Carlsbad Caverns (Things To Do + See)

People often believe that Carlsbad Caverns is a Californian attraction, but it’s actually in New Mexico.

Full of breathtaking limestone caves and diverse wildlife, the Carlsbad Caverns National Park is still an attraction for people from all 50 states.

Stalagmites and stalactite in Carlsbad Caverns. - California Places, Travel, and News.

Fun Facts About the Carlsbad Caverns

The caverns are the largest nationwide, with a 1.25-mile Big Room chamber, but beneath the surface, there are a whopping 119 caves to explore!

Let’s take a look at some facts that you might not know about the caverns:

The Name Is a Common Misconception

Because there’s a city called Carlsbad in both California and New Mexico, people tend to think that the caverns are in California.

However, the Carlsbad city in San Diego is famous for its sandy beaches, as opposed to limestone caves.

Wildlife Is Thriving in the Caverns

So far, the park reports the available species as:

  • 17 bats (mainly the Brazilian free-tailed species)
  • 67 mammal
  • 54 amphibians and reptiles
  • 357 avian

 In short, there’s a lot to keep bird watchers and animal lovers engaged for hours!

Sound Travels Far Through the Caverns

Noise carries through the limestone caves up to a 0.25-mile distance. So, make sure to practice your whispers before getting in!

Amphitheater at Carlsbad Caverns where the evening bat flights are observed by tourists. - California Places, Travel, and News.
Amphitheater at Carlsbad Caverns where the evening bat flights are observed by tourists.

8 Things to Do in Carlsbad Caverns

Although there’s no WiFi, and you probably won’t catch any strong cellular signals, there’s plenty to keep you occupied in the Carlsbad Caverns.

Let’s take a look at all the fun activities you can enjoy in Carlsbad Caverns:

1. Cave Exploration

You don’t have to be a geology buff to appreciate the intricate formations inside the limestone caves. So, get your hiking boots ready and check out the main tours to put on your list:

  • Big Room trail
  • Natural Entrance trails
  • Slaughter Canyon Cave
  • Lower Cave
  • Hall of the White Giant
  • Left-Hand Tunnel

If you’d rather go un-guided, you might be better off with the Big Room shortcut trail since it’s a bit shorter at 0.6 miles. The whole hike might take you around 45 minutes, tops.

2. Interactive Indoor Exhibits

Inside the visitor center, you’ll find a range of interactive exhibitions. These can be a nice educational opportunity for kids to learn about the historical and geological aspects of the caverns. It can also teach them about the wildlife in the area.

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Plus, walking around the visitor center can offer a nice rest period during the sizzling noon sun. So, try to position this activity during the mid-day on your trip program.

That said, some people like to start with those exhibits since they’ll hit the visitor center first to pick up some brochures and check in for the tours, anyway.

Switchback footpath winds into natural opening of Carlsbad Caverns Entrance. - California Places, Travel, and News.
Switchback footpath winds into natural opening of Carlsbad Caverns.

3. Hidden World Film

If you’re looking for an effortless, risk-free, entertaining activity to add to your program, you might consider the Hidden World. It’s a short film that covers interesting facts about the park.

It’ll only take a little over 15 minutes from start to end, and there are a couple of runs each hour. So, you can fit it basically anywhere along your program to give your feet some much-needed rest!

4. Bat-Watching

The Carlsbad Cavern happens to be home to the Brazilian free-tailed bats, and they get out every night to hunt for food.

This might seem like a scary fact for some people. Meanwhile, for others, it’s a great opportunity to watch hundreds of thousands of bats in flight and hear their majestic calls.

If you opt for the Bat Flight Program, you’ll enjoy a brief introduction at the amphitheater around 15 minutes before you watch the bats fly out of the cavern. That’s usually around 7:15 to 7:30 pm. There’s also the Dawn of the Bats program if you plan to stay overnight.

Both bat-watching activities are free, but they’re constrained by the migration patterns. For instance, if you visit from January to April, you might not get to sign up for the program.

5. Stargazing

Right after the bat-watching programs are over, a guide begins with the Night Sky Programs. In groups of 12, the guide will start by pointing out all the major features to brush up on your astronomical knowledge, especially if there’s a meteor shower or a super moon.

However, even without any meteors or even guided tours, lying down to watch the stars in the Chihuahuan Desert sky is breathtaking!

If you want to add some physical activity to your stargazing, you can go for a nighttime hike through the desert. Just make sure you have some red flashlights on hand.

