Your Complete Guide - Things to do in Carlsbad Caverns (2022)

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This guide has all the information you need to make your trip to Carlsbad Caverns memorable, including a map, lodging, tour information, and must-see sites.

We were pleasantly surprised at how many of the beautiful cave formations we saw, including stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, columns, cave bacon, and pools of water, considering that these caverns are in the Chihuahuan Desert of New Mexico.

Although the caves are the main attraction, there is so much to see and do above ground. The desert landscape and Guadalupe Mountain Range allow you to see and hike for miles.

This cave system may not be as large as Mammoth Cave, but there are still many fun things to do in the Carlsbad Caverns.

So, let’s get to it!

View Contents

  • 1 History of Carlsbad Caverns
  • 2 Things to do in Carlsbad Caverns Map
  • 3 Carlsbad Caverns Quick Information
  • 4 Things to do in Carlsbad Caverns
    • 4.1 Hike a Surface Trail
    • 4.2 Bat Flight Program
    • 4.3 Night Sky Program
    • 4.4 Walnut Canyon Desert Drive
    • 4.5 Rattlesnake Springs
  • 5 Tours of Carlsbad Caverns
    • 5.1 Best Self-Guided Tours
      • 5.1.1 Natural Entrance Trail
      • 5.1.2 Big Room Trail
    • 5.2 Best Ranger Guided Tours
      • 5.2.1 King’s Palace
      • 5.2.2 Left-Hand Tunnel Tour
      • 5.2.3 Hall of the White Giant
      • 5.2.4 Lower Cave
      • 5.2.5 Slaughter Canyon Cave
  • 6 Where to Stay
  • 7 Know Before You Go
  • 8 Our Recommendations
    • 8.1 More National Parks Near Carlsbad Caverns
  • 9 Inspired? Pin it!

History of Carlsbad Caverns

Mysterious drawings near the cave entrance are the only evidence of the Native Americans that first ventured into the Carlsbad Caverns over 1,000 years ago.

In the early 1800s, settlers began to notice the mass exodus of bats leaving the natural entrance. With intrigue and curiosity, they began to explore the cave.

While some settlers mined the bat guano for fertilizer, Jim White wanted to explore more of the caves, and he did, extensively. He shared stories of what he found, but no one took him seriously until a photographer published pictures of this natural wonder beneath the desert mountains.

People flocked to see the Carlsbad Caverns for themselves, so Jim began giving tours bringing more recognition to the caves. News of this cavern eventually reached the Department of the Interior, who later designated it as a national park.

Now containing more than 46,000 acres and 100 other caves, cavers and scientists are continually making new discoveries.

Things to do in Carlsbad Caverns Map

MAP TIPS: Click the icon in the upper left-hand corner of the map to view the layers. Here, you can select or de-select the checkmarks to hide or show layers. If you click the icons on the map, you will see more information about that point of interest. Click the star to the right of the map title to add this map to your Google Maps account. To view this map on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click Menu, click Your Places, click Maps, and you will find it there.

Carlsbad Caverns Quick Information

Park Hours

  • Park –Open daily 8 am – 5 pm, closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years
  • Visitor Center– daily 8 am – 5 pm
  • Tours– begin at 8:30 am

Cost

  • Adults(16 and older) – $15
  • Kids(15 and younger) – FREE
  • America the Beautiful Pass Holders– Free unless you go on a guided tour

Additional Information

Above is the basic information for Carlsbad Caverns National Park that will help you begin planning your trip.

(Video) Things to do at Carlsbad Caverns National Park (What to Expect and Where to Stay)

Are you taking kids? You might want to check out the Junior Ranger program here. These activities will get them involved while learning more about the park!

What is the Junior Ranger Program?

Things to do in Carlsbad Caverns

Your Complete Guide - Things to do in Carlsbad Caverns (1)

Hike a Surface Trail

There are a few hiking trails above ground that you may want to check out. We went on the short, easy Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail. It is a paved 0.5-mile (1 km) long hike.

Other trails in the area include the Old Guano Road, Juniper Ridge, and North Slaughter Canyon trails. We chose to skip these hikes and spent more time hiking the Guadalupe Mountain National Park.

For long-distance hikers, check out the Guadalupe Ridge Trail. It spans 100 miles beginning at Guadalupe Peak in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, which then takes you through the Lincoln National Forest and ends in Whites City just outside of the Carlsbad Caverns.

