Carlsbad Caverns National Park: Everything You Need to Know

This post may contain affiliate links. By purchasing products through these links, I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. If you would like to learn more, please read this Disclaimer for details.

Beware: You should never explore wild caves alone or without proper gear. Consider getting in touch with a Grotto of the National Speleological Society at or a qualified cave club. These groups are skilled and will train you. Without sufficient knowledge, preparation, and equipment, cave exploring can lead to serious injury or death.

When you visit Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, USA, you’re in for quite a treat. There are so many beautiful sights, that one of many fitting titles is “The Treasures of the Chihuahuan Desert”. It’s essential to be aware that experiencing the unique cave system at Carlsbad Caverns National Park will lessen your sense of astonishment and wonder for all future cave adventures. Among the world’s greatest natural wonders, this ranks high.

Experience a world of stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, draperies, cave popcorn, and more on a hike through the depths of the earth. You’ll like how the interior terrain mimics a dry-land coral reef.

This detailed guide can find everything you need to know about Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Everything you need to know about the park’s reservation process (essential! ), guided tours, surrounding lodging, and day trips are here.

If (or when) you end up going, make sure you have plenty of time to soak it all in. There is no spot quite like this in on the planet, and you will want to make the most of it.

An image inside the Carlsbad Caverns with a couple on a trail, showing the massive scale that is visible inside.

Directions to Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Carlsbad Cavern Highway is the only route that leads directly to the park. You’ll need to drive to the park’s entrance and then get around on foot. Wheelchair access is present, but somewhat restricted.

All trips begin at the ticket office, where you can make reservations and purchase tickets. Individual tickets cost $15 unless you have an Interagency Annual Parks Pass.

You must schedule a time slot to access the park online in advance, regardless of whether you plan to purchase your ticket in advance or are a pass holder.

Trails are paved and well-lit, and temperatures are comfortable year-round. You might wish to bring a light jacket if you tend to get chilly. Just as you would want to carry a headlamp if you have problems seeing, others may find that doing so is helpful.

The beautiful trail leading to the Carlsbad Caverns cave entrance.
A trail leading to the opening of the caverns.

The Best Time to Visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Given that Carlsbad Caverns is mostly underground, you can plan to visit year-round. You’ll have an easier time getting a reservation and finding nearby lodging if you visit outside of the high season (the summer months, in particular).

A typical self-guided tour of the caverns takes guests only three to four hours to complete. While those interested in photography or geology might need a longer time, I think most tourists could see everything they wanted in five to six hours.

Plan your trip so that you can witness the nighttime bat flight if you happen to visit during the appropriate seasons.

It would help if you planned to spend at least one full day in Carlsbad Caverns and possibly another half day at either Living Desert State Park or Sitting Bull Falls Recreation Area.

Carlsbad Caverns carries several massive natural formations, with some pillars shown here.

The Carlsbad Caverns Park Hours

Carlsbad Caverns has regular business hours, unlike many national parks that are accessible whenever they like. From 8 am to 5 pm, you can stop by the visitor center. Beginning at 8:30 am, you may start your walk inside the cave.

Tickets and Fees

Tickets for adults (those aged 16 and up) are $15 each.

Young ones (under 15) are admitted at no cost.

You can gain access for free if you have an America Beautiful Pass. However, if you want to go on a ranger-led program, you’ll have to shell out the extra cash.

A beautiful image of the blue light and massive natural formations littering the inside of one of the caves.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park Top Attractions

Although the caverns are the main attraction, Carlsbad Caverns offer several “above-ground” activities.

Exploring the Caverns

There are two ways you can explore the caves. You can take a ranger-led tour or proceed at your speed on the self-guided paths.

If time is of the essence, join a ranger-led tour. However, since you’re reading about it here, we know you probably want a more extensive trip. To “go deeper” into the caves, gain a greater understanding of the area’s history and geology, and increase your opportunity for exploration and adventure, we recommend going at your own pace.

The Bat Flight Program

This highlights a visit to Carlsbad Caverns, although it is only available during certain months. Bats at Carlsbad Caverns are only around for part of the year because they are migratory. Midway through late April, you’ll first see the bats, and they’ll stay until late October. Seeing a sea of bats fly overhead is quite a sight to behold.

Bat Flight airs on television from late May to the end of the season in October. Relax in the Bat Flight Amphitheater and watch as thousands of bats fly out of the cave through its natural opening.

There is no additional cost for this beyond what you pay to enter the park. Reservations are not required, but guests will be seated in the order they arrive. Depending on the conditions, this occurs just about every night. August and September are prime times for bat watching, because that’s when the young bats make their debut.

Thousands or tens of thousands of bats fly out of the caverns as two photographers stand in a field, saving the moment.

Dark Sky Program

Because of its isolation, Carlsbad Caverns is an excellent place to gaze up at the stars. A ranger-led evening walk is available on select dates between May and October. You can go on a Moon Walk or a Star Walk; if your timing is right, you may even see a meteor shower.

