If you live in New Mexico—even temporarily— you need to take time to visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Carlsbad Caverns was discovered in the late 1890s while searching for caves for bat guano. Because of the large room in the cave, it slowly became a tourist attraction. By 1925, Carlsbad Caverns became a National Monument and by September of 1937, it welcomed its 1 millionth visitor. While early visitors explored the cave by dropping down in a bucket, a pathway into the cave was installed in the form of stairs in 1925, then an elevator in 1931, and finally in 1963 the bat amphitheater and the natural entrance were constructed.
Today you can enter the cave through the natural entrance or elevator, to explore the great room and take one of many other guided tours. There is a $15 entrance fee or use of your National Parks pass will get you and three guests into the cave. Additional fees cover optional ranger-guided tours. Close-toed shoes with good traction are recommended and limited food is available within the cave and can only be eaten in certain locations.
When we lived in New Mexico we went to see the cave multiple times and often took visitors to see it. Each trip we discovered a new part of the cave. It is a definite must-do. And you can easily go back a number of times and always see something new. It is a 3-hour drive from Alamogordo, 4-hour drive from Albuquerque, and a 4-hour drive from Clovis.
But what should you do when you get to Carlsbad Caverns? I’ve got you covered with my favorite things to do.
The Natural Entrance Trail is a 1.25 mile (2 km) extremely steep hike. Depending on if you decide to hike up or down (recommend down) you gain or lose about 750 ft of elevation. That is equivalent to walking up or down a 75-story building. The hike takes an average of one hour to complete. It is beautiful and there are a number of formations to see along the way like the Devil’s Spring, Whales Mouth, and Iceberg Rock. One favorite part was looking back up through the entrance as we got further in the cave. It was always changing as we looked behind us.
Big Room Tour
The most popular route is the Big Room. If you plan your day right you’ll have plenty of time to do both the Natural Entrance Trail and the Big Room Trail. But if you are pressed for time and can only do one, they are both great. You can enter the Big Room through the Natural Entrance Trail or through the elevators.
The trail is approximately 1.25 miles long (with a possible short cut to reduce the distance to 0.6 miles). The cave offers spectacular views, cave formations of all shapes and sizes and a rope ladder used by explorers in 1924. It takes approximately 45 minutes to complete the full trail.
Ranger Guided Tour
If you have had a chance to enter the cave through the Natural Entrance Trail and walked the Big Room Trail then you should consider one of the many ranger-guided tours available. They range from easy to difficult. One thing to point out is children under 4 years old are not permitted on any ranger-guided cave tours and additional age limits vary based on each tour. So if you want to do a Ranger Guided tour double check to see what tours are available and what works best for your family.
Bat Flight Program
From Memorial Day weekend until October you can see the free Bat Flight Program. In the evening, a ranger talks about the bats prior to their flight. No reservations are required for this program. It is located at the Bat Flight Amphitheater approximately 30 minutes before sunset. The best bat flights normally occur from August to September when baby bats born early in the summer join the flight along with migrating bats from other colonies further North.
You won’t be disappointed you took the time to visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park. It is a hidden gem in New Mexico. If you want to plan a visit check out the Carlsbad Caverns National Parks website to get more information and tips to help you plan your visit.
Have you visited Carlsbad Caverns? What was your favorite way to explore the cave?
Written by: Amanda Huffman