March 2, 2017
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is a park that is a little different than most. It is unique and its focus is its huge cavern. The national park is in the Chihuahuan Desert of New Mexico, very close to the Texas border. Find yourself immersed in subterranean chambers and incredible cave formations. Right next door is Guadalupe Mountains National Park, so you can very easily see two national parks in one day!
Entrance to Carlsbad Caverns National Park
From Highway 62 turn onto Carlsbad Cavern Highway/Hwy 7 in White’s City. This road showcases a lot of the beauty this park has to offer. With multiple stops and markers along the way, if you have time stop and check some out.
If you are doing any sort of national park tour I highly suggest getting the America the Beautiful Pass. It’s $80/year and it will get you into all the national parks and national monuments. Because we had this, we had free entrance into this park and instead of paying $10/person to enter the caves, it was free as well. Head to the visitor center to park and purchase tickets.
Exploring Carlsbad Caverns National Park
You have three options when you are there. Two self guided tours and one ranger-guided tour. We chose the self guided tour. You then choose how you would like to enter the cave. Enter through the natural entrance or take the elevator directly to the Big Room. We were intrigued by the natural entrance. Before you enter you stop and a ranger gives you some tips and requests that you are respectful of the caves. It is highly important to continue to be able to see and experience these caves for us and future generations. My favorite was the gum bucket. No gum allowed!
The natural entrance is really fun and if you have a fear of the dark, you might want to take the elevator. You first past through where the night flight is and down some steps. I was a little anxious as we walked down. It’s 750 ft of switchbacks with light only where necessary. There are a couple emergency boxes but that is it.
As we got closer to the black hole I kept thinking to myself, “am I going to make it a mile down into this cave and back out?” You quickly are consumed by darkness and your other senses go on overdrive. All the walkways and trails in the cavern are paved and most have handrails, but there are moments when you are in complete darkness.
Continue on and you will soon see some of the highlights. Bat Cave, Devil’s Spring, Green Lake Overlook and the Boneyard. If you remember look for Iceberg Rock, a 200,000-ton boulder that fell from the cave ceiling thousands of years ago. For me, seeing all the Stalactites and Stalagmites was amazing. It’s something that I am so in awe of that I would forget for a moment that I was so far underground.
You can see the original steps down into the cave from some of the first tours provided to tourists. They are preserved and sometimes still used for staff.
At the end of the 750 foot walk through the cavern you will reach the main attraction. The Big Room. This is the largest room in the caverns at a floor space of 357,469 square feet and is a 1 mile loop walk.
We decided to take the elevator back up. Being in the dark that long is pretty overwhelming, I needed light. The first elevator was in the 1930’s and they have continued to be renovated. Today they have four in total. The fun thing is it shows you how many feet you are still below ground.
A Must Do at Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Witness a night flight of the resident Mexican free-tailed bats. These bats come to Carlsbad Caverns every summer from Mexico. The main reason is to give birth and raise their young. They hang in clusters taking care of their pups and there can be up to 300 bats in one square foot. You would think that they could never find each other if there are that many bats. They supposedly can remember the location, their pups scent and its unique cry. Check the times for the night flights and make time to hang out. When the night flight starts you can see hundreds of thousands of bats exiting the caves to eat. They don’t re-enter until just before dawn, so the highlight is seeing the cloud of black and then watch it disappear.
Note: No flash photography is allowed during the night flight.
Things to Know Before You Go to Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Dogs – They are not allowed on any trail or in the caverns. During the summer months, or if the temperature is above 70 degrees, they are very strict and you are not allowed to keep them in your vehicle (which is good). They do offer a kennel service while you are there. After you park, head towards the large trash bins and right behind that is a door with a doorbell. Open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. it’s $10/dog for the day. Click here for more information: Dog Kennel.
Food – There is a cafe at the visitor center, as well as a snack bar in The Big Room at the bottom of the elevators in the cavern. If you brought your own food, there are multiple picnic benches at the visitor’s center. Aside from that, White City is the closest that has some food and then 30 miles away is Carlsbad. So plan ahead.
Parking – There is a decent size parking lot with plenty of space for any size vehicle to park or turn around.
Hikes – There are other hikes and exploring that you can do in this national park other than the caves. They have everything from easy .5 mile hikes to 12 mile strenuous hikes to back country no trail hikes. If you are interested in this you can read more here: Carlsbad Caverns National Park Hikes
Remember: Pack out everything you pack in. Leave No Trace.
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