Trail
Speaking of the sibling relationship between Carlsbad Caverns National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park, there is now a way to enjoy both of these parks. The new 100 mile long, point to point, Guadalupe Ridge Trail connects both parks, allowing hikers to visit both the dark, subterranean caves of Carlsbad Caverns as well as the highest point in Texas in one rugged, unforgettable, swoop.
Pick up the trailhead for the Guadalupe Ridge Trail in Whites City, New Mexico. The trail continues west through Carlsbad Caverns National Park, before veering southwest towards Cottonwood Cave. Proceeding south, hikers will cross the state line into Texas, pass McKittrick Canyon, and finish at Guadalupe Peak in Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
And of course, don’t forget this showstopper of fun things to do in Carlsbad NM…
#8 Fun Things to Do in Carlsbad NM: Carlsbad Caverns National Park
I did mention before that you still need to put Carlsbad Caverns National Park on your list of fun things to do in Carlsbad, NM, when visiting. So here is your complete guide to visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park!
*After your visit to the Caverns, be sure to check off another National Park from your list, with this
RELATED: So what’s next after Carlsbad? Make it a double New Mexico National Parks roadtrip with a visit to White Sands National Park!
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