Visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is one of only a few National Parks in the United States whose highlights lie primarily underground!  Carlsbad Caverns is a magical and mysterious realm to explore, full of other-worldly formations, cavernous environments, subterranean life, and “landmarks” with memorable names like the “Hall of Giants”, the “Bottomless Pit”, the “King’s Palace”, and “Whales Mouth”!  And don’t forget to round out your visit to Carlsbad Caverns at this diverse park by checking out some of the under-rated above ground adventures as well!

Know Before You Go Carlsbad Caverns

Know Before You Go to Carlsbad Caverns

Location: southeastern New Mexico

Hours: open daily from 8 AM – 5 PM (except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day).  The last cavern entrance is at 2:30 PM.  Hikers must depart the Cavern by 3:30 PM. Elevators out of the Cavern stop running at 4:45 PM.

Entrance Fees: timed entrance tickets are REQUIRED!  These cost $15 a person (under 15 years old free) and can be made online.

Nearest City: Carlsbad, New Mexico (30 minutes)

Nearest Airport(s): Roswell Air Center (1 hour and 30 minutes) and El Paso International Airport (2 hours and 15 minutes)

Lodging: the closest lodging to Carlsbad Caverns National Park  is Whites City at the park entrance.  There is additional lodging and amenities including vacation rentals and hotels in Carlsbad, New Mexico.

Camping: there are no developed campgrounds within the park borders.  Backcountry camping is allowed with a permit, which can be obtained at the Visitor Center the day of.

Best Time of Year to Visit: the Caverns remain at 56 degrees Fahrenheit year round, and can be visited year round.  If you plan to spend time above ground, fall – spring are the best seasons. Summer temperatures can be excessive, with surface temperatures regularly above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Pet Policy: pets are not allowed in the Caverns, on the trails, or camping.  There is a kennel available for guests with pets for $10.  Never leave pets unattended in vehicles – the parking lot is actively monitored!

Additional Information:  

Additional Information on visiting Carlsbad Caverns:  

  • Carlsbad Caverns is a great place to bring children and let their imaginations run wild, in addition to a superb opportunity to learn more about a different environment and ecosystem.  However, note that strollers are not allowed, touching surfaces of the formations is prohibited, and children must be closely monitored due to the often slick conditions of the trail within the Caverns.  
  • No outside food or beverages (besides water) are allowed in the Caverns.  There is an underground rest area with bathrooms, water fountains, and a small snack bar.  Food purchased there must be consumed on the spot.  The snack bar is only open Fridays – Sundays.
  • There is no cell phone coverage within the Cavern depths.

What You Need to Bring With You to Carlsbad Caverns National Park: 

What You Need to Bring With You to Carlsbad Caverns National Park: 

  • Sturdy, closed toed shoes with good traction
  • An optional light jacket (temperatures stay in the 50’s degrees Fahrenheit year round in the Caverns)
  • Cameras, headlamps, and flashlights are allowed in the Caverns
  • Plenty of water!  Especially if planning to hike in the arid desert environment on the surface

What to Do at Carlsbad Caverns National Park

What to Do at Carlsbad Caverns National Park

No visit to Carlsbad Caverns National Park would be complete without sampling the best of its below ground and above ground adventures!

Underground Hiking Trails

Underground Hiking Trails

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is best known for its iconic underground hiking, and this absolutely shouldn’t be missed and deserves to be the highlight of your visit!  The main trail to access this subterranean world is the Natural Entrance Trail.

Quick Facts on the Natural Entrance Trail

Length: 1.25 miles roundtrip

Rating: Difficult

Elevation Gain/Loss: 750 feet

The Natural Entrance Trail is most recognizable by the gaping hole at its trailhead, just a few minutes walk from the Visitor Center.  This dark chasm is the beginning of the entrance to the caverns below.  The Natural Entrance Trail is steep, with numerous switchbacks, but there are elevators that can carry visitors to the bottom of the Caverns and also back up, if you prefer not to hike in, and more importantly, out of the Caverns and its 750 feet of uphill elevation gain!  

Once completed with the downward switchbacks, the Natural Entrance Trail proceeds primarily through the main underground attraction in the caverns, the “Big Room”.  This is an aptly fitting name, as the Big Room is large enough to fit 6 football fields inside it!  

