Your Complete Guide To The Carlsbad Caverns National Park

big room carlsbad caverns new mexico

Planning a Trip to the Park


When Should You Visit the Park?

The ideal time to visit the Carlsbad Caverns National Park is during the fall, spring, or winter seasons. The summer season is scorching hot as the temperature is usually around 100+ degrees. Moreover, the late summer months also witness rain downpours during the afternoon all across the desert.


How Much Will Visiting the Park Cost?


Entrance Fee

You need an entrance ticket to enjoy this park. This ticket is good for three days of exploration and adventure. Here are the different options available:

Per person (over the age of 16 years): $15

Per children (15 years and under): Free

You can also opt for the ‘National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Passes’ by America the Beautiful Passes that allow you access to more than 2,000 recreation sites all over America. This pass covers:

  • The entrance fees for national wildlife refuges and national parks
  • Usual amenity fees

It is eligible for one driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle. Some of the passes also offer additional benefits. The available passes include:

  • Annual Pass – $80
  • Annual Pass for U.S. Military – Free
  • Annual 4th Grade Pass – Free (for 4th graders)
  • Volunteer Pass – Free (individuals with 250 hours of service)
  • Access Pass – Free (for citizens with permanent disabilities)
  • Senior Pass – $80 (lifetime pass), $20 (annual pass)

You can get more information about these passes, including eligibility, benefits, and how and where to get them here.


Ranger-Guided Tours Fees

There are ranger-guided tours available for all visitors. It is highly recommended that you make reservations beforehand to get a spot. Children aged four years and below are not permitted on these tours. Other age restrictions also apply, depending on the tour you select. Here are the tours available:

  • King’s Palace - $8 (adults), $4 (children above 4 years of age), $4 (Senior and Access Pass)
  • Spider Cave - $20 (adults), $10 (children above 12 years of age), $10 (Senior and Access Pass)
  • Hall of White Giant - $20 (adults), $10 (children above 12 years of age), $10 (Senior and Access Pass)
  • Lower Cave - $20 (adults), $10 (children above 12 years of age), $10 (Senior and Access Pass)
  • Slaughter Canyon Cave - $15 (adults), $7.50 (children above 8 years of age), $7.50 (Senior and Access Pass)
  • Left-Hand Tunnel - $7 (adults), $3.50 (children above 6 years of age), $3.50 (Senior and Access Pass)


How Long Should the Trip Be?

While this depends on the type of activity you want to do and how much time you want to spend here, typically, visitors take around two to three days to explore this national park, which also includes hiking. If you only go for the main cavern, then it will take you a minimum of four hours. The Kings and Queens’ tours take an hour. Therefore, plan and pack accordingly.


Do You Need Special Permits?

In certain situations, you might need special permits to visit this park:


Special Use Permits

Commercial activities and gatherings in all of the national parks require a special use permit. The goal of these permits is ensuring the protection of the cultural and natural resources of the park. You will need this permit if you are organizing group activities, like:

  • Artistic display or play (pottery, painting, playing instruments, singing, dancing)
  • Scientific research, collection of specimens
  • Celebratory gatherings
  • Weddings
  • First Amendment events
  • Any activities that disturb the ground
  • Walks, relays, races
  • Commercial photography and/or filming


Backcountry Permits

Camping in this park can only be done in the backcountry. You will need a backcountry use permit, which is available free of cost at the visitor center of the park. You must also follow the terms and conditions of this permit, which are as follows:

  • Camping is only permitted in the west of the Rattlesnake Canyon trailhead, which is off the Desert Scenic Loop Road and south of the Guadalupe Ridge Trail to the boundary of the park.
  • Campsites must be 100 feet away from the established trails, half a mile away from a parking lot or a road, and 300 feet away from a cave entrance or water source.
  • The camping groups allowed are restricted to 10 individuals per group. If you have a larger group, then you will have to hike and camp one-quarter mile away from the separate camping areas.
  • The age of the permit holder should be a minimum of 18 years.
  • You can camp here for a maximum of seven consecutive nights.
  • RV or vehicle camping is not allowed.
  • You can’t camp in other areas, including a trailhead, parking lot, or any roads.
  • Open fires are not allowed.
  • Pets are not allowed in the backcountry, for both camping and hiking.


Things to Know Before You Visit

Here are a few more things that you should be aware of before you visit this national park:

  • Certain areas in the Natural Entrance and Big Room trails get wet due to natural water steep and drips. For your safety, make sure you are wearing closed-toe shoes with good traction, like lug soles. Sandals, flip flops, and other walking shoes don’t have much or any traction; hence, they may increase your risk of falls, trips, and slips.
  • It is recommended to bring along a light sweater or a jacket as the temperature in the cavern is usually 13°C (56°F).
  • Baby strollers are not allowed inside the caves. You can use a baby backpack to carry your child around safely.
  • If there is a medical need, you can carry a walking stick or cane on the King’s Palace, Natural Entrance, and Big Room trails. However, these walking aids must have a soft tip or a rubber tip.
  • Flash photography is allowed inside the caves, but you must be courteous to other visitors when using flash. You can also use tripods on the Natural Entrance and Big Room trails, but not on the ranger-guided tours.
  • Since the caverns are dimly lit, you can bring a headlamp or a flashlight.
  • Plain water is allowed inside the cavern, but not any flavored drinks or water. Candies, mints, gums, and other food items or products that might attract wildlife are not allowed inside the caverns.
  • The use of tobacco products, including vapes, e-cigarettes, and even chewing tobacco, is not permitted.
  • You are allowed to keep your cell phone with you, but there aren’t any signals inside the cavern. It is recommended that you either switch off the phone or put it on airplane mode to conserve its battery.
  • If you have been inside any cave in the last ten years, and wore the same shoes or carried the same camera, then you will have to wipe off all these items with a disinfectant to protect yourself against the deadly fungus, called the ‘White-nose Syndrome.’ It is done to protect the well-being of all the Brazilian free-tailed bats.
  • Your voice should be low at all times inside the cavern as noises carry up to 0.4 km in it.
  • If your group is visiting the cavern with minors, including students, scouts, or on a church trip, then responsible chaperones must accompany the group at all times. One adult is required for ten minors.
  • There are two parking lots at the visitor center of the park. If you are towing or driving an RV or a bus, then you will have to park in the first parking lot, which is towards your left. Then, proceed to the rear of the parking lot to park your bus or RV.
  • Summers in the Carlsbad Caverns are extremely hot as the temperature may vary between 32°C and 40°C (90°F and 100°F). If you are visiting during a hot day, then make sure to wear a hat, use sunscreen, hike during the early hours, and keep yourself hydrated.
  • During the spring season, mild temperatures and windy conditions are common. On the other hand, late summer and early fall come with frequent rains.

