Carlsbad Caverns sit right above the Texas/ New Mexico line, about 30 minutes North of the Guadalupe Mountains and 30 minutes south of Carlsbad, NM. The caverns were established as a park in 1930. It holds 46,766 acres of both underground caverns (the real spectacle of the show) and above ground trails. In fact, the Carlsbad Caverns are actually part of the Guadalupe Mountains system. The caverns get about 441,000 visitors per year—which is less than I expected when I looked this up!
250 Millions of years ago, there was a shallow but vast sea that covered most of what is now Texas. The rain water and hydrogen-sulfide rich water mixed to create salt sulfuric acid, which dissolved the limestone in the rock and helped to form these huge and beautiful caves! The rooms in the caves are other worldly, and they seem to go on forever!
Within the caves, there are also hundreds of thousands of Brazilian/Mexican Free-Tailed bats that live in these caves, and if you come in the summer, you can even see the bats exit the caves in droves! These bats are actually what originally have lured people to the caves, including a teenaged cowboy named Jim White, who explored the caves in 1898. With a self-constructed ladder made of wire and pieces of wood, Jim lowered himself into the dark caverns below… He continued to explore those caverns for years, and even named many of the structures in the caves such as “Devil’s Den”, “Witch’s Finger” and the “Big Room”.
Who Should Travel to CarlsBad Caverns?
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is not just caverns, but also has quite a few hikes above ground! However, the biggest draw for this national park is, of course, the caves. There are 119 caves in total, and while there are two main trails through the caves, there are also additional tours that you can pay for as well! If you plan on doing the one to two most popular trails through the caves, then a trip to Carlsbad Caverns is much more mild than your average trip to a national park. Each one of the mail trails is 1.2 miles, and an elevator is located in between the two. However, if you are the more adventurous type, there are additional tours that can be purchased in advance. These tours will allow you to travel deeper into the caves to find larger rooms, and bigger structures! (They provide both hard hats and headlamps for these tours!) As an added bonus, the caves sit in the mid-50s throughout the year, so regardless of when you come, the caves will be a comfortable temperature!
Because there are a lot of tourists here, please be prepared to see a lot of people! If you can, try to book your visit as early as possible (8:30 AM) on a weekday to try and beat the crowds. We will say, the caves are so much more mystical when Aunt Murial and Uncle Sal aren’t talking at full volume!
Best Things To Do in Carlsbad Caverns
Before coming to Carlsbad Caverns, you MUST make a reservation beforehand. You can make these reservations online up to 5am the day of your trip. It costs $1 per person to reserve a spot, and it is $15 per person entrance fee once you get to the caverns. However, if you have a National Park Pass, like America the Beautiful, this fee is waved.
The Natural Entrance- Self Guided
The caverns can be accessed through the elevator system within the visitors center, or you can enter through the natural entrance. In July and August, Bats fly from the Natural Entrance by the thousands! There is actually a small amphitheater/ seating area right by the entrance where the bats can be viewed! This may be something we swing back to Carlsbad to do one day! Although we were skeptical at first, we chose to take the natural entrance instead of taking the elevator down to the Big Room, which would have cut off about half of our trip. It was quite steep a steep descent over about 1.25 miles. However, the path is paved and has handrails the whole way down.
We are so glad that we took the Natural Entrance into the caves! The caves on the way down were so incredibly beautiful and mysterious. In addition, it really brought up the anticipation for the Big Room! The caves are lit by very dim lamps so it keeps the caves well, cave-like! You are allowed to bring headlamps and flashlights with you, but we had a couple behind us who had a headlamp, and we found it very distracting and annoying each time they turned it on.
The Big Room- Self Guided
If you have mobility issues, the Big Room would be a better option for you because there is an option to take the elevator from the visitors center right to the entrance of the Big Room. In addition, the Big Room is much flatter than the Natural Entrance path, so you have better control and less ups and downs.
The Big Room was meant to be the spectacle of the show, but I actually thought that the Natural Entrance path was just as exciting and beautiful! (Although maybe I was feeling less enthralled because I was getting a little hungry and grumpy…) The Big Room path is about a mile-long loop with huge stalactites and stalagmites which are the mail structures that we see throughout the caves. In the big room, you can also see the original ladder than Jim White used to get into the caves, as well as a rope that cavers in the 80s used to get up into caves overhead!
King’s Palace Tour- Ranger Guided
This is currently the only ranger-guided tour that is open as of February 2023. This tour is $8 for adults and $4 for children who are over 4 years old (pretty reasonable, I’d say!). It is a 1.5 hour tour which brings you into the deepest portion of the caverns that is still open to the public. During the tour, you’ll have the opportunity to explore four stunning caverns as well. The tour is only 1 mile long, but it is steep, so please be prepared for this by wearing appropriate footwear! On this tour, the ranger will likely turn out all of the artificial lights, which will allow you to experience the all-consuming darkness of the caves.
Hall of the White Giant- Ranger Guided
This hike is currently suspended until further notice (as of February 2023), but when it does open back up, here are all of the details!
The Hall of the White Giant is one of the most difficult ranger-guided tours, but also the most adventurous, for sure! This tour is only appropriate for ages 12+. Prices for this tour are $20 for adults and $10 for kids. Hiking boots with significant treat are required for this tour as you will be free climbing, ladder climbing, squeezing through tight spaces, and walking on very slippery and wet surfaces! This tour only allows groups of 8.
Slaughter Canyon Cave Tour- Ranger Guided
This hike is currently suspended until further notice (as of February 2023), but we want you to have the information ahead of time so you know what to plan when you come to Carlsbad Caverns!
This tour is 5.5 hours long and is rated as “moderately strenuous”. The minimum age for this tour is 8 years old. The price of tickets is $15 for adults and $7.50 for kids. There is a steep and difficult 1/2 mile hike up to the entrance of the cave, and once you are in the cave, there are no lights at all– only those from your headlamps. The paths here are unpaved, but they bring you to some of the most spectacular sights, like the “Christmas Tree”, the “Chinese Wall” and the “Monarch”.
Camping/ Overnight Options Near Carlsbad Caverns
Unlike many of the national parks in the US, Carlsbad Caverns National Park does not offer any overnight campgrounds for guests to sleep. The only option for overnighting is primitive camping in the backcountry (above ground), which you will need an advance permit for. There is an RV Park in White’s City, NM, just 7 miles from the Visitor’s Center. This is also BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land, where RVs and vans can park for free.
In addition, when Zak and I visited, we stayed near Guadalupe Mountains National Park at a rest stop which allows overnight parking. This rest stop was about 10 minutes from the Pine Spring Visitor’s Center in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and about 30 minutes to the Carlsbad Caverns Visitor’s Center. This worked perfectly for us because we hiked Guadalupe Peak in Guadalupe Mountains National Park on Sunday, and then did the Carlsbad Caverns on Monday!
Enjoy Carlsbad Caverns!
Carlsbad Caverns have so much to offer from surface hikes to ranger-guided tours of the caves. Experiencing these beautiful caves is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so take it in! As always, if you have any questions at all, please feel free to email us at zak.fal.aug.blog.com or through our contact page. You can also find us on Instagram and YouTube at @zakandfal.