Here is where guests can witness the breathtaking stalactites, stalagmites, underground pools, and other formations that the Caverns are famous for.  

This hike on the Natural Entrance Trail takes approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes,but there is a shortcut visitors can take that reduces the roundtrip length to 0.6 miles.  

Above Ground Hiking Trails

Above Ground Hiking Trails

Not everyone knows that there are plenty of above ground explorations at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, including a handful of hikes through the surrounding Chihuahuan Desert!  

Visitors can explore the short and family friendly Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail, which circumvents the caverns from above and is easily accessible from the Visitor Center.  

Another short hike is the half mile long Walnut Canyon Trail, a fantastic opportunity to enjoy some panoramic views stretching out over the horizon, and search for native flora and fauna of the desert!

Prefer something longer?  The 6 mile long Rattlesnake Canyon Upper Loop Trail will take you through a kaleidoscope of desert diversity, and offers a chance for peaceful solitude on this less trafficked trail.  Traverse rocky canyons, boulders, and dry river beds, and search for signs of life like native mule deer, javelina, pronghorns, ringtails, and kangaroo rats!

Ranger Guided Tours

Another way to experience Carlsbad Caverns National Park is through a ranger guided tour.  These tours are typically more intense than the self guided hike on the Natural Entrance Trail, and are not suitable for young children.  These tours offer a once in a lifetime glimpse at a side of the Caverns you cannot witness any other way!  Below are a few examples of popular ranger guided tours at Carlsbad Caverns:

  • The King’s Palace Tour – a tour to the deepest part of the caverns
  • The Left Hand Tunnel Tour – a lantern guided tour to an undeveloped part of the caverns
  • The Lower Cave Tour – on this tour, descend further into the heart of the Caverns on a series of ladders
  • The Hall of the White Giant Tour – climb and crawl your way through tight passageways on this tour!
  • The Slaughter Canyon Cave Tour – a tour to some of the largest cavern formations

You can find information on booking a ranger guided tour on the park website here.  

Park Programs

Park Programs at Carlsbad Caverns

In addition to the ranger guided tours above, there are other beloved programs in the park!  Arguably the best known and favorite of guests is the Bat Flight Program!  

Held at dusk every night from late May – October in the outdoor amphitheater adjacent to the Natural Entrance Trail, the Bat Flight Program allows visitors to experience the unforgettable and chaotic emergence of the cavern’s resident Brazilian free-tailed bat colony!  This program is free and does not require reservations or advance tickets.  

There are also several Night Sky programs and events that are held on particular nights throughout the year.  These include Star Walks, Moon Hikes, and Star Parties.  

Then there is the annual Dawn of the Bats program, which is held in June, for a different perspective on the bats’ escapades, as guests gather at sunrise to celebrate the morning return of the bats back into their dark cavernous home.

Camping at Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Camping in Carlsbad Caverns National Park is limited to primitive backcountry camping.  A free permit is required to backcountry camp in the park, and this permit can be obtained at the Visitor Center the day of arrival.  No advance permits are given.

Other Nearby Attractions around Carlsbad Caverns area

Carlsbad Caverns National Park may be what this area is known for, but there are actually a handful of other exciting outdoor adventures in Carlsbad itself.  These include Sitting Bull Falls in Lincoln National Forest, the Living Garden Zoo and Desert State Park, the Pecos River, and Brantley Lake!

Did you know that there is another National Park only an hour from Carlsbad Caverns National Park?  In the neighboring state of Texas lies Guadalupe Mountains National Park.  Ironically, this Texas National Park and Carlsbad Caverns are both formed from the same mountain range, the Guadalupe Mountains.  Whereas Carlsbad Caverns got the underground effects of this mountain range, Guadalupe Mountains got the converse effects, with the highest mountains in the entire state of Texas, including the hike to the state high point at Guadalupe Peak, the park’s most popular trail!

You can also travel just three hours northwest to check off New Mexico’s other resident National Park, White Sands National Park.  Much like Carlsbad Caverns, this sandy park is an other-worldly experience in an alien landscape, making it another one of the most unique National Parks in the country.  In White Sands National Park, you can explore the numerous dune trails, go sand sledding, or camp under the stellar night skies!

*Author Bio

Kristen Czudak is the author and adventurer behind Yonderlust Ramblings.  If you are looking for a different kind of vacation, active travel is the answer!  Discover just how far your own two feet can take you!

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