The park is a wonderful mix of massive subterranean chambers and
smaller caves, all containing exotic features that rarely exist in an
environment as accessible as the one at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
More than 30 miles of caves have been explored and the deepest is over
1,000 feet below the surface, but only a limited number of the caverns are open to the public.
However, the areas you can explore are incredible and unique to those of
us who spend most of their time on the surface.
Entering the Carlsbad Caverns can be accomplished in one of two ways.
The most interesting route is called the "Natural Entrance", a one and a
quarter mile path, which slowly descends over 750 feet to the major
viewing area called the “Big Room”. The
alternative route followed by many visitors
relies on a bank of elevators that whisk you down to the
“Big Room", while avoiding the long, downhill trek of the Natural
The Natural Entrance
trail is a steep 1¼-mile (2 km)
trail from the cave entrance to the Big
Room. The descent is equal in height to a 75-story building and follows the traditional explorers'
route to the caverns. This one-hour walk is recommended only for those in good physical
If you choose to follow the Natural Entrance, you will see many famous features
including the Bat Cave, Devil's springs, Green Lake Overlook and the Boneyard, an area of dissolved limestone that looks something like
cheese. You will, also, see Iceberg Rock, a 200,000 ton boulder
that fell from the cave ceiling thousands of years ago. The route
ends near the elevators and the start for route through the Big Room.
The Big Room Trail, which contains many of the park's greatest
treasures, may be accessed from either the elevators or the
bottom of the Natural Entrance trail. Depending on your interest,
allow one hour or more to navigate this
walk. A short-cut is available that reduces the length and duration of
the walk by half. The path through the Big Room is paved,
relatively level and well-lighted.
The route through the Big Room is approximately one-mile and
self-guided. We recommend that you rent the Audio Guide as the recording provides
an excellent description of the unique features along the path. As
noted above, the route will take approximately one-hour to traverse and
you will pass by many famous features, both large and small.
Names like the Bottomless Pit, Giant Dome, Rock of Ages and Painted
Grotto are apt descriptors for the features that you will see. The
Big Room is extravagantly decorated with stalagmites (dripping causing
icicles to form from the ground up) , stalactites
(icicles forming from the ceiling down), the aptly named "soda straws",
"draperies", columns and more unusual features made from drips
containing calcite "absorbed" from the limestone that
water passed through.
In addition, there is a guided tour of the Kings Palace (fee
based) that takes you to the deepest part of the park open to the
public. There is some relatively steep climbing involved, so check with
the park's website for further details on accessibility. Other
tours are also available. Refer to this page of the park's
website for details on the tours and information for making
reservations. Most guided tours have limited space available, so
make your reservations for guided tours as early as possible
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is open year around, except for
Christmas. From Labor Day (in the beginning of September) to
Memorial Day (near the end of May ) the Visitor Center is open from 8
a.m. to 5 p.m. The cave opens at 8:30 a.m. with the Natural
Entrance closing at 2 p.m. The last elevator to the Big Room is at 3:30
A general admission ticket is required to enter the caverns and cost
$6 for adults 16 and older. The fee for children ages 6 to 15 is
$3, while those 5 and under are free..
A general admission ticket provides access to the two self-guided
Reservations are not needed to visit the main cave (Big Room). Tours
are offered for the Hall of the White Giants, Kings Palace, Left Hand
Tunnel, Lower Cave and Slaughter Canyon Caves. The cost of these tours
is in addition to the general admission ticket. Details about the tours,
their cost and the ability to book online can be found at the park's
website on this
There is a Bat Flight program (mid-May through mid-October) when you can observe the half a million
or so bats that make the Carlsbad Caverns their home leave for night hunting.
Cameras are not allowed at the Bat Flight Program, as the flashes and
electronics cause havoc with the bats’ navigation system. For more
information on the Bat Program see this
Medically prescribed canes are allowed in the Natural Entrance (but
not recommended), Main Room, and King's Palace Tour, but are not allowed
on the Hall of the White Giant, Left Hand Tunnel, Lower Cave, Slaughter
Canyon Cave, and Spider Cave tours.
Strollers are not permitted, so if you have a baby, you may need to
bring a backpack or other type of carrier. Children 3 and under are not
permitted on any of the guided tours provided by the National Park
There is no campground available at the park and overnight parking is
not allowed. You can camp in the backcountry with a permit that is
available from the Visitor Center. There are commercial
campgrounds nearby in the city of Carlsbad and at Whites City.
The main interest here is the Caverns, which have the same climate
year round. Summer is a popular time for visitors, but if you have
a choice, spring or fall are great times to visit due to smaller crowds.
Be sure to bring a jacket as the caves maintain their own temperature
around 56 F.
The roads in the area can be icy in winter, but this is a relatively
rare condition. There is a one-hour scenic drive through the
Chihuahuan Desert along a ten-mile gravel road. We think you will
find this drive daunting and dusty in the heat of July or August.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is located in southeast New Mexico near
the Texas border and not far from the state's border with Mexico.
The nearest towns of any size are Carlsbad, New Mexico (26 miles),
Roswell, New Mexico (105 miles) , Odessa, Texas (176 miles) and El Paso, Texas
(151 miles). Lodging can be found at each of these locations.
If you lodge in Roswell, take some time to view the International
Center (located in an old movie theater) that is dedicated the controversial claim that aliens crash-landed a space ship near Roswell in 1947. The museum is touristy but fun – and if anyone knows you were in the area, they will ask if you visited.
Finally, you might consider visiting the
White Sands National Monument where beautiful, large, white gypsum dunes cover almost 300 square miles of desert.
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