Therefore, be prepared as per the season you are visiting to ensure your trip is comfortable. Follow all the guidelines and rules for your safety and security.


Things to Do in Carlsbad Caverns National Park


This park offers numerous exciting activities that you can take part in. You should determine the must-do things that you want to do and reserve or book tours in advance. Check to see if the activities you have planned will be open during the time you are visiting since various facilities close down in specific seasons.


Visitor Center

The visitor center should be your first stop in the Carlsbad Caverns National Park to learn about this impressive park. It includes a 75-seat theater that offers a range of different ranger programs and engrossing films about the caves. The exhibits here provide a brief introduction to the early settlers and tribes that lived here, the wildlife, geology, and the bats. The rangers’ staff can answer any question or query you might have, and also give you directions and information regarding all the ranger-led programs and self-guided tours. There is also a bookstore, café, and a gift shop.


Cave Exploration

The Carlsbad Cavern (the main cave of the park), the Spider Cave, and the Slaughter Canyon Cave are open for the public to explore. If you are an experienced cave explorer with professional equipment, then you can get special permission to explore the other caves in the park. You will have to submit your request at least a week before you are planning to visit this park.

The majority of the visitors go to the main cave first. You can reach this cave using a paved walkway or the elevator. It also has an underground resting area. If you or someone in your group uses a wheelchair, then only one mile of the Big Room tour is accessible. Get the accessibility guide from the visitor center to check the areas easily accessible.


Main Carlsbad Cavern Routes

All the visitors typically go to the Carlsbad Caverns by using three trails. All of these trails are paved, lighted, and have handrails for easy hiking. Keep in mind; only the Big Room trail is considered the easy one, and the other two are for moderate or experienced hikers. You will enjoy the natural formations throughout the trails, which are strategically lit for a dramatic effect.


Big Room Self-Guided Tour 

The must-see chamber in the Carlsbad Cavern National Park is the Big Room. This chamber is rightfully named as it is massive and includes some of the most stunning formations. You may easily get overwhelmed by the vastness and spectacular structure of this chamber. Be prepared for a 1.5-hour hike. The trail is fairly easy for beginners. You can also use the elevator from the visitor center to the Natural Entrance Route or Underground Rest Area to get to this cave. Some visitors hike to the chamber and then take an elevator back to the starting point.


King's Palace Guided Tour 

This tour is a ranger-led tour and involves 1.5 hours of wandering through the King’s Palace. This chamber is one of the most scenic chambers in this park. The tour will take you to the Green Lake Room and the Queen’s Palace. Be on the lookout for the fanciful Bashful Elephant formation between the Green Lake Room and the King’s Palace.

You will learn about the geology of the caverns, as well as the experiences of the early explorers. The trail is paved, but there is an 80-foot elevation that makes this trial more difficult as compared to the Big Room trail. Children below the age of 4 years are not allowed on this tour.


Natural Entrance Route 

This route is a moderately strenuous hike that will take you to the Carlsbad Cavern through the same route that the early explorers used. You will leave daylight to go inside the big hole and proceed to descend 750 feet inside the cave through a narrow and steep switchback trail. You will then head towards the ‘twilight zone’ of the semidarkness into the depths of the cave, which will be pitch black. You will be given electric lights to make your way through.

This self-guided tour will take around an hour and take you near the elevators, which you can take to get back to the visitor center. It is best to proceed to the self-guided Big Room tour, which will complete the whole experience.


Night Sky Programs

The park offers the following night sky programs to visitors:


Star Walks and Moon Hikes

It is a 0.5-mile hike for Star Walks and 1.5 miles for Moon Hikes on the rugged desert trail. You will also go through an elevation change of about 200 feet, making it a slightly difficult hike. These programs are free of cost, but since only 25 participants are allowed in each program, it is first-come-first-served. Make sure you register for these programs at the visitor center. For the Star Walk program, children over the age of six years are permitted, whereas the minimum age limit for the Moon Hike program is eight years.

To fully enjoy the Star Walk program, bring a blanket or towel along to enjoy stargazing while comfortably lying down. Long pants are recommended for Moon Hikes. Make sure your clothes and shoes are comfortable; pack a bottle of water and some snacks. Bring a red light headlamp or a flashlight if possible; otherwise, they can be provided by the rangers nearby. These programs might get canceled because of rough weather. Make sure you confirm whether the program is being held before heading out.


Star Parties

Explore the night sky using a powerful telescope in this night sky program. A park ranger will help you find spectacular hard-to-find objects in space. This program is available for all ages, but children below the age of 16 must be chaperoned by an adult at all times. Star Parties are free of cost and don’t require registrations.

This program usually starts after the Bat Flight program and is held near the Black Flight Amphitheater. Make sure you walk, instead of driving, to reach this spot to prevent any night-viewing interference from the headlights.

If you are bringing a headlamp or a flashlight, make sure only to use the red light. This program might also get canceled because of rough weather. Make sure you confirm whether the program is being held before heading out.


