Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico Facts and Tips

Everything you need to know & the best tips!

Last Updated December 7th, 2019

Within the Chihuahuan Desert of New Mexico, hidden deep under the surface, are over 100 fragile limestone caves bursting with diversity and beauty.

They are known as the Carlsbad Caverns, one of the worlds oldest & most famous cave systems in THE WORLD! And they will definitely blow your mind with how deep these caverns go.

Read on for how to plan you visit to Carlsbad Caverns and travel tips from both a traveler who has been there and a local who you used to live in the town.

Getting to Carlsbad Caverns

If you’re visiting the caverns from out of state, you’ll most likely be staying in the town of Carlsbad, New Mexico. The caverns are a 20 minute drive from town.

If driving from farther away here are directions to the park:

Driving from El Paso, Texas: take US-62 for 130 miles

While driving to the caverns, you’ll be driving towards the mountain that balances a border for New Mexico and Texas. Be sure to observe the small towns and frequented gas stations that showcase the small town life nearby this underground site & reflect on your nostalgia of simpler times.

The turnoff to the national park is marked by White City. White City hosts a collection old western style shops and small restaurants

The entrance to the park is long. Winding roads through undulating bare boned bluffs bring you far away from civilization and will have you wondering how anyone discovered this place way out in the ‘middle of nowhere’.

At the top of the road is the main entrance with a spectacular view of your desert surroundings.  Looking towards the Guadalupe Mountains, all that is seen is desert and desolation. You’ll be left day dreaming of western cowboys kicking their spurs and somehow surviving this seemingly isolated land.

Don't Forget to Pack:

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Arriving at Carlsbad Caverns & What to do there:

Once you’ve driven the seven miles from the parks marked entrance to the visitor center, you will find multiple parking lots. Park & head get in line.

The park will have a line of visitors waiting to enter at their 8:30am opening time. Once open the line will queue to the ticket station inside. Here is where you purchase your tickets and book a ranger guided tour (if you want to go on one).

Inside of the visitors center you can also rent an audio guide. If you prefer to walk around at your own pace I would suggest renting an audtio guide.

 

There are two ways to enter Carlsbad Caverns:

1. The Natural Entrance

2. The Elevator

Unless you need handicap accessibility or are unable to walk for long periods of time, I would HIGHLY suggest taking the Natural Entrance.

The Natural Entrance is what you see most often in pictures of Carlsbad Caverns. It’s a zig zagged walkway that descends into the caverns.

Once past the shadowy entry, your eyes will slowly adjust to the light-to-dark transition and you’ll begin to be able to grasp the extensive size of this place. It wows each first timer, including myself!

*Once you finish walking through the caverns you can either backtrack to the natural entrance or take the elevator back up. My suggestion- take the elevator back up. It leads into the visitor center.

 Things to do at Carlsbad Caverns

Hours can be spent inside the caverns, examining each stalagmite, small pool of water and colossal ‘rooms’.

  • Hike down the Natural Entrance into the caverns, then meander through the pathways to
  • the Big Room, which takes about an hour and a half to walk through (there are shortcuts throughout to make the walk shorter & wheelchair accessible parts in here)
  • catch the Bat Flight Program – from May to October rangers provide a FREE about the 300,000+ bats that fly out of the caverns every evening and back in every morning. The program takes place at the amphitheater just outside the Natural Entrance. Times for the talk and the bat flight varies depending on the sunset time of the day.
  • Dawn of the Bats – on the third Saturday of July you can join rangers and watch the bats return to the caverns in the hundreds of thousands. Usually around 5am.

 

Don’t be fooled by the desolate desert outside as Carlsbad Caverns holds secrets from earth’s beginning.

Where to stay when visiting Carlsbad Caverns?

There aren’t campgrounds on the national park, so it would be best to either

1. Stay in the town of Carlsbad, New Mexico or

2. Camp at the Guadalupe Mountains National Park

What to wear for your visit

  • Dress in layers – outside of the visitors center is windy and the caverns are cold inside
  • Wear close toed shoes. Many parts of the caverns are wet from natural drips
  • Bring a headlamp if you want to see more of the detail within the caverns

Understanding now that any place can have its hidden gem and surprise you, I’m looking forward to visiting New Mexico again.  Have you ever visited a place with little confidence and been enthusiastically surprised at its unexpected beauty?

Fun Facts about Carlsbad Caverns

  • A 16 year old discovered this place in 1898!  Talk about fulfilling a childhood dream.  I don’t know about you, but I definitely considered a career as a treasure hunter after watching National Treasure, so stumbling upon this place must’ve been incredible!
  • There is a deadly fungus called “White-nose Syndrome” that is deadly & can kill the Brazilian free-tailed bats.  Carlsbad Caverns is host to the highest number of these critters so protecting their home is vital!
  • President Obama came here once for a Fathers day weekend trip with the First Family.

 

TIPS for visiting Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

  • The eco-system in the caverns is delicate & fragile, and is susceptible to damage from human activities. Be your best self and don’t leave ANY garbage inside, do not step on unsolicited walking areas or touch the cave walls & formations.
  • If you have a camera that can withstand darkness with a flash that won’t hurt the quality of the photo- bring it!  My iPhone did okay and my professional camera needed custom Manual settings and my flash still didn’t withstand it.
  • Dress in layers; it’s windy at the buildings entrance and chilly inside of the caves but your body temperature will adjust
  • Include in your arrival time the drive from the entrance to the parking lot.  It’s about a 20 minute drive through winding roads once you pass the entrance to get to the parking lot
  • The parking lot is easily accessible and free!
  • The Visitor Center opens at 8:00am, with the Natural Entrance opening at 8:30am,.  I’d arrive before then to be towards the front of the line to purchase tickets.  Then allow the first round of visitors to enter so that you can take pictures with few other visitors in the way.
  • Take the Natural Entrance into the caverns, and the elevator out.  The winding entrance is a stunning way to enter and shouldn’t be missed.
  • Passes are $15/person.  There are options for ranger guided tours to add on to your ticket
  • The rented audio devices are okay.  Quite frankly, listening to it all became excessive fairly quickly.  I’d suggest reading the general information beforehand to learn about it
  • Arrive before it opens, but don’t go in until most the early crowd goes; this way you can take pictures with the entrance with less people in them (see my images above)

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