Getting There, What You'll See, Where To Stay

If you're planning to be in New Mexico and have a day to spare, consider a visit to Carlsbad Caverns National Park, located in southeastern New Mexico about 20 miles from the town of Carlsbad. Especially if you are interested in geology, rock formations, and spelunking, you won't want to miss this sidetrip. While there's more to the park than just the caverns, the caverns are what makes this national park so well known and popular. Jim White first entered the cavern in 1898, and spent the following years exploring the caverns, guiding others, and helping establish Carlsbad Caverns as a national park. He explored many of the rooms and named them: the Big Room, New Mexico Room, King's Palace, Queen's Chamber, and many more. Exploration and discovery of the caverns continued, with more rooms and passages being discovered as late as 1993. Besides the caverns, hiking and backpacking opportunities are available within the park itself. This article will give you information on what to see and do and where you can stay while visiting Carlsbad Caverns.

Visiting The Caverns

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is open year-round, except for Christmas Day. The most popular months for visitors are June through August, and they get plenty of visitors on weekends and holidays as well. There are fees for the guided tours, and they range from $7 to $20 per adult, with fees for children under 16 and senior citizens at half the adult rate. There are also age limits for some of the cave tours, due to difficulty. Keep in mind that on some cave tours, you will be crawling through the passageways, so plan to dress accordingly. Information on fees, age restrictions, and degree of difficulty, will be included with each cave.

  • Big Room
    No need for a guide on this one, this is a "must-see" for everyone. Accessible by elevator, or for the more adventurous, take the Natural Entrance route. This is also partially accessible to visitors using wheelchairs, but you must ask for an access guide on this tour.
  • Natural Entrance Route
    This is another self-guided tour, is strenuous and not recommended for anyone with health or walking problems.
  • Left Hand Tunnel
    This is an easy tour, takes an hour to an hour and a half to complete the tour. Tours run daily at 9 a.m., and the minimum age is 6 years. Your tour guide will highlight cavern history and formations. Lanterns are provided. Adult fee is $7.
  • King's Palace
    Although there was no difficulty rating provided, with an age limit of 4 years, it should be a fairly easy tour. The cost for adults is $8, and length of tour is about one & a half hours. The paths are well-lit and paved, and you will descend to about 830 feet below the surface on this tour. Tours are run daily. Reservations are required, and may be obtained at the information desk.
  • Lower Cave
    Considered moderately strenuous, this tour takes 2 to 3 hours and departs Monday through Friday at 1 p.m. Adult fee is $20. You'll be descending 50 feet of ladders, and you're asked to bring gloves and 4 new AA-batteries. Age limit is 12 years.
There are other tours available, mostly strenuous ones, and you'll find more information on these tours at Visitors should wear sturdy, comfortable shoes with closed toes and carry a sweater or light jacket, as cave temperatures are usually around 56 degrees, year-round. All tours are preceded by an orientation session for the safety of visitors and the caverns alike. Rangers are available in the caves to answer additional questions or offer assistance when needed.


Carlsbad Cavern is home to about a million Mexican Freetail bats, as well as seven other species. During the day, they sleep crowded together in the Bat Cave, which is near the natural entrance to the caverns. At night you can watch them depart the cave in droves, lasting anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 or more hours. They fly out to look for food, feasting on insects, and return just before dawn. Just before the evening departure of the bats, a ranger gives an introductory talk at the entrance of the Bat Cave. Start time varies depending on sunset, and is available from Memorial Day weekend through the end of September. Then you can settle back and watch this phenomenal sight of millions of bats, flying together out of the cave and off to look for food. If you're up early enough the next morning, you can see them return, although not generally in the vast numbers as they departed. They'll return singly or in small groups, attach themselves to the ceiling of the Bat Cave, and settle down for a good "day's" sleep. They migrate south to Mexico beginning in late October or early November, and don't return until April or May. This is a free program, by the way. The best bat flights occur in August and September.

Getting There, Where To Stay

If your travel itinerary includes flying, the closest major airport to the Carlsbad Caverns is El Paso International Airport, in El Paso Texas, about 145 miles west of the park. Other air service is available to Lubbock Texas (about 178 miles away), and Carlsbad, New Mexico has a small airport which is serviced by local air carriers. Greyhound Bus Lines also serve Carlsbad, which is the closest town to the Caverns. If you're flying into El Paso, renting a car from one of the car rental agencies is probably best, and you'll find driving instructions to Carlsbad and/or the Caverns at, along with other useful information. Of course, driving the family car is an option most visitors take, and if you are planning on camping, this is your best bet for transporting everything you'll need.

There are no established campgrounds in the park itself, but if you are into backcountry camping, pick up a free permit at the visitor's center. There are strict regulations about backcountry camping in the park, which include no campfires, among other restrictions. Fuel stoves may be used. All regulations will be explained to you when you pick up your permit. There are campgrounds located near Carlsbad and Whites City. There are also local area motels in Carlsbad, such as Days Inn and Comfort Inn, which seemed to have the best reviews at the time this article was written.

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