Bat Flight Program

During the summer season, Brazilian free-tailed bats come out of the caverns every evening to look for food. It is truly a sight to behold that you won’t want to miss. This program is free of cost, and no reservations are required. The ranger will share facts and interesting knowledge about the bats before they make their flight. This program takes place at the Bat Flight Amphitheater, which is situated near the Natural Entrance of the park. The timing of this program may change, depending on the sunset time changes. Make sure you get the right details of the program at the visitor center on the day of the program. The program might get canceled in case of lightning and storm.


Dawn of the Bats

While it is a tradition to watch all the Brazilian free-tailed bats emerge from the caves every evening from April to October, you can also witness their return around sunrise each year on the third Saturday of July. After witnessing this spectacular event, the program continues with different bat-related activities all through the day at the visitor center. It finishes off with the Bat Flight Program. The Dawn of Bats program is also free of cost and requires no reservation.

The programs and tours in this park can vary, depending on the season and weather conditions. Be sure to inquire about the available programs at the visitor center. There are certain rules and restrictions for every program, which you should be aware of before you participate. For instance, both the Bat Flight and Dawn of Bats programs prohibit the use of electronic devices like iPods, iPads, tablets, smartphones, laptops, and any camera.


The Best Trails in and Near Carlsbad Caverns National Park


While there are a few trails inside the Carlsbad Caverns that you may enjoy hiking, there are also some great trails to explore in nearby areas, particularly in the backcountry.


Big Room Trail

The most popular trail in the Carlsbad Caverns is the Big Room. It is the biggest singular cave chamber in terms of volume in all of North America. The relatively flat trail is 1.25 miles long and takes around 1.5 hours to cover. You are bound to enjoy stunning views and cave formations of all sizes and shapes. There is even a rope ladder inside the cavern, which was used in 1924 by the early explorers.

If you prefer a shorter hike, then you can use a shortcut that decreases the walking distance to around 0.6 miles, which takes around 45 minutes to cover. The initial one mile of this trail is wheelchair accessible.


Natural Entrance Trail

This trial is about 1.25 miles long and is extremely steep. Depending on whether you are hiking down or up, you might lose or gain around 750 feet – equal to climbing down or up a 75-story building. You get a chance to follow the same path used by the early explorers and witness the beautiful formations, including the Iceberg Rock, Whale’s Mouth, and the Devil’s Spring. It will take you around an hour to complete this hike. It is not suitable for visitors with respiratory or heart conditions. This trial is also not wheelchair accessible.


Guano Road

This trail is 3.5 miles long (one way) and takes about two to three hours to cover. The trailhead is situated near the entrance of the Carlsbad Cavern, at the Bat Flight Amphitheater. The road descends about 710 feet and takes you to the exit of the park at Whites City. Visitors are not allowed to camp in this area.


Juniper Ridge Trail

This trail starts from the last mile of the Desert Loop Drive, after the marker 15. It includes a gradual climb towards the park’s north boundary. From there, the trail heads towards the west leading to the edge of the Crooked Canyon. This marked trail is about 3.5 miles long (one way) and also includes an elevation change of about 800 feet.


Rattlesnake Canyon Trail

The trailhead of this trail is situated at marker 9 at the Desert Loop Drive, and it exits at the boundary of the park. The roundtrip distance of this trial is about 6 miles. There is a private property beyond the boundary of the park, which hikers should not trespass. The Rattlesnake Canyon trail is mostly well-defined, but it is also overgrown in certain areas and marked with rock cairns. There is a steep descent after the Desert Drive leading to the canyon. The elevation change is 670 feet. After reaching the old ranch foundation, you can head towards the Stone Spring, which is a short 0.25 miles away.


Slaughter Canyon Trail

The Slaughter Canyon includes numerous branches. Its trailhead is at the parking area of the canyon. It is a cairn–marked trail that follows the canyon along its floor. The trail crisscrosses the canyon multiple times, which makes it easy for hikers to lose trail. When you reach the North Slaughter Canyon, you will start ascending towards the Guadalupe Ridge. This route is a strenuous trial and requires knowledge of topographic maps due to the many cairn-markers throughout the trial. The route is about 6 miles long (one way) and includes an elevation change of about 1,850 feet towards the ridge top.


Yucca Canyon Trail

The trailhead of the Yucca Canyon is situated southwest of the Slaughter Canyon. The trial includes a well-defined footpath. It is 11 miles long (one way) and has an elevation change of 1,520 feet. When you reach the ridge, the trail will go along the fenced-deer enclosure, taking you to the Longview Springs. Keep following the trail to reach the Double Canyon overlook. While there aren’t any marked trails here, the views are gorgeous.


Guadalupe Ridge Trail

You can start this trail at the Scenic Loop Drive. The trail is steep and includes an elevation change of about 2,050 feet. You can enjoy the view inside the Rattlesnake Canyon and the Slaughter Canyon during this hike. It is an 11.8-mile long trail that goes along an old road towards the west boundary of the park. An overnight trip is recommended if you want to complete the entire route. You will need to obtain a free camping permit from the visitor center.

Whichever trail you want to hike, make sure that you properly prepare for it. Keep a large bottle of water and protein snacks with you. Wear hiking boots and loose clothes so that you can comfortably hike. Be sure to get all the information from the park personnel before leaving for the hike. Follow their instructions carefully, and don’t ignore any warning signs posted within the park.


Accommodation


There isn’t any accommodation available inside the park. However, there are a few camping and hotels near the Caverns where visitors can stay while they explore the caves in the park.


Camping Sites

There aren’t any developed vehicle camping or campgrounds within this national park. However, visitors are allowed to camp in the backcountry in some designated areas. You will need to get camping permits from the visitor center first. Here are some of the campgrounds in the backcountry:


Whites City RV Park

The RV Park is the closest camping area near the Carlsbad Caverns. It is situated near the east edge of the boundary of the park, around 7 miles from the visitor center. In addition to the RV camping sites, there are shade shelters and hookups available. This campground practically provides unlimited tent camping!

