When I was a little kid there used to be a show on PBS called Reading Rainbow, which I loved and watched just about every day. And I still remember how one day the show highlighted Carlsbad Caverns National Park. I thought the video of the New Mexico caves were just about the coolest thing I had ever seen and I couldn’t wait until I saw Carlsbad Caverns National Park for myself! And about thirty years later when I finally did get to visit the park? I was as enthralled as I had been as a child. Carlsbad Caverns National Park is truly unbelievable and an amazing and otherworldly experience to visit.
We visited Carlsbad Caverns National Park over two days, staying at the Carlsbad KOA as a home base. The Carlsbad KOA is clean, safe and fairly convenient to the park, and we loved the 2 room camping cabin that we stayed in. While the camping cabins do not have bathrooms, the campground bathrooms were exceptionally clean. The two bedroom cabin is spacious with one queen size bed and a desk in one of the rooms, and two sets of bunk beds and a desk in the other room. There is a front porch and swing which we really enjoyed. While you must bring all of your own linens with you when staying here, it is still a much easier set up then tents and such. While KOA campgrounds may not always be the most scenic, they have always been safe and well maintained whenever we have stayed at one which makes it a comfortable choice for long road trips. To check if there is a KOA near your destination, click HERE.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park Visitor Center sits on the top of a ridge after a long windy drive to the top. Arriving in the middle of the afternoon, we parked in the crowded parking lot and ate a late picnic lunch at tables overlooking the desert below before heading inside to reserve tickets for the next morning to the self guided Big Room trail beginning at the Natural Entrance Trail. With our America the Beautiful Park pass, entrance to the Big Room and Natural Entrance Trails was free. Otherwise the fee to enter the cave is $10 per adult. Once we reserved our tickets, we spent some time in the impressive Visitor Center. Full of kid friendly and informational exhibits, we learned a great deal here. And with several gift shops and a snack bar, this place is huge! Make sure to watch the Carlsbad Cavern National Park orientation video as it definitely helped us better understand the cave system. We then headed outside to take a short hike on the Nature Trail adjacent to the Visitor Center which highlighted the diversity of plant life in the region. Paved and graded, this trail would be easy enough for most anyone and was still quite beautiful.
The Bat Flight Program takes place in the warmer months and is a Ranger led program that teaches visitors about the bats that live inside the caves. From May until October until the bats migrate for the winter, visitors can watch thousands of Mexican Free-tail bats emerge from the cave entrance in a giant cloud each evening as they leave the cave in search of food. The free evening bat flight is impressive and not to be missed. Visitors are seated in an outdoor amphitheater facing the Natural Entrance so they get a good view of the opening. Not only was the program informative, it was awesome to see the thousands of bats darting around in search of their nightly breakfasts. Be aware that the use of cell phones, cameras, video equipment and any other electronics are not permitted while the bats are exiting the cave as their lights and sounds can be disturbing to the bats.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park Natural Entrance Trail
We chose to do the self guided tours while in Carlsbad Caverns National Park and I was very happy with our choice. Allowing us to go at our own pace, the self guided Natural Entrance Tour was really interesting. The trail is about 1.25 miles long with 750 steep feet of elevation loss. Starting at the cave entrance are a long series of steep switchbacks that are fun to walk as you gradually sink deeper and deeper into the cavern. As you continue to descend, your eyes start to adjust to the darkness deep underground. There are several bizarre formations on your way down into the cavern that made it feel even more otherworldly. It was amazing.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park Big Room Trail
Only about 1.25 miles long, the Big Room Trail was quite disorienting and we kept getting turned around as we wondered around the most unusual formations I have ever laid eyes on. It is easy to let your imagination run wild here and envision what it must have been like for early explorers wandering in the huge cave system to map it out. The paved trail is level, and although the cave is fairly dark, there are lights all over that allow visitors to easily see the trail. Much of this trail is also wheelchair accessible, but strollers are not allowed inside the cave. Bathrooms are located along the trail as well as a small gift shop selling sweatshirts and other souvenirs. Once finished, we took the elevator to the top and picked up our Carlsbad Caverns National Park Junior Ranger Badges. It had truly been amazing touring the caverns.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park – If You Go:
No food or drinks except for water are allowed inside the cave. There is a snack bar and restaurant adjacent to the Visitor Center where we ate lunch. Overpriced and mediocre, the lunch was unforgettable but convenient.
There are tons of souvenirs available in the several gift shops in Carlsbad Caverns National Park. T-shirts, games, posters, toys, stuffed animals and more, there is plenty to buy here if you are into that.
With our America the Beautiful Park pass, entrance to the Big Room and Natural Entrance Trails was free. Otherwise the fee to enter the cave is $10 per adult. Ranger guided tours can be reserved for an additional fee. Click HERE for more information.
It is somewhat chilly inside the cave, so you should wear a long sleeved shirt or bring a light jacket. I wore shorts and a tank top and brought a jacket to put on and was perfectly comfortable.
To prevent the spread of white nose syndrome, visitors who are wearing shoes that have been in other caves in the last 7 years should alert park rangers so that their shoes can be disinfected.
There are no established campgrounds inside the park, but free backcountry camping is permitted. Click HERE for more information.
Helpful resources for a visit to Carlsbad Caverns National Park include Falcon Guide’s Hiking Carlsbad Caverns & Guadalupe Mountains National Parks and Carlsbad Caverns National Park Trail Map. I also enjoyed reading Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon novel Blind Descent which is a fun read and one of a mystery series about a National Park Ranger solving crimes in the parks.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park was like no place I have ever been. Have you visited before? I would love to hear about your visit!