Do you know what to pack for your hike?

No problem. We did all the work for you and compiled a list of all the hiking essentials that will help you survive pretty much anything.

Bat Flight Program

Witness a natural phenomenon as the Brazilian free-tailed bats burst out of the cavern every night during the summer to feast on insects.The Bat Flight Program is a free event, so no tickets are sold. Seating for this show is in the amphitheater, just outside of the natural entrance to the cave.

Cell phones, cameras, and camcorders are prohibited during the program to protect the bats. The mass exodus of bats is aspectacle you must see for yourself!

The best time to view them is in May through September. Then the bats migrate to Mexico for the winter.

Night Sky Program

After the Bat Flight Program, go on a night sky hike. These are also free and have some age and clothing restrictions. Check the website here for those.

Your options include a Star Walk and meteor showing viewing. These are also first-come-first-serve, so be sure to meet at the designated area to claim your spot.

(Video) Carlsbad Caverns National Park - 5 Tips for Visiting

Walnut Canyon Desert Drive

This is a 9-mile one-way scenic drive on an unimproved road. It is not recommended to take low clearance vehicles due to the unmaintained road. On this drive, you will get to view the desert landscape and fauna. If you are already familiar with the Chihuahuan Desert landscape, this drive might be boring for you.

Do keep your eyes open for wildlife! You may see mule deer, coyotes, cottontail and jackrabbits, and lizards, to name a few.

Rattlesnake Springs

Enjoy a picnic lunch in a small oasis in the middle of the desert. Rattlesnake Springs is lush with green grass and cottonwood trees, all of which are hydrated by the natural springs.

What was once a homestead in the 1800s is now a picnic area for all to enjoy. Here you will find parking, trash cans, grills, picnic tables, vault toilets, and shade.

Tours of Carlsbad Caverns

There are two options for exploring the caverns. You can explore on your own as a self-guided tour or go on a ranger-guided tour of the Carlsbad Caverns.

Best Self-Guided Tours

There are two self-guided tours. A Park Ranger will speak to you before you enter and will mention that the trail will take about 45 minutes and exit the cave by the elevator that takes you inside the Visitor Center on the surface.

We took twice as long and completed both tours. We also stopped a lot to take many photos and to chat with park rangers along the trails.

Natural Entrance Trail

Your Complete Guide - Things to do in Carlsbad Caverns (2)
  • Difficulty– easy
  • Distance– 1.25-mile (2 km)
  • Time– 1 hour

The Natural Entrance Trail begins with an extremely steep slope taking you 750 feet (229 m) down into the Devil’s Den. You continue to descend throughout most of the trail until you reach the elevators that take you back to the surface.

We highly suggest that you begin at the Natural Entrance and hike downward. Otherwise, you will be walking on an incline if you choose to trek out of the Natural Entrance.

Big Room Trail

Your Complete Guide - Things to do in Carlsbad Caverns (3)
  • Difficulty– easy
  • Distance– 1.25-mile (2 km)
  • Time– 1.5 hours

The Big Room Trail is a mostly flat trail and handicap accessible. This room is the largest cave chamber in North America by volume and where you will view all kinds of cave formations.

The abundance of stalactites and stalagmites decorate the cavern making it glitter. And if you listen carefully, you can hear the water dripping into glass-topped pools.

This trail is one large loop and takes about 1.5 hours to complete. Some parts of the pathway are not wheelchair accessible due to the slippery steep incline. You can shorten this trail by taking the Shortcut, which will bring your timing down to about 45 minutes to complete.

Make your way to the farthest end of the Big Room to peer down the bottomless pit. The bottomless pit in Carlsbad Caverns isn’t bottomless but appears that way because you look down into a massive pitch-black void.

Best Ranger Guided Tours

If you want to learn more about the science and history behind the Carlsbad Caverns, then a ranger-guided tour might be best for you!

We highly recommend booking tickets ahead of time at recreation.gov.

King’s Palace

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  • Difficulty – easy-moderate
  • Distance – 1-mile (1.6 km)
  • Time – 1.5 hours

Descend the deepest portion of the cave open to the public to view the most gorgeous display of stalactites and stalagmites in the King’s Palace.

Because of its gorgeous formations, this is one of the most popular tours.

Left-Hand Tunnel Tour

  • Difficulty– moderate
  • Distance– 0.5-mile (0.8 km)
  • Time– 2 hours

You explore this short, moderately difficult trail by lantern, like those that did when tours began in the early 1800s. There are some slippery and uneven spots on this dirt trail, making it a little more strenuous.