It also includes a clean bathhouse and a dump station. Since this campground is in the White’s City Complex, campers can access the restaurants, pools, and other facilities. The rates may vary from $20 to $30 per night, depending on the type of camping you are opting for.


Carlsbad RV Park and Campgrounds

There is the Carlsbad RV Park and campgrounds located on the National Parks Highway, where you can pitch a tent or park your recreational vehicle. This campground also includes a pool, game room, and a laundry room. This campground has 40 tents, more than 100 RV sites, and two fully-equipped cabins. The site can accommodate a recreational vehicle that is up to 75 feet high.


Backcountry Camping

Another close accommodation near this national park is in the backcountry. You will have to hike and camp in the wild. It is the only type of camping permitted in the park, only in the designated spots. Your campsite must be 100 feet away from the established trails, 300 feet away from a water source and cave entrance, and 0.5 miles away from a parking lot or a road. You will need to obtain a backcountry use permit to camp here.


Hotels Nearby

If you prefer staying in a hotel while you explore the spectacular formations in the Carlsbad Caverns, there are various options available. Following are some of the hotels near the park that you can consider for your stay:


Rodeway Inn

This hotel is located seven miles away from the Carlsbad Caverns National Park and a short drive away from the Living Desert State Park. It is also a walking distance from the souvenir and grocery stores. The inn has 62 rooms and offers a continental breakfast every morning. The hotel room includes a coffeemaker and cable television. You can also enjoy the onsite swimming pool, which has a water slide. Your pet is also welcomed here, but you will have to pay an additional fee.


Days Inn Carlsbad

This hotel is situated about 20 miles away from the national park and is close to the historic downtown district. You cannot just explore the caves in the Carlsbad Caverns but also the downtown area during your trip. All the suites and rooms include refrigerators and microwaves. Suites also have a comfy living area. Complimentary facilities offered to all the guests include airport shuttle, continental breakfast, onsite parking, and wireless internet access. You can also enjoy their laundry room, onsite hot tub, and indoor swimming pool. There are a few dining options available nearby as well, including barbeque, Mexican, and Italian restaurants.


Best Western Stevens Inn

This pet-friendly hotel has 46 suites and 152 guestrooms, with a lounge, restaurant, playground, fitness center, hot tub, and an outdoor pool. Each room includes premium cable and high-speed internet access. The roll-away beds, refrigerators, and microwaves can be accessed for a small fee.

You can enjoy the free buffet breakfast every morning, along with an airport shuttle service and laundry facilities. You can also dine in at the Flume Room Restaurant on the premises. It is centrally located, which means you can easily reach the Carlsbad Cavern National Park and also explore the nearby areas.


Tips for a Safe and Stress-Free Trip


General Tips

Here are some general tips to keep in mind while exploring the caverns:

  • The descent in most of the chambers is paved with railings. However, they are still rather steep. Make sure you are wearing shoes with non-slip soles.
  • The cave has two entrances – the elevator entrance and the natural entrance. You should use the elevator entrance if you are with young children or have health restrictions.
  • The caves don’t have any restrooms. The nearest restrooms are at the top of the Natural Entrance right next to the elevators. In case of a bathroom emergency, head towards the Big Room to reach the elevators. It is also an easy exit if you want to take a snack break.
  • The entrance ticket to this national park is good for re-admittance for the next three days. Therefore, be sure to take a break by heading back to the visitor center.


Safety Precautions to Take

Here are some safety tips you should follow to explore the caverns safely:

  • Take your time to determine which activity will be best for you. Almost all of the hikes, nature walks, and tours are strenuous. Therefore, ensure you have all the relevant information before you begin the activity. If you can’t decide, ask a park ranger to help you understand the requirements and to determine whether or not a particular activity is suitable for you.
  • Certain areas in the caverns might be wet due to natural water, make sure you are wearing the right shoes to avoid potential falls, trips, or slips.
  • An adult must accompany all the children aged 16 and below at all times.
  • During all the tours, you are required to wear shoes and shirts.
  • Backpacks with metal frames or ones that extend above the shoulders or below the hips are not allowed inside the caverns.
  • Smoking is not allowed inside the park.
  • Approaching or feeding animals is strictly prohibited. Feeding wildlife can harm their well-being and health. Moreover, wild animals are unpredictable and can be dangerous. You must stay away from even harmless-looking raccoon, squirrel, or deer.
  • Be extremely cautious when you are driving inside the park premises. Wildlife, including javelina, sheep, and deer, are often visible along the roadsides. Be vigilant as these animals might start walking on the road anytime.
  • Before you start your hike, inform someone where you are going and at approximately what time you will be returning.


Things You Should Pack

When you are heading to the park to explore the caves, here are a few things you should take along with you:

  • Helmet – a hard hat with a chin strap will protect you from any falling rocks. The light source should be mounted on top of the helmet.
  • Backup Light – since it can get pitch black inside the cave, it is wise to have a backup light in case your current one runs out of battery. Make sure you opt for the waterproof ones.
  • Gloves – This will help you in avoiding any potential scrapes and cuts.
  • Elbow and Knee Pads – while these might not be needed, these are ideal for crawling into tight spaces.
  • Cave Pack – this can be a sturdy military pack or fanny pack filled with extra equipment (plastic bags, batteries, flashlights, food, and water)

Make sure you pack high-energy snacks, like power bars. It will come in handy in case your trip takes longer or if you get lost.


Backcountry camping Terms

There are a few more things that you must keep in mind when camping in the backcountry, including:

  • Never disturb or collect any cultural artifacts, minerals, animals, or plants.
  • You can’t enter the backcountry caves without the superintendent’s written permission.
  • The use of stock and saddle is allowed in designated areas, under special regulations. You will need to make advance arrangements.
  • You must report all emergencies, including lost persons, injuries, fires, and other accidents to the park ranger as soon as possible.
  • Motorized vehicles and mountain bikes are not allowed on the park trails.
  • Be sure to securely lock your vehicle and keep all your valuables with you at all times.