Hiking on One of the Surface Trails

There are several surface trails available for hikers. Despite my extensive preparation, we did not have time to go hiking during our stay. The Upper Rattlesnake Canyon to Guadalupe Ridge Loop stood out as the most intriguing route from my investigation. It is estimated that it would take four hours to complete the six miles of this hike.

The Walnut Canyon Desert Drive

This dirt road winds across the mountains of Carlsbad Caverns and is only accessible in one direction.

The scenic drive is about 9 miles long. However, one user shared that the drive is dull due to the monotony of the desert landscape. Thus, if you aren’t going to be hiking on one of the trails that begins on this loop, it may fall short of expectations.

An image of the trail that is taken on the Walnut Canyon Desert Drive at Carlsbad.

Rattlesnake Springs

In the middle of the Carlsbad Caverns National Park desert, you’ll find an oasis known as Rattlesnake Springs.

An image of Rattlesnake Springs, a small oasis in the middle of the Carlsbad Caverns National Park desert.

Top Carlsbad Caverns Visitors Guides

Automated Guided Tours

There are two excellent self-guided tours to choose from.

1) Natural Entrance Pathway

1.25-mile distance

Moderate in Difficulty

Time Required: Between 45 and 60 Minutes

The Natural Entrance to Carlsbad Caverns is a highlight for many visitors. A well-kept asphalt path leads down to the Carlsbad Caverns entrance.

As you venture further into the tunnel, your eyes will become accustomed to the reduced brightness. The cavern shows its many rock formations and dripstones in stages. The Big Room Trail is the final stop along this path.

2) Big Room Trail

1.25-mile distance

Difficulty: Simple; largely wheelchair accessible

Time Required: Between 45 and 60 Minutes

Regarding volume, The Big Room is the largest cave chamber in the USA. The colossal size of this chamber and the surrounding cave formations and views are truly stunning.

An image of the sharp, massive stalactites in the Big Room, which is part of the Big Room Trail.

Carlsbad Caverns Guided Tours

At the moment, you can pick from one of five different ranger-led tours. There are short, leisurely strolls and lengthier “hikes” that require tunnel crawling and light rock scrambling. There is a fee for each of these excursions.

King’s Palace Tour

It will take 1.5 hours.

Distance: 1 mile

Group Size (max): 40

Cost: $8

The ranger-led trip is extremely popular. This 1.5-hour trip takes visitors further into Carlsbad Caverns, where they may see some of the park’s most impressive cave formations.

You may have visited many caves all around the world. Still, nothing compares to the incredible variety of stalactites, stalagmites, and other cave formations you will witness on this tour. If you want to see the best of Carlsbad Caverns without exerting too much effort, this tour is for you.

Left Tunnel Tour

Duration: 2 hours

Tour Size: 10

Cost: $7

Explore Carlsbad Caverns the way the original tourists did with a candle-lit lantern. This small-group tour is a great option compared to the other excursions on this list, which tend to be larger.

Lower Cave

Time required: 3 hours.

The price for a tour with a group of 12: is $20.

This expedition is for the more daring traveler. Wear your protective gear, and continue your exploration of Carlsbad Caverns. Stunning cave formations await you at the bottom of the 60-foot descent.

White Giant’s Hall

Duration: 4 hours

Tour Size: 8

Cost: $20

Explore the area by crawling through small openings, descending ladders, negotiating slippery surfaces, and even free climbing. If you’re up for a bit of mud and muck, this tour could be right up your alley.

Slaughter Canyon Cave

It takes 5.5 hours to complete

The tour’s maximum number is 16.

Cost: $15

Among these trips, this one has the longest duration. During this outing, you will traverse dark, underground tunnels to reach your destination. It’s okay because you’ll have access to flashlights and headlights to help you navigate. This is one of the ecstatic experiences in Carlsbad Caverns, but the terrain is rugged, with slick, uneven surfaces and low lighting.

Top Attractions Near Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Since you’ll probably need a day to explore the caverns, you might seek additional activities there. See below for some suggestions of places to see while in Carlsbad.

Sitting Bull Falls

About an hour away from Carlsbad lies a hidden gem that is highly regarded by the community. After traveling through what seems to be a barren desert, you’ll reach a hilly oasis where waterfalls are fed by spring water all through the year.

A beautiful waterfall and the scenic view around it, at Sitting Bull Falls.

Living Desert State Park

The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park is a botanical garden showcasing plants and animals of the Chihuahuan Desert. You can learn quite a lot here, and admission is cheap.

Some visitors would spend the whole day here. Your decision will hinge on how much you want to learn about the desert beyond the animals that live there. We highly recommend it to those fascinated by nature (like we are!).