Hall of the White Giant

  • Difficulty– strenuous
  • Distance– 1-mile (1.6 km)
  • Time– 4 hours

Adventurists, check out this tour! If you don’t mind getting dirty, treading on slippery floors, and enjoying a little free climbing, the Hall of the White Giant is the tour for you.

(Video) Important Things to Know Before Visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park! #vanlife #camplife, #travel

Lower Cave

Your Complete Guide - Things to do in Carlsbad Caverns (5)
  • Difficulty– moderate-strenuous
  • Distance– 1-mile (1.6 km)
  • Time– 3 hours

Descend deeper into the cavern by a knotted rope and a series of ladders into the slippery darkness. This tour will make you feel like a caver as you explore the depths with your helmets, headlamps, and gloves (all of which are provided by the park rangers).

Slaughter Canyon Cave

  • Difficulty– strenuous
  • Distance– 1-mile (1.6 km)
  • Time– 5.5 hours

The Slaughter Canyon Cave is another moderately difficult tour due to slippery paths and no modern conveniences. Yup, you will explore this cave with headlamps! This cave has some of the most unbelievable cave formations for you to feast your eyes on.

For this tour, you will meet at the visitor center. Then will need to drive to Slaughter Canyon (a few minutes away) to tour the cave.

Is this stop on a road trip?

What a fun destination! Check out our packing list that will help keep you safe and sane (with or without kids) on your epic road trip.

View Road Trip Packing List Here

Where to Stay

There are many highly-rated hotels in Carlsbad, which is about a 30-minute drive to Carlsbad Caverns.

Another option is to stay right outside of the Carlsbad Caverns National Park entrance in Whites City, where you have a campground and lodging.

We stayed in our RV at the Whites City RV Park for a couple of nights. Right around the corner was the national park sign and a short 4-mile drive to the Visitor Center. Whites City has everything you need, including a restaurant, lodging, laundry, gas station, and more. It was very convenient.

Know Before You Go

The best time to visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park is any time during the year for the caverns. If you want to see the bats take flight, you will want to visit from August through September.

We visited Carlsbad Caverns in February when the temperature averaged in the 60s (Fahrenheit) with plenty of sunshine during the day, and the temps dropped to near freezing at night. A light jacket is recommended for touring the cave due to the natural coolness of the caves.

Stay up-to-date on trail closures and conditions by visiting the officialnational park service website.

Our Recommendations

We stayed at the campground for a couple of nights and spent one day in the caverns. One or two days is plenty of time to spend at the Carlsbad Caverns to make your visit worth it.

You could expand your stay and visit the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, too. That visitor center is about 30 minutes from Carlsbad Caverns and is where you can hike to the highest peak in Texas!

More National Parks Near Carlsbad Caverns

  • GUADALUPE MOUNTAINS – 5 Amazing Things to do in Guadalupe National Park
  • BIG BEND10 Top Things to do in Big Bend
(Video) Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico: Exploring the Big Room & Natural Entrance

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Go ahead and check it out for yourselves. Click on one of the amazing New Mexico tours below that piques your interest and read the reviews. Or search any destination here for more travel inspiration!

Are you road tripping the USA? If so, visit our United States Guide for more destination inspiration and travel tips!

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Your Complete Guide - Things to do in Carlsbad Caverns (6)
Your Complete Guide - Things to do in Carlsbad Caverns (7)

Your Complete Guide - Things to do in Carlsbad Caverns (8)

(Video) Things To Do At Carlsbad Caverns

Melissa

After her first family road trip, Melissa discovered her love for traveling to new places and capturing her family's experiences exhilarating. Motivated by adventure and great stories, Melissa is on a mission to explore, learn, and share as much as she can!

FAQs

How many days do you need at Carlsbad Caverns? ›

Unless you're a serious hiker or VERY interested in caves / geology, you'll be through in 2-3 hours. Unless you're doing a Carlsbad Caverns guided tour, the Big Room self guided tour (and the optional hike down / up) are the only areas that are open to the public.

How do I spend a day at Carlsbad Caverns? ›

Take a guided tour into the caverns

The park has guided tours into 5 different caverns: King's Palace, Left Hand Tunnel, Lower Cave, Hall of the White Giant, and Slaughter Canyon Cave. The tour schedules for each of these vary, as well as the rules to enter, such as footwear requirements.

