As we pulled into the parking lot at Carlsbad Caverns, my eight-year-old notices that there are more Texas license plates than any other, which makes sense since Carlsbad is only about 20 miles away from the Texas-New Mexico state line! As we pull into out parking space, I start to worry… Should I take water? Do we need sunscreen? Do they take credit cards in the caverns? Is the self-guided tour a good choice for a first visit? Are there restrooms? Will we find something to do after the tour?
The answer to all my questions was a resounding YES! Enjoy my tips below and have a great visit at this incredible destination, whether you plan to explore down below or above ground in the many hiking trails of this 46,000 acre National Park!
Know Before You Go
Strollers are not allowed inside the cavern, so bring a sling or backpack for younger children. If you do not have one, they are sold in the park’s gift shop.
Water is allowed and encouraged in the caverns, but food, gum or other drinks are not allowed. Be sure you have plenty of water with you when hiking in the backcountry.
Just because you are in a cave doesn’t mean you can skip the sunscreen. It’s not a short walk to the cavern entrance, and afterwards you can walk the 1/2 mile Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail.
Wear closed-toed shoes with good traction for inside the caves and on the trails.
Prepare your children before arriving that they ask you to keep voices/noises down while in the caverns.
There is no phone service inside the caverns, so move your phone to airplane mode to stop it from searching for a signal and using up your battery.
Only service dogs are allowed in the caverns and on the trails, there is a kennel inside the Visitors Center where you can leave your pet for a small fee. Pets are not to be left in cars.
Walking sticks are not allowed on the cavern trails, unless required.
Inside the Visitors Center you’ll find a small art gallery, interactive displays of the history and geology of the caverns as well as a 3D map, a souvenir shop and cafe. You can also purchase your tickets and obtain backcountry permits.
We visited during Spring Break (mid-March) and the Mountain Laurels were just amazing!
Self Guided Tours
There are two self-guided tours in the Caverns, the Natural Entrance Tour and the Big Room Tour.
I had the worst time trying to decide between a self-guided tour, guided tour or both, but I was so glad we chose the self-guided tour for our first visit, especially since the elevator was out and we were exhausted after walking down and back out! We spent over 5 hours in the caverns doing both the Natural Entrance Tour and the Big Room Tour!
The Natural Entrance Tour is one of 2 ways to enter the caverns, the other being by elevator. This 1.25 mile paved walk takes you down 750 ft. to the bottom of the cavern, and there are wonderful sights to see along the way. Plan about an hour to walk down, especially on busy weekends.
The Big Room is 1.25 miles long, takes about an hour, and is relatively flat and easy. The formations in the Big Room are beautiful, and there are places along the trail to stop and rest, and my kids were thrilled to see the “Bottomless Pit”.
There is a short-cut about half way along the trail, making it under a mile.
If you have limited time, take the elevator down and just tour the Big Room.
There are 4 additional, ranger-guided tours inside the main cavern, and 2 additional tours in separate caverns. Some (not all) are only lit by lantern or headlight, and are moderately strenuous, and include crawling through small spaces! Not all the tours are available throughout the year. Click HERE to read more.
Located at the bottom of the cavern, there is a snack bar with sandwiches, drinks and granola bars. They ran out of just about everything during our visit, so pack a few snacks, just in case.
There are several tables down here where you can rest. If you brought a jacket, this is when you will be glad you did!
You can also purchase shirts here, but remember that whatever you purchase, you have to carry around with you. Shirts are also sold in the Visitors Center.
Restrooms are located near the snack area.
May through October the Caverns is the home to hundreds of thousands of Brazilian free-tail bats, just one of 17 species of bats found in the park, which exit each night in search of food. Join a ranger outside the cavern opening to watch. There is no charge and reservations are not required. Check with the park for schedules before your visit. Click HERE for more information.
Night Sky Events
The park invites visitors to view the stars through high-powered telescopes several nights during the summer, and host full-moon hikes. The dark skies of New Mexico are also a perfect place to watch the Perseids Meteor Showers, peaking on Saturday, August 12th.
Walnut Canyon Desert Drive
Want to see more of the desert, but from the car? Drive the 9 mile Walnut Canyon Desert Drive, a slow, 15 mph drive on a gravel road with stops and short walks along the way. Grab a brochure in the Visitors Center.
Do NOT try this road after or during a rain, or if rain is forecast. Remember the weather can change quickly in the desert. Be sure to have plenty of gas and water in your car, in case of trouble.
There are 8 hiking trails in the park, from the easy Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail, a short 1/2 mile paved trail to the 24 mile round-trip Guadalupe Ridge Loop, with an elevation change of over 2,000 ft. Click HERE to read more.
A FREE permit is required for all backcountry camping. Click HERE for more information.
Rattlesnake Springs Preserve
A natural oasis in the Chihuahuan Desert. Picnic tables, grills and plenty of birds visiting the cool water and Cottonwood trees make this a unique place to visit. Click HERE to read more.
National Parks Pass
An $80 National Parks Pass allows 3 adults into any National Park. Using our pass, we did not have to pay for the self-guided tours. Click HERE to visit their website.
During 2016, the National Parks are offering all 4th graders a FREE National Parks Pass, which allows them and up to 3 adults into all National Parks for FREE. Click HERE for more information.
This fun little tourist stop on the road leading to Carlsbad Caverns National Park offers a restaurant, souvenir and curio shop, RV sites, camping spaces, small cabins and hotel with a pool/slides in summer.
Things to do in Carlsbad
We visited the little town of Carlsbad after our cavern tour, and had a lot of fun playing on the Pecos Riverwalk, with a big wooden playground, swim beach, kayaks and paddleboard rental and even a little zoo. Click HERE to read more.
If you are ready to take your caving to a new level, there are several wild caves in the Carlsbad area that are accessible to the public with a permit from the Bureau of Land Management. Contact the Carlsbad Region of BLM more than 2 weeks before your planned visit. Click HERE for their website.
Lincoln National Forest
Between the city of Carlsbad and Carlsbad Caverns National Park is an entrance to the HUGE Lincoln National Forest, which I started to sit down and read about all the camping, recreation etc there is to do, when I suddenly remembered that this is Having Fun in the TEXAS Sun, and decided to just post a link. Click HERE to learn about all the possibilities!
Guadalupe Peak National Park
Carlsbad is also the closest place to stay for access to the Guadalupe Peak National Park, with backcountry camping, hiking trails and Guadalupe Peak, the tallest place in Texas!
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
727 Carlsbad Caverns Highway, Carlsbad, NM
Click HERE to visit their website.
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