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

When you start your trip to Carlsbad Caverns via car, head 40 minutes to the west to Guadalupe Mountains National Park to cross off another national park on your list. There are several desert hikes around the spectacular mountain range, and drivers will also be treated to some beautiful sights.

A great view of the massive mountain at Guadalupe Mountains National Park, near Carlsbad.

What to Expect at Carlsbad Caverns National Park

A total of 265 million years have passed since the caves’ sceneries formed! If you think it appears like a reef above ground, you’d be right.

In contrast to its current desert state, the region was formerly home to a vibrant marine ecosystem some 250 million years ago when it was an inland sea. The reef was buried and later raised and eroded with the sea receding to form the Guadalupe Mountains.

The caves didn’t form until 4 and 6 million years ago, making them relatively young in geological terms. The astonishing diversity of geological cave formations you will find on your visit results from rain, ocean, pressure, gases, and time.


Speleothems are the aggregate name for the rock formations found in caves. The Greek roots spelaion (for “cave”) and thema (for “deposit”) give this term its literal meaning.

Water seeps into the cave system, absorbing carbon dioxide from the air and turning it into a weak carbonic acid as it travels through the ground. Because of its acidic nature, the water can dissolve part of the limestone it flows over on its journey to the ocean. Limestone in the water’s path carries calcite, which is deposited in the cave as speleothems.

There are many different kinds of speleothems to observe in Carlsbad Caverns, not just the stalactites and stalagmites that are the most well-known. Examples are columns, soda straws, drapes, helictites, and popcorn.

The cave formations you’ll view are up to 10,000 years old, but you can’t estimate their age by size since they grow at varying rates depending on environmental circumstances. Thus, the earliest formation is not necessarily the largest one.

The formation of a single speleothem can take thousands of years and is extremely sensitive, and they are prone to breaking and susceptible to being harmed by the oils on our skin. Consequently, please don’t touch the cave formations.


A little deposit is left behind as mineral-rich water drips from the roof. Stalactites are formed from these deposits over time, drip by drop. Most stalactites are icicle-shaped and end in a sharp point.

An image of the well-lit stalactites and stalagmites inside a cave at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.


Dripping water on the cave floor could also help minerals stuck there to stick around. This material will harden into stalagmites over time. Most stalagmites have rounded or flattened tips, as opposed to the sharp points of stalactites.

Soda Straws

The soda straws are the thinnest and most hollow cave formations known. An outer ring of calcite forms around each drop of water as it falls from the ceiling, making a “straw” whose inside diameter is the same as the water drops. When the hole in one of these hollow cylinders becomes closed, or water starts trickling down the outside of the tube, stalactites form.


Drapes are sheet-like structures, as the name implies. They form when water trickles down a sloping ceiling, leaving behind barely perceptible lines. Water will continue to flow along these paths because they are somewhat lower than the surrounding ceiling, eventually accumulating to form sheets.


Helictites are mysterious curved formations with a helix-like shape for which no clear explanation has been proposed. Their curving structures violate the laws of physics, and the Queen’s Chamber features some magnificent examples.


Popcorn-like formations, or “cave popcorn,” are coralloids, and they are seen on the walls and other structures. Precipitation or evaporation are two additional mechanisms that add complexity to their creation.

Hotels Near Carlsbad Caverns National Park

You cannot set up a permanent campsite (tent or RV) within Carlsbad National Park’s borders. Though free permits are available at the visitor center, there are several rules and regulations to follow if you want to camp in the park’s backcountry. For more details, please visit the NPS website.

White’s City Hotel

Located 7 miles from the park, White’s City is a quaint little community. You may discover a modest inn, an RV park, and a place to pitch a tent, all within walking distance. Because of the town’s compact size, booking in advance is highly recommended, especially during the busy summer months. There is also a gas station, convenience store, and cafe.

Carlsbad Hotel

Carlsbad lies around 25 miles (40 km) from the national park. Primarily due to the oil found in the area, Carlsbad has grown in population and prosperity. If you need anything, Carlsbad has a wide variety of businesses and eateries to satisfy your cravings.

Food Places in Carlsbad

Here are two excellent options for dining at a nice restaurant night.

The Trinity Hotel Restaurant

Excellent pasta dishes are available at this motel. If you’re lucky, you can get a seat at the upper level overlooking the resto and bar below.

Yellow Brix Restaurant

Seating is available both inside and outside at this eatery. They have pasta, sandwiches, burgers, and salads.

To Sum it Up…You MUST Go to Carlsbad Caverns National Park!

The experience at Carlsbad Caverns National Park consistently exceeds the expectations set by the photographs.  Walking among such an extraordinary collection of geologic miracles formed over millions of years is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Ideally, you’ve found this guide helpful as you organize your trip.

We’d love to hear from those of you who do make a trip to Carlsbad Caverns. What was your favorite part of the trip? Did you get to explore enough, and what would you have liked to change, if anything? And as always, please share photos of your favorite moments!

Leave a comment