Located in the Chihuahuan Desert in southeast New Mexico, Carlsbad Caverns National Park is a genuine surprise in the middle of nowhere. While a cave might not sound quite as exciting as towering redwoods, steamy geysers, or the Grand Canyon, there’s no question that this one measures-up on the national parks’ incredible scale.
The Visitors Center has an excellent display depicting the caverns’ history and the people who worked to make them available for us to see. There are photo opportunities, a gift shop, and a café located inside the visitors center. To experience the caverns, you will need to purchase tickets from the rangers at the service desk. Once purchased, you will be assigned a time to enter the caverns.
Entering the Caverns
There are two ways to enter the caverns; you can walk a marked trail approximately 1.25 miles into the darkened abyss or ride an elevator 750 feet (in less than a minute) below the surface of the earth. Either choice will take you to the entrance of the caverns.
The caverns themselves are lit with a subtle glow from strategically placed diffused lights. The trails are well marked and flow in one direction, forming a 1.25-mile loop that will eventually lead you to the exit. It is cool and slightly humid in the caverns, so it’s a good idea to take a light jacket or sweater. Rubber-soled, closed-toed shoes are hiking boots will provide the best experience.
Carlsbad Cavern is one of over 300 limestone caves in a fossil reef laid down by an inland sea about 265 million years ago. They include a large cave chamber, the Big Room, a natural limestone chamber that is almost 4,000 feet long, 625 feet wide, and 255 feet high at the highest point. It is the third-largest chamber in North America and the seventh-largest in the world.
If you happen to visit the caverns between early-spring to mid-autumn, be sure to check out the spectacle of the park’s 400,000 Brazilian free-tailed bats leaving the cave each night at sunset in a dramatic cloak of fluttering wings; the bats migrate south for the winter.
When to visit
The weather in the caves stays consistent year-round, so there isn’t a wrong time to visit. If you want to see the bats exodus each night, be sure to visit in the spring-summer months. It is a bit isolated so consider the weather on the surface when you choose your travel dates.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park would be a great destination for families, those interested in geology, National Park enthusiasts, and anyone with a curious mind. Contact us for help planning your next trip to the canyons.