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Your Complete Guide To The Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Book AuthorGoglides
PublisherGoglides Publication
LanguageEnglish
Pages
Published Date2020-03-25T18:15:00Z
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Your Complete Guide To The Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Planning a Trip to the Park


When Should You Visit the Park?

The ideal time to visit the Carlsbad Caverns National Park is during the fall, spring, or winter seasons. The summer season is scorching hot as the temperature is usually around 100+ degrees. Moreover, the late summer months also witness rain downpours during the afternoon all across the desert.


How Much Will Visiting the Park Cost?


Entrance Fee

You need an entrance ticket to enjoy this park. This ticket is good for three days of exploration and adventure. Here are the different options available:

Per person (over the age of 16 years): $15

Per children (15 years and under): Free

You can also opt for the ‘National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Passes’ by America the Beautiful Passes that allow you access to more than 2,000 recreation sites all over America. This pass covers:

  • The entrance fees for national wildlife refuges and national parks
  • Usual amenity fees

It is eligible for one driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle. Some of the passes also offer additional benefits. The available passes include:

  • Annual Pass – $80
  • Annual Pass for U.S. Military – Free
  • Annual 4th Grade Pass – Free (for 4th graders)
  • Volunteer Pass – Free (individuals with 250 hours of service)
  • Access Pass – Free (for citizens with permanent disabilities)
  • Senior Pass – $80 (lifetime pass), $20 (annual pass)

You can get more information about these passes, including eligibility, benefits, and how and where to get them here.


Ranger-Guided Tours Fees

There are ranger-guided tours available for all visitors. It is highly recommended that you make reservations beforehand to get a spot. Children aged four years and below are not permitted on these tours. Other age restrictions also apply, depending on the tour you select. Here are the tours available:

  • King’s Palace - $8 (adults), $4 (children above 4 years of age), $4 (Senior and Access Pass)
  • Spider Cave - $20 (adults), $10 (children above 12 years of age), $10 (Senior and Access Pass)
  • Hall of White Giant - $20 (adults), $10 (children above 12 years of age), $10 (Senior and Access Pass)
  • Lower Cave - $20 (adults), $10 (children above 12 years of age), $10 (Senior and Access Pass)
  • Slaughter Canyon Cave - $15 (adults), $7.50 (children above 8 years of age), $7.50 (Senior and Access Pass)
  • Left-Hand Tunnel - $7 (adults), $3.50 (children above 6 years of age), $3.50 (Senior and Access Pass)


How Long Should the Trip Be?

While this depends on the type of activity you want to do and how much time you want to spend here, typically, visitors take around two to three days to explore this national park, which also includes hiking. If you only go for the main cavern, then it will take you a minimum of four hours. The Kings and Queens’ tours take an hour. Therefore, plan and pack accordingly.


Do You Need Special Permits?

In certain situations, you might need special permits to visit this park:


Special Use Permits

Commercial activities and gatherings in all of the national parks require a special use permit. The goal of these permits is ensuring the protection of the cultural and natural resources of the park. You will need this permit if you are organizing group activities, like:

  • Artistic display or play (pottery, painting, playing instruments, singing, dancing)
  • Scientific research, collection of specimens
  • Celebratory gatherings
  • Weddings
  • First Amendment events
  • Any activities that disturb the ground
  • Walks, relays, races
  • Commercial photography and/or filming


Backcountry Permits

Camping in this park can only be done in the backcountry. You will need a backcountry use permit, which is available free of cost at the visitor center of the park. You must also follow the terms and conditions of this permit, which are as follows:

  • Camping is only permitted in the west of the Rattlesnake Canyon trailhead, which is off the Desert Scenic Loop Road and south of the Guadalupe Ridge Trail to the boundary of the park.
  • Campsites must be 100 feet away from the established trails, half a mile away from a parking lot or a road, and 300 feet away from a cave entrance or water source.
  • The camping groups allowed are restricted to 10 individuals per group. If you have a larger group, then you will have to hike and camp one-quarter mile away from the separate camping areas.
  • The age of the permit holder should be a minimum of 18 years.
  • You can camp here for a maximum of seven consecutive nights.
  • RV or vehicle camping is not allowed.
  • You can’t camp in other areas, including a trailhead, parking lot, or any roads.
  • Open fires are not allowed.
  • Pets are not allowed in the backcountry, for both camping and hiking.


Things to Know Before You Visit

Here are a few more things that you should be aware of before you visit this national park:

  • Certain areas in the Natural Entrance and Big Room trails get wet due to natural water steep and drips. For your safety, make sure you are wearing closed-toe shoes with good traction, like lug soles. Sandals, flip flops, and other walking shoes don’t have much or any traction; hence, they may increase your risk of falls, trips, and slips.
  • It is recommended to bring along a light sweater or a jacket as the temperature in the cavern is usually 13°C (56°F).
  • Baby strollers are not allowed inside the caves. You can use a baby backpack to carry your child around safely.
  • If there is a medical need, you can carry a walking stick or cane on the King’s Palace, Natural Entrance, and Big Room trails. However, these walking aids must have a soft tip or a rubber tip.
  • Flash photography is allowed inside the caves, but you must be courteous to other visitors when using flash. You can also use tripods on the Natural Entrance and Big Room trails, but not on the ranger-guided tours.
  • Since the caverns are dimly lit, you can bring a headlamp or a flashlight.
  • Plain water is allowed inside the cavern, but not any flavored drinks or water. Candies, mints, gums, and other food items or products that might attract wildlife are not allowed inside the caverns.
  • The use of tobacco products, including vapes, e-cigarettes, and even chewing tobacco, is not permitted.
  • You are allowed to keep your cell phone with you, but there aren’t any signals inside the cavern. It is recommended that you either switch off the phone or put it on airplane mode to conserve its battery.
  • If you have been inside any cave in the last ten years, and wore the same shoes or carried the same camera, then you will have to wipe off all these items with a disinfectant to protect yourself against the deadly fungus, called the ‘White-nose Syndrome.’ It is done to protect the well-being of all the Brazilian free-tailed bats.
  • Your voice should be low at all times inside the cavern as noises carry up to 0.4 km in it.
  • If your group is visiting the cavern with minors, including students, scouts, or on a church trip, then responsible chaperones must accompany the group at all times. One adult is required for ten minors.
  • There are two parking lots at the visitor center of the park. If you are towing or driving an RV or a bus, then you will have to park in the first parking lot, which is towards your left. Then, proceed to the rear of the parking lot to park your bus or RV.
  • Summers in the Carlsbad Caverns are extremely hot as the temperature may vary between 32°C and 40°C (90°F and 100°F). If you are visiting during a hot day, then make sure to wear a hat, use sunscreen, hike during the early hours, and keep yourself hydrated.
  • During the spring season, mild temperatures and windy conditions are common. On the other hand, late summer and early fall come with frequent rains.

