Visiting New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns
Carlsbad Caverns will always be a special place for me. It was the first place that Scott and I visited after we got married. It was a crazy trip, the area had been in an extreme 3-year drought and of course the day we got there it rained, then it rained the second day and so on. Despite the rain, we had an amazing trip. We went off-roading in our van, went to the caverns and even went on the Slaughter Canyon Hike and cave tour. Not sure I’d be able to handle that hike these days but the memories are amazing. The video below is from our second trip there, we were celebrating 20 years of marriage that month! We were much older the second time around but the memories being made were just as amazing.
Carlsbad Caverns is open year-round with the exception of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s days. The heavest traffic being in the summer. There is a fee to enter the caverns. However, it is free with National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Passes
Weather and Climate
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is located in the Chihuahuan Desert in southeast New Mexico. Summers are hot with temperatures from 90ºF to the low 100sºF (32ºC to about 40ºC). On hot days, please use caution. If hiking, bring plenty of water and a cell phone (reception can be spotty in the backcountry), hike early, use sunscreen, and wear a hat.
Windy conditions and mild temperatures are common in early spring (March-May) with frequent rain in late summer/early fall (August-September). This part of the country can also experience cold temperatures in the winter with occasional snow and icy conditions. Most days, the park is enveloped by a gorgeous blue sky with very few clouds, 278 sunny days a year!
Things To Do
There is no shorter of things to do at the caverns or in the area.
Self-Guided Cavern Tours
Experience the Big Room and Natural Entrance trails at your own pace. If you prefer a slower pace and being to do things on your own time frame I suggest the self-guided tour.
Big Room Trail
The most popular route, the Big Room, is the largest single cave chamber by volume in North America. This 1.25 mile (2 km) trail is relatively flat, and will take about 1.5 hours (on average) to walk it. Actor and comedian Will Rogers called the cavern, “The Grand Canyon with a roof over it.” You will be rewarded with spectacular views, cave formations of all shapes and sizes, and a rope ladder used by explorers in 1924.
If you are seeking a shorter experience, the Big Room has a shortcut which reduces the walking distance to about 0.6 miles (1 km). The hiking time is about 45 minutes.
Parts of the Big Room Trail are wheelchair accessible.
Natural Entrance Trail
The 1.25 mile (2 km) Natural Entrance Trail is extremely steep. Depending on if you decide to hike up or down, you gain or lose about 750 feet (229 m)—equivalent to walking up or down a 75-story building. The hike takes about one hour (on average) to complete. This trail is not recommended for visitors with heart or respiratory conditions.
You have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of early explorers as you see formations like Devil’s Spring, the Whale’s Mouth, and Iceberg Rock.
Join a ranger to explore other caves in Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Before you sign up for ranger-guided tours make sure you read all of the information about the tour. Some of the walks are strenuous and require some steep climbs and stairs. The first time we visited the caverns we did several of the ranger-guided tours and felt like they were worth the extra cost.
Enjoy the hands-on exhibits to help you understand how the cavern was formed, discover the animals and plants that make the desert their home and be amazed by the history of the park.
Night Sky Programs
Discover the desert southwest night sky with a ranger. Be prepared to hike 1/2 mile (0.8 km) for Star Walks and 1.5 miles (2.4 km) for Moon Hikes. The ground is a rugged desert trail with an elevation change of 200 feet (61 m). Although these programs are free, attendance will be limited to first-come, first-served with a maximum of 25 participants for each program. Please register for the programs at the information desk in the visitor center on the day of the program. Registration may be available at the evening’s Bat Flight Program. Ask a ranger for more details.
Dawn of the Bats Program
Join a ranger to watch thousands of bats return to Carlsbad Cavern at dawn.
Traveling with Pets
Pets are not allowed in the cavern, on park trails, off road, at the bat flight, or in the visitor center. The park concessioner, Carlsbad Caverns Trading Company, operates a kennel service where you may leave your pet in a temperature-controlled environment while you tour the cave. The kennel is for day use only—no overnight stays.
Our Second trip to Carlsbad Caverns
We were on a two-week motorcycle trip and the caverns were on day three. This made for a wonderful cool day inside and out of the heat. We took our time going through the cavern. We read the provided information in areas, listened to rangers when they were available and of course did some people watching.
Hiking out of the Cave
For whatever reason, I had the great idea to hike back out instead of using the elevator. The mile-plus hike out was steep and exhausting. It took us 45 minutes to make the climb! We were so hot from the climb out we took the elevator back down to cool off. We stayed down there for a couple of hours and gazed in wonder at the formations while we cooled down. If you have a heart or respiratory condition really think hard before doing this.
Bat Flight Program
As dusk neared we took the elevator back up and headed for the entrance of the cave for the bat swarm viewing. Those things come swarming out of that cave by the thousands and its quite a sight to see. A thunderstorm was moving towards us with brilliant flashes of lightning and the roar of thunder and the thought of riding back at night in the rain was not looking positive. Once again, we put our rain gear on in preparation for the storm and incredibly made it back shortly before the storm hit. If you ride a motorcycle you know what a relief that is!