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Carlsbad Caverns National Park Visitor Guide

Consisting of 117 known caves, the biggest of which spans roughly 8 acres and is the largest accessible cave chamber in North America, Carlsbad Caverns is one of the most unique landscapes in the American National Parks system. In addition to being an amazing landscape, the national park is also home to some fantastic wildlife.

The most notable wildlife residents are the parks many species of bats. There are 17 species of bats found in the park and they all live within the caverns. In fact, the park was initially discovered by a young cowboy named Jim White when he saw a large group of bats leaving the caverns back in 1903.

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In this guide, I am going to give you all of the information you need to plan a successful trip to Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  I will review the best times to visit the park and what the top things to see and do are while you are there.  I will also cover where you can stay while you are visiting the park and what other attractions in the area are worthy of visiting.  With this information in hand, you can be assured that you will get the most out of your visit to one of America’s most unique national parks.

How to Get There

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Carlsbad Caverns National Park is located in the state of New Mexico, along the southern border with the state of Texas.  In fact, the park is located in very close proximity to Guadalupe Mountains National Park if you are looking to combine multiple national parklands into one trip.  In fact, I included both of these parks in my Desert Mountains and Caves National Parks Road Trip.

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Desert Mountains and Caves Road Trip

If you are visiting Carlsbad Caverns from outside of New Mexico and would like to fly into the area, there are a number of large cities nearby that you can fly into.  The closest cities to the park are El Paso, Texas, and Albuquerque, New Mexico.  However, if you plan on seeing more of the region you can also fly into some of the other nearby cities in Texas and Arizona.  If you are interested in seeing where these cities are in proximity to the park, I have included an area map below for you to review.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park Area Map

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To access the caverns, you will want to take the Carlsbad Caverns Highway (Hwy 7) to the Visitor Center.  Once at the Visitor Center, you can either enter the caverns thru the front entrance, which requires a walk of about 1.25 miles to reach the center of the cavern complex.

The walk isn’t overly long, but it is a steep walk so you should be prepared for that.  The other option is to take the elevator in the Visitor Center down to the center of the cavern complex.  It costs $15 for adults to ride the elevator down, but it is well worth the price if you are in a hurry or don’t feel comfortable with the steep walk.

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When to Visit

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One of the most important decisions you will have to make when planning a trip to see Carlsbad Caverns National Park is what time of year to plan your visit.  In order to assist you in this planning, I have included some information below on the average temperature, precipitation level, and the number of visitors you can expect at the park throughout the year.

Average Temperature (°F)

Even though the cavern complex is a consistent 56 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year, the temperatures outside can get uncomfortably hot during the summer months of June thru August.  If you don’t do well in hot weather, you will want to avoid visiting during these months.  Throughout the rest of the year, the temperatures are rather moderate, though it can get fairly chilly at night during the winter months of December thru February.

Average Precipitation (Inches)

Because Carlsbad Caverns National Park is located in a desert landscape, you shouldn’t expect to see too much precipitation throughout the year.  However, that doesn’t mean that the park doesn’t get any rain.  While most of the year is rather dry, during the summer and early autumn months the park can see a fair amount of scattered rain.  Though I wouldn’t worry about planning your trip around the rain because most of the storms don’t last very long.

Average Visitors (1,000 visitors Per Day)

Carlsbad Caverns isn’t one of the most heavily trafficked national parks in the US National Parks System, but it does get a fair amount of visitors in the late spring and early summer months.  If you are looking to visit the park when the traffic is lowest, I would plan your trip during the winter months of December thru February.  During these months you will practically have the park to yourself.

Other Things to See in the Area

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The desert mountains of southwestern Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona are some of the most beautiful areas in the American Southwest.  In addition to Carlsbad Caverns, there are a lot of other amazing landscapes to see in the area.  In order to assist you in filling out your trip’s itinerary, I have listed some of my favorite places in the region for you to review.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

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The Guadalupe Mountains may not be the most well-known of America’s mountain ranges, but they are without a doubt the most unique.  It isn’t often that you see mountains this big and this beautiful in a desert landscape.  If you are a big fan of back-country hiking and camping, then this park is right up your alley.  If you have a few days to spend at the park, I would recommend hiking to the top of Guadalupe Peak.  Hiking to the summit requires a backcountry camping permit, so make sure you plan ahead.

White Sands National Monument

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There may not be a prettier landscape in the American Southwest than White Sands National Monument.  The water table found underneath the group at White Sands keeps the beautiful white sands from blowing away.  Over the years, the accumulation of the sand has created some of the most spectacular and beautiful white sand dunes you will ever see.  You can choose to visit and drive-thru the park or take a hike thru the dunes to get an up-close look at their beauty.

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White Sands National Monument Visitor Guide

Tombstone

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If you are a fan of the old-time American West, then you will absolutely love making a stop in Tombstone, Arizona.  This infamous Old West location was the site of the infamous gunfight at the OK Corral between Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday and company and the outlaw Cowboys gang.  The old town part of the city remains much as it was during the time of the gunfight and there are plenty of Wild West activities that visitors can enjoy.  You can visit an old-time saloon, watch a reenactment of the gunfight, get an old-time family picture taken, or even take a horse and carriage ride thru the city.