Therefore, be prepared as per the season you are visiting to ensure your trip is comfortable. Follow all the guidelines and rules for your safety and security.


Things to Do in Carlsbad Caverns National Park


This park offers numerous exciting activities that you can take part in. You should determine the must-do things that you want to do and reserve or book tours in advance. Check to see if the activities you have planned will be open during the time you are visiting since various facilities close down in specific seasons.


Visitor Center

The visitor center should be your first stop in the Carlsbad Caverns National Park to learn about this impressive park. It includes a 75-seat theater that offers a range of different ranger programs and engrossing films about the caves. The exhibits here provide a brief introduction to the early settlers and tribes that lived here, the wildlife, geology, and the bats. The rangers’ staff can answer any question or query you might have, and also give you directions and information regarding all the ranger-led programs and self-guided tours. There is also a bookstore, café, and a gift shop.


Cave Exploration

The Carlsbad Cavern (the main cave of the park), the Spider Cave, and the Slaughter Canyon Cave are open for the public to explore. If you are an experienced cave explorer with professional equipment, then you can get special permission to explore the other caves in the park. You will have to submit your request at least a week before you are planning to visit this park.

The majority of the visitors go to the main cave first. You can reach this cave using a paved walkway or the elevator. It also has an underground resting area. If you or someone in your group uses a wheelchair, then only one mile of the Big Room tour is accessible. Get the accessibility guide from the visitor center to check the areas easily accessible.


Main Carlsbad Cavern Routes

All the visitors typically go to the Carlsbad Caverns by using three trails. All of these trails are paved, lighted, and have handrails for easy hiking. Keep in mind; only the Big Room trail is considered the easy one, and the other two are for moderate or experienced hikers. You will enjoy the natural formations throughout the trails, which are strategically lit for a dramatic effect.


Big Room Self-Guided Tour 

The must-see chamber in the Carlsbad Cavern National Park is the Big Room. This chamber is rightfully named as it is massive and includes some of the most stunning formations. You may easily get overwhelmed by the vastness and spectacular structure of this chamber. Be prepared for a 1.5-hour hike. The trail is fairly easy for beginners. You can also use the elevator from the visitor center to the Natural Entrance Route or Underground Rest Area to get to this cave. Some visitors hike to the chamber and then take an elevator back to the starting point.


King's Palace Guided Tour 

This tour is a ranger-led tour and involves 1.5 hours of wandering through the King’s Palace. This chamber is one of the most scenic chambers in this park. The tour will take you to the Green Lake Room and the Queen’s Palace. Be on the lookout for the fanciful Bashful Elephant formation between the Green Lake Room and the King’s Palace.

You will learn about the geology of the caverns, as well as the experiences of the early explorers. The trail is paved, but there is an 80-foot elevation that makes this trial more difficult as compared to the Big Room trail. Children below the age of 4 years are not allowed on this tour.


Natural Entrance Route 

This route is a moderately strenuous hike that will take you to the Carlsbad Cavern through the same route that the early explorers used. You will leave daylight to go inside the big hole and proceed to descend 750 feet inside the cave through a narrow and steep switchback trail. You will then head towards the ‘twilight zone’ of the semidarkness into the depths of the cave, which will be pitch black. You will be given electric lights to make your way through.

This self-guided tour will take around an hour and take you near the elevators, which you can take to get back to the visitor center. It is best to proceed to the self-guided Big Room tour, which will complete the whole experience.


Night Sky Programs

The park offers the following night sky programs to visitors:


Star Walks and Moon Hikes

It is a 0.5-mile hike for Star Walks and 1.5 miles for Moon Hikes on the rugged desert trail. You will also go through an elevation change of about 200 feet, making it a slightly difficult hike. These programs are free of cost, but since only 25 participants are allowed in each program, it is first-come-first-served. Make sure you register for these programs at the visitor center. For the Star Walk program, children over the age of six years are permitted, whereas the minimum age limit for the Moon Hike program is eight years.

To fully enjoy the Star Walk program, bring a blanket or towel along to enjoy stargazing while comfortably lying down. Long pants are recommended for Moon Hikes. Make sure your clothes and shoes are comfortable; pack a bottle of water and some snacks. Bring a red light headlamp or a flashlight if possible; otherwise, they can be provided by the rangers nearby. These programs might get canceled because of rough weather. Make sure you confirm whether the program is being held before heading out.


Star Parties

Explore the night sky using a powerful telescope in this night sky program. A park ranger will help you find spectacular hard-to-find objects in space. This program is available for all ages, but children below the age of 16 must be chaperoned by an adult at all times. Star Parties are free of cost and don’t require registrations.

This program usually starts after the Bat Flight program and is held near the Black Flight Amphitheater. Make sure you walk, instead of driving, to reach this spot to prevent any night-viewing interference from the headlights.

If you are bringing a headlamp or a flashlight, make sure only to use the red light. This program might also get canceled because of rough weather. Make sure you confirm whether the program is being held before heading out.


