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A Guide to Exploring New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns

New Mexico is filled with history, culture, and natural beauty, making it an incredible place to visit. With such drastically different landscapes across this state, there is much to explore.

A short distance over the border of Texas is one of the state’s most well-known marvels—Carlsbad Caverns. Located in Carlsbad, New Mexico is Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Under the surface of the Chihuahuan Desert over 119 caves can be found with miles of mystifying caverns to explore.

Stop by the visitor center before entering the caverns to learn about the ecological history of the area. You will also learn how the caverns were formed.

Now that you crossed that off, you are ready!

Overall, the walk through Carlsbad Caverns is lit so that visitors can clearly see their way along the paths. However, if you’re wanting more light, bring a flashlight or headlamp on your trip. There is also the potential for water to drip in different areas of the caverns. Shoes with good traction is highly advised to prevent slipping in damp or steep areas.

Visitors are able to go through the caverns at their leisure and don’t need a guide to explore them. If you’re up for a bit of a challenge, give the Natural Entrance Trail a try. At 1.25 miles, the path isn’t overly taxing in length, but it is very steep. The 750-foot elevation change of this trail is equal to the height of a 75-story building. As the trail is a one-way trail, visitors are able to either enter or exit at the Natural Entrance. It gives the option to experience this steepness either going up or coming down. This trail typically takes around an hour to complete and will take visitors past many interesting formations within the caverns.

The steepness of this entrance is no joke.

If you have health conditions that could be impacted by the exertion of this path, it may be best to explore the elevator option. An elevator can be utilized at the other end making the caverns accessible for visitors. For those that decide to begin at the Natural Entrance can opt to take the elevator one way—this is ideal if you want to walk down into the caverns and then take the elevator up to avoid the steepness on the way out.

Another path to explore within the caverns is the path to the Big Room. This path is the same distance as the Natural Entrance but typically takes a half hour longer to complete. For those that are either short on time or need a shorter path, there is an optional shortcut. It cuts the path in half in both time and distance. The formations in the Big Room are jaw-dropping and the size is astounding. According to the National Park Service, “…the Big Room, is the largest single cave chamber by volume in North America.”

The vastness of these caves is astounding. The stalactites and stalagmites fill the caves in such delicate but intricate formations. As you duck through tunnels and gaze around at the incredible natural wonders that surround you. It is all the more impressive that these magnificent structures can exist and stay preserved so far under the surface.

What’s cool about this national park is what can be done without going underground to explore the caverns.

There are also hiking trails and other nature-filled activities to check out above the caverns.

There are several hiking trails of varying lengths on the surface of Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Many provide views of the Guadalupe Mountains and the Chihuahuan Desert. While there are longer hikes in the park that allow visitors to get out and explore the nature in this area, there are also short hikes. The park that provide a glimpse into the beauty and ecology of this area. Just about a five-minute walk from the parking lot is an overlook providing sweeping views of Walnut Canyon, with very little elevation change. This easy walk can be found right off the road to the visitor center.

The Chihuahuan Desert Nature trail is both beautiful and educational as informational markers about the vegetation in the area dot the path along the way. Since it is almost entirely paved, relatively flat, and short—only a half mile—this trail is rather accessible to most visitors.

Another exciting thing that makes this park special is its famous bats.

If you happen to be visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park between late May through October, be sure to check out the “Bat Flight Program”. During the evenings, a ranger gives an informative lesson about the bats in the area by the amphitheater near the Natural Entrance as you watch them fly out of the caverns in the evening. August and September are the months that visitors will likely see the most bats. The bats leave the caverns nightly during this time and those who are willing to wake up early can watch them fly back into the caverns from roughly 4 – 6 a.m., some flying up to 25 miles per hour.

Be sure to plan your trip ahead of time as reservations must now be secured in advance to enter the park. Reservations for a specific entry time and amount of people in your party can be reserved at www.recreation.gov. Reservations are not available at the park and are only able to be made online or on the phone ahead of arriving. Keep in mind that this reservation secures a spot, but visitors will still need to pay an entrance fee at the gate or utilize an America The Beautiful pass to enter.

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