How long does it take to walk through the Carlsbad Caverns? ›

Depending on if you decide to hike up or down, you gain or lose about 750 feet (229 m)—equivalent to walking up or down a 75-story building. The hike takes about one hour (on average) to complete. This trail is not recommended for visitors with heart or respiratory conditions.

Is Carlsbad Caverns worth the trip? ›

Carlsbad Caverns is a breathtaking place — and likely somewhere you will talk about for many years. This cave will blow you away with its gigantic rooms covered in spectacular rock formations. Out of all the caves in the NPS system, this one is by far my favorite! There are some fantastic things to do here.

What is the best time of year to visit Carlsbad Caverns? ›

Based on the tourism score, the best times of year to visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park for warm-weather activities are from early May to late July and from early August to early October.

Is Carlsbad Caverns Open 2021? ›

Carlsbad Cavern and the visitor center are open.

Can you see Carlsbad Caverns in one day? ›

For those who rather, you can opt to take the elevator down, but I recommend taking the Natural Entrance Route into the caverns during your one day at Carlsbad Caverns. This is a pretty easy walk that is mostly downhill into the caverns. You get to go through the coolest-looking entrance.

What time do bats fly out of Carlsbad Caverns? ›

Each evening during the summer, Brazilian free-tailed bats emerge from Carlsbad Cavern in search of food. The Bat Flight Program begins at 7:30 pm. Check at the visitor center for updates. Please join us for the free Bat Flight Program (late May through October), an evening ranger talk about bats prior to their flight.

How deep is the bottomless pit in Carlsbad Caverns? ›

The “Bottomless Pit” at Carlsbad Caverns National Park does, in fact, have a bottom, and a group of cavers recently made the perilous decent on an odd-but-important mission. “At approximately 140 ft (43m) deep, it can be a treacherous climb to the bottom,” the New Mexico park wrote May 2 on Facebook.

Can you take pictures in Carlsbad Caverns? ›

Flash photography in the cave is permitted, just be courteous of the person next to you when you use your flash. Tripods are permitted on the Big Room and Natural Entrance trails, but not on ranger-guided tours. The cavern is dimly lit. You are welcome to bring a flashlight or headlamp, but it is not necessary.

Is Carlsbad Caverns cold inside? ›

Temperature and relative humidity reach fairly stable conditions a short distance into the cave. The average temperature throughout the cave is also 68°F (20ºC) and the relative humidity remains close to a constant 100%.

What is special about Carlsbad Caverns? ›

Carlsbad Caverns National Park contains more than 119 limestone caves that are outstanding in the profusion, diversity, and beauty of their formations. Caves are fragile environments that are affected by human activities and natural processes both underground and on the surface.

Is Carlsbad Caverns good for kids? ›

Carlsbad Caverns is definitely a favorite one of those trips for both adults and kids and not to be missed! The kids didn't even mind the 3-hour drive (too much) back and forth they were so excited.

Why is Carlsbad Caverns closed? ›

A temporary COVID-19 coronavirus closure at Carlsbad Caverns National Park was lifted, according to the U.S. National Parks Service (NPS). The closure was lifted Tuesday after being put in place in March, according to the NPS website. Howver, the number of visitors and park's operating hours are limited.

How late can you stay in Carlsbad Caverns? ›

Unlike many national parks, which are open 24 hours a day, Carlsbad Caverns has set hours of operation. The visitor center is open daily from 8 am to 5 pm. You are permitted to hike into the cave starting at 8:30 am.

When can you see the bats at Carlsbad Caverns? ›

Children watch bats return to Carlsbad Cavern at dawn. Hundreds of thousands of Brazilian free-tailed bats call Carlsbad Cavern home from April through October. It's tradition to watch their mass exodus from the cavern each evening. But each year on the third Saturday of July, we gather at dawn to watch their return.

What should I wear to Carlsbad Caverns? ›

A light jacket or long-sleeved shirt is recommended. The trails and cavern features are electrically lit, but bring a flashlight if you'd like. Some areas of the Big Room and Natural Entrance trails are wet from natural water drips and steep.