Bat Flight Program

During the summer season, Brazilian free-tailed bats come out of the caverns every evening to look for food. It is truly a sight to behold that you won’t want to miss. This program is free of cost, and no reservations are required. The ranger will share facts and interesting knowledge about the bats before they make their flight. This program takes place at the Bat Flight Amphitheater, which is situated near the Natural Entrance of the park. The timing of this program may change, depending on the sunset time changes. Make sure you get the right details of the program at the visitor center on the day of the program. The program might get canceled in case of lightning and storm.


Dawn of the Bats

While it is a tradition to watch all the Brazilian free-tailed bats emerge from the caves every evening from April to October, you can also witness their return around sunrise each year on the third Saturday of July. After witnessing this spectacular event, the program continues with different bat-related activities all through the day at the visitor center. It finishes off with the Bat Flight Program. The Dawn of Bats program is also free of cost and requires no reservation.

The programs and tours in this park can vary, depending on the season and weather conditions. Be sure to inquire about the available programs at the visitor center. There are certain rules and restrictions for every program, which you should be aware of before you participate. For instance, both the Bat Flight and Dawn of Bats programs prohibit the use of electronic devices like iPods, iPads, tablets, smartphones, laptops, and any camera.


The Best Trails in and Near Carlsbad Caverns National Park


While there are a few trails inside the Carlsbad Caverns that you may enjoy hiking, there are also some great trails to explore in nearby areas, particularly in the backcountry.


Big Room Trail

The most popular trail in the Carlsbad Caverns is the Big Room. It is the biggest singular cave chamber in terms of volume in all of North America. The relatively flat trail is 1.25 miles long and takes around 1.5 hours to cover. You are bound to enjoy stunning views and cave formations of all sizes and shapes. There is even a rope ladder inside the cavern, which was used in 1924 by the early explorers.

If you prefer a shorter hike, then you can use a shortcut that decreases the walking distance to around 0.6 miles, which takes around 45 minutes to cover. The initial one mile of this trail is wheelchair accessible.


Natural Entrance Trail

This trial is about 1.25 miles long and is extremely steep. Depending on whether you are hiking down or up, you might lose or gain around 750 feet – equal to climbing down or up a 75-story building. You get a chance to follow the same path used by the early explorers and witness the beautiful formations, including the Iceberg Rock, Whale’s Mouth, and the Devil’s Spring. It will take you around an hour to complete this hike. It is not suitable for visitors with respiratory or heart conditions. This trial is also not wheelchair accessible.


Guano Road

This trail is 3.5 miles long (one way) and takes about two to three hours to cover. The trailhead is situated near the entrance of the Carlsbad Cavern, at the Bat Flight Amphitheater. The road descends about 710 feet and takes you to the exit of the park at Whites City. Visitors are not allowed to camp in this area.


Juniper Ridge Trail

This trail starts from the last mile of the Desert Loop Drive, after the marker 15. It includes a gradual climb towards the park’s north boundary. From there, the trail heads towards the west leading to the edge of the Crooked Canyon. This marked trail is about 3.5 miles long (one way) and also includes an elevation change of about 800 feet.


Rattlesnake Canyon Trail

The trailhead of this trail is situated at marker 9 at the Desert Loop Drive, and it exits at the boundary of the park. The roundtrip distance of this trial is about 6 miles. There is a private property beyond the boundary of the park, which hikers should not trespass. The Rattlesnake Canyon trail is mostly well-defined, but it is also overgrown in certain areas and marked with rock cairns. There is a steep descent after the Desert Drive leading to the canyon. The elevation change is 670 feet. After reaching the old ranch foundation, you can head towards the Stone Spring, which is a short 0.25 miles away.


Slaughter Canyon Trail

The Slaughter Canyon includes numerous branches. Its trailhead is at the parking area of the canyon. It is a cairn–marked trail that follows the canyon along its floor. The trail crisscrosses the canyon multiple times, which makes it easy for hikers to lose trail. When you reach the North Slaughter Canyon, you will start ascending towards the Guadalupe Ridge. This route is a strenuous trial and requires knowledge of topographic maps due to the many cairn-markers throughout the trial. The route is about 6 miles long (one way) and includes an elevation change of about 1,850 feet towards the ridge top.


Yucca Canyon Trail

The trailhead of the Yucca Canyon is situated southwest of the Slaughter Canyon. The trial includes a well-defined footpath. It is 11 miles long (one way) and has an elevation change of 1,520 feet. When you reach the ridge, the trail will go along the fenced-deer enclosure, taking you to the Longview Springs. Keep following the trail to reach the Double Canyon overlook. While there aren’t any marked trails here, the views are gorgeous.


Guadalupe Ridge Trail

You can start this trail at the Scenic Loop Drive. The trail is steep and includes an elevation change of about 2,050 feet. You can enjoy the view inside the Rattlesnake Canyon and the Slaughter Canyon during this hike. It is an 11.8-mile long trail that goes along an old road towards the west boundary of the park. An overnight trip is recommended if you want to complete the entire route. You will need to obtain a free camping permit from the visitor center.

Whichever trail you want to hike, make sure that you properly prepare for it. Keep a large bottle of water and protein snacks with you. Wear hiking boots and loose clothes so that you can comfortably hike. Be sure to get all the information from the park personnel before leaving for the hike. Follow their instructions carefully, and don’t ignore any warning signs posted within the park.


Accommodation


There isn’t any accommodation available inside the park. However, there are a few camping and hotels near the Caverns where visitors can stay while they explore the caves in the park.


Camping Sites

There aren’t any developed vehicle camping or campgrounds within this national park. However, visitors are allowed to camp in the backcountry in some designated areas. You will need to get camping permits from the visitor center first. Here are some of the campgrounds in the backcountry:


Whites City RV Park

The RV Park is the closest camping area near the Carlsbad Caverns. It is situated near the east edge of the boundary of the park, around 7 miles from the visitor center. In addition to the RV camping sites, there are shade shelters and hookups available. This campground practically provides unlimited tent camping!