Saguaro National Park

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If you want to see something different and amazing on your trip, then adding a stop a Saguaro National Park in southern Arizona is something I would strongly recommend.  Located on both sides of the city of Tucson and known for the high concentration of native Saguaro cactuses that grow in the area, Saguaro National Park is one of the most beautiful desert landscapes in the United States.  The Saguaro cactuses grow to be as tall as telephone poles and you will absolutely marvel at their size and beauty when you see them in person.

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Saguaro National Park Visitor Guide

Big Bend National Park

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Big Bend National Park is one of the most heavily-trafficked national parks in the central United States, and for good reason.  This stunning national parkland is located on the southern border of the United States with Mexico and includes a beautiful mixture of mountain and desert terrain.  Visitors can see the infamous Rio Grande River, which forms the US and Mexico border thru much of Texas and marvel at the beauty of the vast expanses of mountain desert landscape in the area.

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Big Bend National Park Visitor Guide

Where to Stay

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If you are planning on spending the night in the area of Carlsbad Caverns National Park, there are plenty of campgrounds in the area that you can stay at.  Many of the campgrounds are located in the backcountry, but I have highlighted two below that are accessible without having to hike.  If staying at a campground is not your thing, I also outlined a number of hotel options at different price points in nearby Carlsbad, New Mexico for you to review.

Carlsbad Caverns Accommodations Map

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Pine Springs Campground ($)
Dog Canyon Campground ($)
Motel 6 Carlsbad ($$)
Econo Lodge ($$)
Days Inn by Wyndham Carlsbad ($$$)
Sleep Inn & Suites ($$$)
Hampton Inn & Suites Carlsbad ($$$$)
Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Carlsbad ($$$$)
Candlewood Suites Carlsbad South ($$$$$)
Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Carlsbad ($$$$$)

Resources

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There are a lot of amazing things to see and do in Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  While I have outlined some of my favorite things to see and do in the park in this guide, I wanted to also provide you with some additional park resources for you to review when planning your trip.  I have included a list of those resources below for you to review.

Top Things to See and Do

There is no shortage of amazing things to see and do in Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  Whether inside the caverns or in the beautiful countryside surrounding it, the park is ready for you to explore.  If you are looking for some ideas of things to see and do while in the park, I have included my list of the top things to check out below for you to review.

Explore the Caverns

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One of the top things to do in Carlsbad Caverns is to explore the caverns themselves.  There are a few different ways in which you can explore the caverns.  If you don’t mind doing some walking and would like the full tour, you can hike into the caverns using the front cave entrance.  The walk from the entrance to the heart of the caverns is roughly 1.25 miles.

The other option is to take the elevator located in the visitor center directly down to the heart of the caverns.  The cost of taking the elevator is $15 for each adult for a round-trip ride down and then back up to the top.  However, most visitors will walk into the caverns and then just take the elevator back up.

Look for Bats

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As you hike thru the caverns, keep your eyes peeled for some of the 17 different species of bats that call the caverns their home.  These remarkable creatures call the caverns their home during the day and then fly out en masse each evening to feed.  If you have the time, I would strongly suggest that you take part in the Bat Flight Program.  The program runs between late May (Memorial Day Weekend) and early October and features a ranger talk about the bats and a viewing of the bats leaving the caverns.

Take a Hike Thru the Park

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The caverns themselves may be the highlight of Carlsbad Caverns National Park, but the parkland includes much more than just the caves.  There is a bunch of beautiful lands that surround the park that is worthy of exploring.  If you are up for doing some hiking, there a number of trails that I would recommend checking out that I have listed below.

Take a Guided Tour

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In addition to the Bat Flight Program, there are also guided tours of the caverns that I would strongly recommend that you leverage to learn more about this amazing cave complex.  The ranger guiding your tour will teach you more about the amazing formations you see in the caves, explain how the caves were discovered and continue to be researched and explored, and challenge you to explore your curiosity as you make your way thru the caverns many caves.

Photo Gallery

There is no shortage of amazing things to photograph in the Carlsbad Caverns cave complex.  If you are interested in seeing some of the beautiful photographs I was able to take at the park, I have included a gallery for you to review below.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

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2 replies »

  1. Wonderful guide. We skipped this on our SW road trip 1.5 years ago. It was on our itinerary but flexibility is one of our guiding principles of road tripping and we decided we’d return one day and see the caves along with Guadalupe Mountains Nat’l Park, just as you suggested. It probably didn’t help that this area was near the end of our 3-week sojourn, about the time your thoughts start turning toward home. However, your post is making me wish we hadn’t skipped it. It looks fantastic!

    • Thank you so much! I can totally relate. I’ve has to skip things on trips before as well because I just didn’t have enough time to see it all. I agree 100% on your principle of flexibility. 😀👍

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