Article Overview: 15 EPIC Things to Do In Carlsbad Caverns
Are you planning a trip to Carlsbad Caverns? You’ve come to the right place. I’ve been to Carlsbad Caverns numerous times; it’s a national park with endless hidden gems, sensational views, and fantastic photography spots.
In short, it’s a dream for nature lovers like us.
As one of the world’s most extensive underground cave systems, Carlsbad Caverns attracts thousands of visitors yearly. There are approximately 119 known caves, including the Big Room—a chamber considered the fifth largest in the United States, spanning 8.2 acres and standing at 255 feet.
I’ll be honest: many attractions in Carlsbad Caverns are relatively obvious, such as hiking along the vast trails and enjoying a picnic in the sun. But, of course, we’ll also give you some unusual attractions to spice up your trip!
In this article, I’ll cover the best of what this incredible national park has to offer, what to pack, what to expect, and what to wear.
Are you ready? Off we go!
Table Of Contents: 15 Things to Do in Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Table of contents: Things to Do in Carlsbad Caverns National Park
- Things to Know Before You Visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park
- Carlsbad Caverns National Park Flooding Impact
- Getting to Carlsbad Caverns National Park
- Safety Steps for Things to Do in Carlsbad Caverns National Park
- 15 Things to Do in Carlsbad Caverns National Park
- Map of Things to Do in Carlsbad Caverns
Things to Know Before You Visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park
First of all, Carlsbad Caverns has timed entry reservations, which must be done in advance. You can also make reservations by calling (877)444-6777. It’s important to note that the price is per person, not per vehicle. Payment is made at the visitors center before you get access to the caverns. The entry fee is $15 per person, which you will pay at the park.
To be clear, this is the process:
- Make a time-entry reservation between 8:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. (MST/MDT). This isn’t a pass to get into the park. It simply gives you access at a certain time to control crowds during peak seasons.
- Arrive at the park during that time and pay for entrance tickets.
- If you want to take a guided tour, reserve those tickets in advance, as available on the park’s website.
If you plan to visit more National Parks within the next 12 months, I suggest you purchase the America the Beautiful Pass (which can be found at the entrance gates to most national parks). This pass gets you into all National Parks, Forests, Monuments, and more, including 2,000 sites for free after a one-time $79 fee.
Bring Proper Footwear
With slippery cave floors, you should want to wear the right shoes anyway. However, some trails and tours will require the right kind of footwear. Without the right shoes, you lose the chance to explore some of the best things to do in Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Please review this shoe chart to see what’s acceptable and what isn’t.
Use it. Lots of it. Especially this one, which I never leave the house without because it plays nice with our dear friend, Earth 🙂 Obviously, you won’t get sunburned in a cave, but there are plenty of trails and outdoor sections where you’ll be glad you lathered it on.
The Best Guide Book for Carlsbad Caverns National Park is this one which we’ve marked up and highlighted quite a bit.
The Best Map: I like this map best for Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
National Parks Checklist Map: This beautiful National Parks Checklist Map can be ordered to your house.
Framed National Parks Map: We’re a sucker for maps; this framed national parks map is the best.
Where to Stay in Carlsbad Caverns National Park
This is our favorite hotel in/around Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park Flooding Impact
Carlsbad Caverns National Park faced a crisis in late August of 2022 when a flash flood tore through the park. Up to 200 people were stranded, but nobody was hurt. This historic flood did major damage to roads and trails, which could impact the things to do at Carlsbad Caverns National Park through the end of 2024.
Check the park conditions before you go to see what’s available and what isn’t. The park is open and welcoming visitors, including access to the caverns. You just might miss a few of the trails that were heavily damaged.
Getting to Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is located in rural southeastern New Mexico, just 16 miles from the Texas state line. It’s important to note that the park only has one entrance and exit. It’s 20 miles southwest of Carlsbad, and the visitors center is seven miles from Whites City along the Carlsbad Cavern Highway.
The closest cities and other national parks often paired with a trip to the caverns include:
- Guadalupe Mountains National Park/Dell City, TX: 35 miles
- El Paso: 151 miles
- Albuquerque: 304 miles
- Roswell: 103 miles
- Las Cruces: 197 miles
- White Sands National Park/Alamogordo: 181 miles
The closest major airports are Albuquerque (ABQ), Roswell (ROW), and El Paso, Texas (ELP).
Map of Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Safety Steps for Things to Do in Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Visiting any cave comes with some safety guidance. Accordingly, Carlsbad Caverns has slippery, wet surfaces. The temperatures in the cave can vary depending on how close you are to the entrance or how deep you are in the cave. Even in the summer, when the temperatures are in the triple digits, it can still be mid-50s or upper 60s in the cave. Bring a jacket or hoodie.
Secondly, wear thick-soled shoes with lug soles if you can. This will help you keep your footing while enjoying things to do in Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Flip-flops, sandals, and sneakers could cause numerous slips or falls.
Thirdly, the caverns do have lighting. However, that might not be enough for you, so feel free to bring a flashlight or a headlamp.