Switchback footpath winds into natural opening of Carlsbad Caverns. - California Places, Travel, and News.
Switchback footpath winds into natural opening of Carlsbad Caverns.

6. Daytime Picnics

If you’re looking for a place to rest and enjoy a meal mid-day, you can always find a picnic spot in Rattlesnake Springs park.

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It’s fully prepared with tables, cooking grills, shade cottonwood trees, trash cans, and vault restrooms. You might even get lucky and spot some colorful birds around the springs. Plus, the trails there are easy to walk around if you want to hike while your BBQ is done.

However, it’s a bit down to the south from the caverns and around 15 miles from the visitor center. So, you’ll need to hop into your car to get there.

7. Scenic Desert Drives

Along the Walnut Canyon, you can take your car out for a 9.5-mile drive on a gravel road through the desert.

It might not be ideal for families with younger kids since there isn’t much going on to keep them engaged. However, it’s a great opportunity for nature lovers looking to take some videos of the landscape.

The ride should take about an hour. So, if you’re up for a slow drive along the desert, this might be a suitable activity for you.

8. Souvenir Shopping

For many people, no adventure trip is complete without picking up a souvenir or two. That’s why you might want to close up your trip program back to the visitor center and check out the gift shop.

Maybe you’ll go back home with a brand new mug or t-shirt to remind you of all the glorious details of the Carlsbad Caverns!

Limestones formations of Guadeloupe Mountains Carlsbad Caverns. - California Places, Travel, and News.
Limestones formations of Guadeloupe Mountains’ Carlsbad Caverns.

How to Plan a Visit to Carlsbad Caverns

A thorough plan is the key to a smooth and entertaining trip to the Carlsbad Caverns National park.

Here’s how:

1. Consider the Ideal Time

Start by choosing the perfect time frame for your visit to the Carlsbad Caverns. Keep in mind that it all depends on the activities you plan to do.

For instance, if your main goal is to see the bats in flight, then August and September are the way to go. However, if you want to hike and trail, you might want to avoid the intense summer heat.

2. Get Your Reservation

You can either reserve your tickets online or by calling the information center. Once you’re at the caverns, you’ll be able to pay for the entrance. It might be a good idea to pick up a few brochures while you’re at it, too.

3. Plan the Route

To get to the park, you’ll need to get on highway 63/180 and take the turn at White City. That’s around 20 miles if you’re coming from Carlsbad and 103 if you’re on your way from Rosewell. From that turn, you’ll continue on a short road ahead that leads right to the park’s entrance.

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However, sometimes certain highways are temporarily closed for flash flooding or maintenance. So, it’s safer to double-check before you head out.

4. Dress Appropriately

You might want to dress for the pictures, but that won’t always be a possibility. In the caverns, it’s expected to come across wet grounds and rough surfaces.

The Natural Entrance Trail has a steep grade of 15-20%, which could be quite challenging for some people.

Generally, closed shoes with a decent grip and traction soles are your best bet. If you can get some hiking boats, then it’s even better.

5. Pack Your Necessities

For backpacks, you’re not allowed to have hiking models that extend beyond your shoulders and hips. So, grab something compact with a lot of pockets.

You can put in binoculars and red lights if you plan on star gazing or signing up for a night hike. Throw some sunscreen in there to top up during the day. Getting a hat for extra protection might also be a good idea.

6. Know Your Limits

While the park offers some accessibility features, some trails can be tough on people with heart issues, back pain, bad knees, and respiratory conditions. You might even have to crawl into certain caves.

That’s why it’s better to have a lot of backup activities on your list in case you want to opt-out from intense ones.

As always, you’ll need to be respectful of the wildlife you come across in the park. Don’t attempt to feed or engage with animals unless your tour ranger gives you the okay.

Carlsbad Caverns FAQs

Let’s take a glance at the frequently asked questions regarding the Carlsbad Caverns:

Can you bring a dog to Carlsbad Caverns?

You might be allowed to bring in a leashed service animal in certain parts of the park. Otherwise, your little buddy will have to stay at the kennels till you’re done.

Is it possible to catch white-nose syndrome in the caverns?

White-nose is more of a risk to bats than humans. However, to stay on the safe side, you’ll need to use the bio-cleaning hall after trailing the caves.

How long would a trip to the Carlsbad Caverns take?

On average, you can wrap up the trip in 3-6 hours, depending on the number and nature of activities you sign up for.


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