Hit the Trail with Landmark: One Day at Carlsbad Caverns

One Day at Carlsbad Caverns

Itching for adventure? There’s no adventure quite like a visit to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Located near the Guadalupe Mountains in southeastern New Mexico, Carlsbad Caverns is hidden 750 feet below the New Mexico high desert. With more than 100 caves and rare geological formations, Carlsbad Caverns is arguably the most unique of America’s 63 national parks.

If you’re considering a trip to New Mexico’s national parks, we recommend putting Carlsbad Caverns at the top of your list for a couple of reasons. It can be easily done in a day and is a great way to escape the summertime heat while hitting the trail this summer!

To simplify your planning, we’ve put together an easy travel guide for an unforgettable day at Carlsbad Caverns.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park Poster

Entry and Parking

The caverns can only accommodate a limited number of visitors at once, so there’s timed entry to the park. We highly recommend booking a reservation in advance versus waiting in line at the visitor center and possibly not getting into the caves. Entry is $15 per adult, and you can reserve your time slot here.

The park does have six free entry days annually that fall on national holidays. You can find those dates on their national park website. As you’d expect, free days are extremely popular, and the reservations can disappear in a matter of hours each season!

The good news is parking at Carlsbad Caverns is the easiest we’ve experienced at a national park. Timed entry ensures plenty of spaces at the visitor center and surrounding trailheads. So, there is no need to arrive hours early searching for a spot or take a bus into the park.

Ranger-led Tours

Self-guided tours will get you access to the largest caves. But you must join a ranger-led tour to explore all the caves. Like entry slots to the park, the tours fill up fast! We recommend booking 30 days in advance to snag a spot in the King's Palace tour offered twice daily.

But don't skip the trip if you don’t have 30 days to spare! You’ll still love wandering the most extensive caves during a self-guided tour. Plus, you can enter the main cave, the “Big Room,” on the paved natural entrance instead of taking the elevator down. This paved walk is 1.25 miles long and has 66 switchbacks. It’s an incredible way to experience the changing geological landscape as you slowly descend deeper underground.

Bat Flight Program

Carlsbad Caverns is home to 17 different species of bats. These bats migrate to the caves and live there from April to October. Each evening, thousands of these bats fly from the cave’s natural entrance and fill the sky in an eerie, but breathtaking spectacle.

You can watch the bats emerge in the thousands from the Bat Flight Amphitheater. Seating is first come first serve so be sure to grab a good seat before dusk. This is also a beautiful spot to catch a Chihuahuan Desert sunset.

Visit the Underground Lunchroom

Since food and beverages (except water) are prohibited on the tour, we recommend eating before your tour or planning to purchase lunch 750 feet below.

Once your tour is finished, you’ll have the chance to eat at a lantern-lit table in the iconic underground lunchroom, where at least 50 million people have eaten over the last 100 years. While there, you can take part in a Carlsbad Caverns pastime and send a postcard from 750 feet below.

Nearby Restaurants

Back above ground, you can grab something to eat at the visitors center's Carlsbad Caverns Trading Company Cafe. Or you can venture into nearby Carlsbad for street tacos at La Patrona Restaurant Tacos De Barbacoa. As you’d expect, their barbacoa is outstanding!

Camping and Nearby Lodging

Unlike some national parks, Carlsbad Caverns doesn’t offer equipped campgrounds. However, primitive camping is permitted in the backcountry with a free permit from the visitor’s center. Permits don’t need to be reserved in advance, but we recommend checking the park’s website for information on backcountry closures due to weather or park maintenance.

You can also camp on the land surrounding the park. The Carlsbad Bureau of Land Management owns this land, and it is open to the public for permit-free camping year-round.

If you prefer not to camp, we recommend staying in nearby Carlsbad or Whites City. There are plenty of hotels to choose from, but we recommend this trendy and unique home rental in Carlsbad. It’s a thirty-minute drive from the park and is a comfortable, private getaway after a full day exploring the caverns.

Ready to hit the caves? We hope so! When you go, snap a photo beside a colossal stalactite and tag us on socials. We’d love to hear what you discovered and recommend! And don't forget to commemorate your visit with our Carlsbad Cavern National Park t-shirt!

Carlsbad Caverns National Park Unisex Short Sleeve Tee

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