Where should you stay when visiting Carlsbad Caverns? ›

Stay in Carlsbad Caverns National Park's best hotels!
  1. Home2 Suites By Hilton Carlsbad New Mexico. Hotel in Carlsbad. ...
  2. Comfort Suites Carlsbad. Hotel in Carlsbad. ...
  3. TownePlace Suites by Marriott Carlsbad. ...
  4. Hyatt House Carlsbad. ...
  5. Post Time Inn. ...
  6. Karbani Inn. ...
  7. Quality Inn & Suites. ...
  8. Sleep Inn & Suites Carlsbad Caverns Area.

What is the hottest month in Carlsbad NM? ›

The hottest month of the year in Carlsbad is July, with an average high of 96°F and low of 70°F. The cold season lasts for 2.8 months, from November 22 to February 16, with an average daily high temperature below 65°F.

How much does it cost to go through Carlsbad Caverns? ›

Left Hand Tunnel: $7 for adults, $3.50 for children, under 6 not permitted. Must also purchase entrance ticket. $3.50 for Senior and Access Pass holders. Slaughter Canyon Cave: $15 for adults, $7.50 for children, under 8 not permitted.

Is White Sands open during Covid? ›

White Sands National Park is open daily year-round except for December 25, Christmas Day.

Do you need reservation for Carlsbad Caverns? ›

COVID-19 Operations Update: Reservations Required to Enter Carlsbad Cavern. Reservations must be purchased online or by calling 877-444-6777. No reservations available at the park.

Is there an elevator in Carlsbad Caverns? ›

Carlsbad Caverns' primary elevators take visitors about 750 feet below the surface to enjoy the cave system, and have traveled almost 30,000 miles since they were rebuilt in July 2018. That's almost as far as traveling from Carlsbad to Japan five times.

Is Carlsbad Caverns safe? ›

The park is considered safe for visitors, per a Friday news release. Park staff plan to monitor the hours employees spend in the Caverns, while providing training as to the possible effects of exposure and making modifications to the visitor center to mitigate the risk.

Is White Sands close to Carlsbad Caverns? ›

From more than 145,000 acres of glistening white gypsum dunes to an unearthly landscape below ground, White Sands National Monument and Carlsbad Caverns couldn't be more different, but these southern New Mexico attractions, located roughly 200 miles apart, share one important trait: They're frequently at the top of ...

Is Carlsbad Caverns elevator working? ›

Until the cable is repaired, there is no elevator service into and out of the cavern. Visitors will still be able to enjoy the cavern by hiking the Natural Entrance Trail. This 1.25 mile trail involves a steep 75-story hike into and out of the cavern.

How many caves are in Carlsbad Caverns? ›

High ancient sea ledges, deep rocky canyons, flowering cactus, and desert wildlife—treasures above the ground in the Chihuahuan Desert. Hidden beneath the surface are more than 119 caves—formed when sulfuric acid dissolved limestone leaving behind caverns of all sizes.

How long is the bat flight at Carlsbad Caverns? ›

3) The bat flight program allows about 30min for the ranger talk portion.

What time do the bats come out of Carlsbad Caverns? ›

Each evening during the summer, Brazilian free-tailed bats emerge from Carlsbad Cavern in search of food. The Bat Flight Program begins at 7:30 pm. Check at the visitor center for updates.

Why is Carlsbad Caverns closed? ›

A temporary COVID-19 coronavirus closure at Carlsbad Caverns National Park was lifted, according to the U.S. National Parks Service (NPS). The closure was lifted Tuesday after being put in place in March, according to the NPS website. Howver, the number of visitors and park's operating hours are limited.

How much does it cost to go into Carlsbad Caverns? ›

Left Hand Tunnel: $7 for adults, $3.50 for children, under 6 not permitted. Must also purchase entrance ticket. $3.50 for Senior and Access Pass holders. Slaughter Canyon Cave: $15 for adults, $7.50 for children, under 8 not permitted.

Is Carlsbad Caverns cold inside? ›

Temperature and relative humidity reach fairly stable conditions a short distance into the cave. The average temperature throughout the cave is also 68°F (20ºC) and the relative humidity remains close to a constant 100%.

How long is the elevator ride at Carlsbad Caverns? ›

The Carlsbad Caverns elevator ride takes only one minute at a speed of nine miles per hour.

What should I wear to Carlsbad Caverns? ›

A light jacket or long-sleeved shirt is recommended. The trails and cavern features are electrically lit, but bring a flashlight if you'd like. Some areas of the Big Room and Natural Entrance trails are wet from natural water drips and steep.

Is Carlsbad Caverns closing? ›

Carlsbad Cavern and the visitor center are open.

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