It also includes a clean bathhouse and a dump station. Since this campground is in the White’s City Complex, campers can access the restaurants, pools, and other facilities. The rates may vary from $20 to $30 per night, depending on the type of camping you are opting for.


Carlsbad RV Park and Campgrounds

There is the Carlsbad RV Park and campgrounds located on the National Parks Highway, where you can pitch a tent or park your recreational vehicle. This campground also includes a pool, game room, and a laundry room. This campground has 40 tents, more than 100 RV sites, and two fully-equipped cabins. The site can accommodate a recreational vehicle that is up to 75 feet high.


Backcountry Camping

Another close accommodation near this national park is in the backcountry. You will have to hike and camp in the wild. It is the only type of camping permitted in the park, only in the designated spots. Your campsite must be 100 feet away from the established trails, 300 feet away from a water source and cave entrance, and 0.5 miles away from a parking lot or a road. You will need to obtain a backcountry use permit to camp here.


Hotels Nearby

If you prefer staying in a hotel while you explore the spectacular formations in the Carlsbad Caverns, there are various options available. Following are some of the hotels near the park that you can consider for your stay:


Rodeway Inn

This hotel is located seven miles away from the Carlsbad Caverns National Park and a short drive away from the Living Desert State Park. It is also a walking distance from the souvenir and grocery stores. The inn has 62 rooms and offers a continental breakfast every morning. The hotel room includes a coffeemaker and cable television. You can also enjoy the onsite swimming pool, which has a water slide. Your pet is also welcomed here, but you will have to pay an additional fee.


Days Inn Carlsbad

This hotel is situated about 20 miles away from the national park and is close to the historic downtown district. You cannot just explore the caves in the Carlsbad Caverns but also the downtown area during your trip. All the suites and rooms include refrigerators and microwaves. Suites also have a comfy living area. Complimentary facilities offered to all the guests include airport shuttle, continental breakfast, onsite parking, and wireless internet access. You can also enjoy their laundry room, onsite hot tub, and indoor swimming pool. There are a few dining options available nearby as well, including barbeque, Mexican, and Italian restaurants.


Best Western Stevens Inn

This pet-friendly hotel has 46 suites and 152 guestrooms, with a lounge, restaurant, playground, fitness center, hot tub, and an outdoor pool. Each room includes premium cable and high-speed internet access. The roll-away beds, refrigerators, and microwaves can be accessed for a small fee.

You can enjoy the free buffet breakfast every morning, along with an airport shuttle service and laundry facilities. You can also dine in at the Flume Room Restaurant on the premises. It is centrally located, which means you can easily reach the Carlsbad Cavern National Park and also explore the nearby areas.


Tips for a Safe and Stress-Free Trip


General Tips

Here are some general tips to keep in mind while exploring the caverns:

  • The descent in most of the chambers is paved with railings. However, they are still rather steep. Make sure you are wearing shoes with non-slip soles.
  • The cave has two entrances – the elevator entrance and the natural entrance. You should use the elevator entrance if you are with young children or have health restrictions.
  • The caves don’t have any restrooms. The nearest restrooms are at the top of the Natural Entrance right next to the elevators. In case of a bathroom emergency, head towards the Big Room to reach the elevators. It is also an easy exit if you want to take a snack break.
  • The entrance ticket to this national park is good for re-admittance for the next three days. Therefore, be sure to take a break by heading back to the visitor center.


Safety Precautions to Take

Here are some safety tips you should follow to explore the caverns safely:

  • Take your time to determine which activity will be best for you. Almost all of the hikes, nature walks, and tours are strenuous. Therefore, ensure you have all the relevant information before you begin the activity. If you can’t decide, ask a park ranger to help you understand the requirements and to determine whether or not a particular activity is suitable for you.
  • Certain areas in the caverns might be wet due to natural water, make sure you are wearing the right shoes to avoid potential falls, trips, or slips.
  • An adult must accompany all the children aged 16 and below at all times.
  • During all the tours, you are required to wear shoes and shirts.
  • Backpacks with metal frames or ones that extend above the shoulders or below the hips are not allowed inside the caverns.
  • Smoking is not allowed inside the park.
  • Approaching or feeding animals is strictly prohibited. Feeding wildlife can harm their well-being and health. Moreover, wild animals are unpredictable and can be dangerous. You must stay away from even harmless-looking raccoon, squirrel, or deer.
  • Be extremely cautious when you are driving inside the park premises. Wildlife, including javelina, sheep, and deer, are often visible along the roadsides. Be vigilant as these animals might start walking on the road anytime.
  • Before you start your hike, inform someone where you are going and at approximately what time you will be returning.


Things You Should Pack

When you are heading to the park to explore the caves, here are a few things you should take along with you:

  • Helmet – a hard hat with a chin strap will protect you from any falling rocks. The light source should be mounted on top of the helmet.
  • Backup Light – since it can get pitch black inside the cave, it is wise to have a backup light in case your current one runs out of battery. Make sure you opt for the waterproof ones.
  • Gloves – This will help you in avoiding any potential scrapes and cuts.
  • Elbow and Knee Pads – while these might not be needed, these are ideal for crawling into tight spaces.
  • Cave Pack – this can be a sturdy military pack or fanny pack filled with extra equipment (plastic bags, batteries, flashlights, food, and water)

Make sure you pack high-energy snacks, like power bars. It will come in handy in case your trip takes longer or if you get lost.


Backcountry camping Terms

There are a few more things that you must keep in mind when camping in the backcountry, including:

  • Never disturb or collect any cultural artifacts, minerals, animals, or plants.
  • You can’t enter the backcountry caves without the superintendent’s written permission.
  • The use of stock and saddle is allowed in designated areas, under special regulations. You will need to make advance arrangements.
  • You must report all emergencies, including lost persons, injuries, fires, and other accidents to the park ranger as soon as possible.
  • Motorized vehicles and mountain bikes are not allowed on the park trails.
  • Be sure to securely lock your vehicle and keep all your valuables with you at all times.