I recently took a 7-day road trip to New Mexico from San Antonio, Texas with my kids this summer, and Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico was one of our first big visits in the Land of Enchantment. We’re all National Parks passport holders, and visiting the caverns was at the top of our list this trip.
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Carlsbad Caverns is located just north of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and in Southeastern New Mexico. The park itself features a few trails above ground where you can see gorgeous views of the Chihuahuan Desert, but it’s most renowned for its over 119 caves which formed when sulfuric acid dissolved limestone leaving behind caverns of all sizes.
In traveling as far as we were to visit, I had to plan carefully to ensure we had time to explore the park and make the most of our experience. Here’s some general info about visiting the park, along with some of my own tips for making yours a great visit, too.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park Info
727 Carlsbad Caverns Highway | Carlsbad, NM 88220
(about 30 minutes south of Carlsbad, New Mexico where we stayed the night before)
May 25, 2019–September 2, 2019: 8 am–7 pm
September 3, 2019–November 22, 2019: 8 am–5 pm
There are cutoff times on when they sell the last ticket to the caverns and the last time to hike out of the caverns. Find more details at the National Park Service website.
Adults (ages 16 and older): $15 per person
Children (ages 15 and under): Free
There are additional ranger-guided tours you can take, but reservations are required.
If you have a National Park pass, you can get into the park for free.
What to Bring to Carlsbad Caverns
When traveling with kids, there’s nothing worse than a trip ruined by being unprepared. Here are some things you should bring along for your visit
- A jacket –– Although it can be blazing hot during the summer above the surface, it can get a bit chilly in the caverns themselves. I was fine in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt, but if you have kiddos who tend to get cold, remind them to grab their jackets from the car––they can always tie it around their waist if they don’t need it.
- Comfortable shoes –– And ideally closed-toed shoes. You’ll be hiking up and down some inclines, and although they’re paved, they can be slippery in some areas. I was able to wear my leather Chaco sandals (which I also wore during my entire Colorado trip), and they gave me enough traction to hike easily through the caverns.
- Bring a flashlight –– If you have kids who get nervous about the dark, bring a flashlight for them. You can use your phone flashlight, too, but be mindful not to shine them annoyingly in other visitor’s faces. The trails are lit throughout the cavern, and a light isn’t necessary, though.
- Pack a lunch and bring water –– Food is not allowed in the caverns themselves, but there is an underground lunchroom with tables where you can purchase food or eat your own. Only water is allowed in the caverns to protect them.
Know Before You Go
- There’s more than one way to enjoy the caverns. The two options for a self-guided tour of the caverns are to enter at the natural entrance, or to take an elevator down over 750 feet to the underground cafeteria and take the rest of the trail to the Big Room there. The natural entrance leads to the underground cafeteria, too. We opted to take the elevator down, as the trail from there was 1.5 hours and I knew my crew wouldn’t last much longer than that.
- Your visitor pass is good for 3 days. If you want to stay awhile you can stay overnight nearby and come back to enjoy all there is to see at Carlsbad Caverns.
- Print out the Junior Ranger Activity Books before you go. We have yet to get into the Junior Ranger program, mainly because the activity books can be pretty extensive. But most national parks have the activity books available for download online. Going forward, I’ll be printing these out ahead of time so that the kids can look at them during our long drives beforehand, fill out the parts they can, and get excited about where we’re going, too. Find the Carlsbad Caverns Junior Ranger Activity Book by age here.
- There are bathrooms in the caverns. This is highly relevant when you have a gaggle of kids. There are bathrooms in both the visitor center above ground, and underground by the cafeteria and elevators.
- There’s no cell reception or WiFi in the caverns. Kind of a no-brainer, but not something you’re likely to think about until you’re underground with no service.
- Dogs are not allowed in the caverns. Unless you have an ADA certified service dog, otherwise there are kennels available in the Visitor Center if you’re traveling with your dog.
What To Do At Carlsbad Caverns
- Checkout the Visitor Center, Bookstore, and Gift Shop first. We always stamp our park passports and buy any souvenirs (and take any photos in front of park signs) at the beginning of our visit. We’re usually pretty tuckered afterwards, and extending our visit is the last thing anyone wants to do after hiking for hours. Plus, you’re likely to learn an interesting thing or two in preparation of your visit to the caverns themselves.
- Learn about the caverns. Checkout audio tour handsets at the bookstore for a small fee, or enjoy the illuminated signs throughout the caverns. It was pretty cool learning about the different formations and the history of the caves.
- Send a postcard from the underground lunchroom. My kids and I were geeky excited about sending postcards from the caverns. Make sure you have any addresses you want to send them to written down first, though, you won’t be able to look them up on Google Maps or anything (I forgot the zip code for a friend I was trying to write, too, so sent it to myself instead).
- Check out their Bat and Night Sky Programs. We didn’t do either of these, but they do have bat viewing programs in the morning and evenings (check their website for seasonal hours), as well as Star and Moon hikes at night. These are all free programs, but may have limits on the number of people who can participate.
Overall we highly recommend making a stop at Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico. It’s one of those American treasures you don’t have the opportunity to see everyday, and the expansiveness of the caverns is a breathtaking experience.
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