Updated: May 21, 2015
Carlsbad Caverns National Park:If you are planning on going to see Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, then you have come to the right website. The park is not the easiest of National Parks to get to, but the trip will be well worth the time spent. The 113 caves (not are all accessible) at the park have been formed over the years as sulfuric acid slowly dissolved the limestone. Mammoth Caves in Kentucky is another example of this type of extensive cave formation. Carlsbad Caverns is located in the Guadalupe Mountains of southern New Mexico about 25 miles southwest of the town of Carlsbad, NM. One of the big draws that visitors come to see are the mass exodus of Mexican free-tail bats (1 million+) that leave the caves at dusk in the summer time to feed at night. They fly hundreds of miles on their journey and the cloud of bats can be seen stretching for miles as they leave the main opening to the caves. The park is not very big compared to other National Parks and you should expect to maybe spend 3-4 hours at most while visiting unless you plan on extensive cave touring.
Driving Directions:The real issue with Carlsbad Caverns National Park is how to get there. You can fly into nearby cities like Carlsbad, Las Cruces, or El Paso, but unless you are in the mood to see the rest of New Mexico, you will find that not much else exists out near the Caverns. Your best bet is to plan your trip in the summer time and try to see other National Parks along the way or major cities to combine your trip. In any event, the park is located off of state highway 62/180 and you will pass through the Guadalupe Mountains National Park right near the border of Texas and New Mexico if you are approaching from the south. The map located HERE gives you a general idea of the Carlsbad Caverns location and the highway you will be driving on. I visited years ago and came through Pecos, Texas on highway 285 and had to backtrack a bit after reaching Carlsbad. There is a scenic 7-mile entrance road that gently winds you into the park from Whites City. Driving distance from El Paso is 151 miles, Las Cruces is 197 miles, Dallas is 500 miles, Phoenix is 581 miles, and Denver is 626. No matter which way you cut it, you will have a long drive to the Caverns coming from any direction.
Fees and Operating Hours:Carlsbad Caverns National Park is open all year (except Dec 25th). Their regular hours of operation (after Labor Day to Memorial Day) are 8 AM to 5 PM and tours are available from 8:30 AM to 3:30 PM. As for the expanded hours in summertime, the park is open from 8 AM to 7 PM and the cave tours run from 8:30 AM to 5 PM. Park entrance fee are $6/adult (16+), $3/child (6-15), and children 5 and under are free. There are additional fees for the various cave tours (see below). Be sure to go to the Visitors Center to start your experience and reservations are highly recommended during the peak months for the guided tours since space is limited. You can call 1-877-444-6777 to make reservations over the phone.
Cave Tours:Part of the experience of coming to Carlsbad Caverns is to trek down into the caves and see with your own eyes just how impressive these huge caves are. Some of the tours are more strenuous than others, so pick wisely based on your age and ability. The climate inside the caves is a constant 56 degrees year round so be prepared with sweaters or light jackets and also have a pair of comfortable shoes that will provide good traction on some uneven surfaces.
Self-guided Tours are available for the Big Room and the Natural Entrance. The Big Room is certainly something that all visitors should see and an elevator will take you to the entrance or you can get to via the Natural Entrance route. It's a 1 mile self-guided underground walk and takes a little over an hour. You will see formations in the room named Bottomless Pit, Giant Dome, Rock of Ages, and Painted Grotto. The walk is fairly level and well lit but baby strollers are not allowed in any part of the cave so bring along a backpack for your baby. The Big Room is over 8 acres in size and will impress anyone. The Natural Entrance route is more strenuous and will have you descending over 750 feet down steep trails all the way to the Big Room area. It's a great hike for those in good physical shape. Highlights include Bat Cave, Devil's Spring, Green Lake Overlook and the Boneyard.
Guided Tours at Carlsbad Caverns - these are led by park rangers and cost additional money and are offered at specific times on certain days. For a complete tour schedule go HERE.
Kings Palace - offered daily and costs $8/adult and $4/child (no one under 4 years old allowed). The tour takes about 1 1/2 hours and it takes you down 830 feet below the desert above you. Be prepared for a complete blackout, this means the rangers will turn off all artificial lighting and you will sit for a few moments in complete darkness to experience the caves as they are meant to be (some children may not like this). Highlights of this tour include helictites, draperies, columns, and soda straws. The famous Queen's Chamber can be seen on this tour.
Left Hand Tunnel - departs daily at 9AM and lasts about 2 hours. The cost is $7/adults and $3.50/child (must be 6 or over). This is a lantern lit (they are provided free of charge) tour that will take you through cave-pools and Permian age fossils. This can be slippery trail at times so bring good shoes.
Hall of the White Giant - this tour departs at 1 PM on Saturdays only. Cost is $20/adult and $10/child, and minimum age is 12. The tour takes about 4 hours and is considered strenuous. You will be required to crawl along tight passageways and get up slick flowstone. There are ladders to climb and a little free climbing as well. If you don't like heights or tight spaces, avoid this tour. Rangers recommend wearing long pants and bringing along gloves and soft knee pads.
Lower Cave - this tour lasts about 3 hours and departs Mon-Fri at 1 PM from the visitor center lobby. Adults are $20 and children are $10 (must be 12 or over). You will need 4 AA batteries, gloves, and good hiking boots (or sneakers). Highlights of the Lower Cave tour include The Rookery, Colonel Boles Formation, and the Texas Toothpick. There are some ladders you will have to ascend and the terrain is tricky.
Spider Cave - Cost is $20/adult and $10/child (12 or over required). The tour runs on Sunday at 1 PM and lasts for 4 hours. This is a strenuous caving experience that is NOT for everyone. You will be in tight places and crawl along the cave floor (as the "Spider" in the name suggests). You will see Mace Room, Medusa Room, and Cactus Spring along the way. It's recommended that you bring gloves, long pants, water, and soft knee pads. Required are 4 AA batteries.
Slaughter Canyon Cave Tour - $15/adult and $7.50/child (6 or older). The tour has a 2 hour duration and runs daily in the summer months from 10 AM to 1 PM (Memorial Day to Labor Day) and off-season on weekends only at 10 AM. This tour meets some 23 miles from the actual visitor center and it requires you to take state highway 62/180 headed south to County Road 418. There are signs that point you in the right direction. The tour meets at the cave entrance. Reservations are required for this tour. It is strenuous and requires single file walking through narrow trails. You'll need a good flashlight with new batteries.
Hotels Near Carlsbad Caverns:Lodging near Carlsbad Caverns is limited to say the least and there are no regular campgrounds in the park either. There are some campsites in the local towns of Whites City and Carlsbad along with hotels near the park entrance and in Carlsbad, NM.
- Best Western Stevens Inn - 1829 South Canal, Carlsbad, NM 88220, Phone # (505)887-2851. 26 Miles from Carlsbad Caverns National Park. You can find them online HERE
- Best Western Cavern Inn - 6 Carlsbad Caverns Highway, White's City, New Mexico, 88268, Phone # (505)785-2291. Located at the entrance to the Carlsbad Caverns. Website located HERE
- Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites - 2210 I West Pierce, Carlsbad, NM 88220, Phone # (505)234-1252, Website located HERE