Finally, check the alerts and conditions on the park’s website or in your NPS park app to see the latest safety warnings.
Bat Safety in Carlsbad Caverns
It’s certainly normal to be uneasy about being around bats in a cave, but you actually pose more of a risk to them. The threat of White Nose Syndrome for bats is real, and I’ve hiked about a dozen caves with the same rules and decontamination requirements as Carlsbad Caverns.
You cannot get White Nose Syndrome from bats, but you can spread the virus to the bats if you wear clothes or shoes that have been in other caves. The disease isn’t curable at this time, and millions of bats nationwide have succumbed to it. Rats can carry rabies, so there’s another reason just to leave them alone.
15 Things to Do in Carlsbad Caverns National Park
15. Enjoy the King’s Palace Tour
Our list of things to do in Carlsbad Caverns begins with attending the King’s Palace Tour. If you’re visiting with family—which Carlsbad Caverns is perfect for—this tour provides insight into the park’s immense history, geology, and conservation efforts.
You’ll enjoy a 1.5-hour ranger-guided tour into the cave’s deepest point. Better still, although the tour has some challenging descents and steep hills, you can bring children if they’re seven or older. Book a reservation beforehand because spaces fill up fast.
There are various excellent ranger-led cave tours of Lower Cave, Hall of the White Giant, and Slaughter Canyon Cave. However, bring proper footwear; the tour won’t allow you in without them, and we wouldn’t want you to be disappointed!
14. Go Backcountry Camping
One of the best things to do in Carlsbad Caverns National Park is backcountry camping. You’ll need a free backcountry permit from the visitor center on the day of arrival, but you can’t reserve it in advance.
If you have a permit, you can camp 100 feet from established trails, 300 feet from any cave entrance or water source, and 2,600 feet from any parking lot or road. You can bring your family or a group of friends, but the national park has a 10-person limit.
Nevertheless, the Carlsbad Caverns National Park is ideal for backcountry camping. It’s a haven for stargazing, the national park is quiet, and it’s home to some truly majestic wildlife. I think it’ll be a truly wonderful experience for you, especially if it’s your first time.
13. Check Out the Green Lake Room
The Green Lake Room is one of the top things to do in Carlsbad Cavern National Park if you’re looking for superb photo opportunities. Unlike the other rooms in the caves, the Green Lake Room includes a stunning green-hued pool.
Initially, people believed the green color was a result of algae or microbes beneath the lake’s surface. In truth, malachite (a carbonate mineral) causes a beautiful green color whenever light passes through.
You can visit Green Lake in two ways: The Self-Guided Tour or the King’s Palace Tour. If you choose the self-guided tour—which we recommend if you’re an independent soul looking for maximum freedom—you’ll find Green Lake at the end of the tour.
12. Complete the Hall of the White Giant Tour
One of the most adventurous things to do at Carlsbad Caverns is the Hall of the White Giant Tour. The tour includes ladder climbing, slippery surfaces, and free climbing if you’re feeling extra confident.
Although the tour provider doesn’t recommend it for anyone scared of heights and tight spaces—it could be the perfect chance to face your fears! Some of the tour’s top highlights include narrow passages like Matthew’s Pinch and stunning formations like The White Giant.
The tour is fantastic for the morning or afternoon as it lasts around four hours. Children 13 and younger aren’t allowed on this daring tour.
11. Visit the Oasis of Rattlesnake Springs
If you’re looking for a place to relax as one of your top things to do in Carlsbad Caverns, Rattlesnake Springs is an excellent idea. The spring offers a natural oasis in the gorgeous desert landscape, providing cool waters that are a paradise for wildlife and plants. It is also the supply of water for Carlsbad Caverns.
At the same time, this is so much more than just a picnic area. It is also the Rattlesnake Springs Historic District. It was first homesteaded by a man named William Henry Harrison in 1880. He dug the canals that still provide water today.
There’s also a great educational site at the springs. It offers visitors a chance to learn about the ecosystem and water conservation—two key things for preserving the beauty of America’s national parks.
TRAVEL TIP: Rattlesnake Springs is six miles from the park road that leads up to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. It’s still part of the park but in its own section. This is the perfect thing to do in Carlsbad Caverns if you are early for your timed entry.
10. Hike Along the Natural Entrance Trail
Pay attention–this trail might be one of the best things to do in Carlsbad Caverns National Park, but it is a doozy! The Natural Entrance Trail descends 750 feet into the cave along a steep and winding path. At the same time, you’ll be walking along switchbacks carved into the rocky slopes. The steep grade averages a 12 percent incline but reaches up to 40 percent slope in places.
The hike offers a steady descent via various switchbacks before leading you to the heart of the underground maze.
Along the way, you’ll pass through an area known as the Twilight Zone (right). Give your eyes a few seconds to adjust because, after this last spot of sunlight, it’s all cave darkness or artificial light.
Most impressively, you’ll witness remarkable geological formations along the trail, including flowstone, stalagmites, stalactites, and columns.
Aside from the steepness of the trail, you’ll have handrails and a wide, smooth surface to walk on when taking the Natural Entrance Trail.
We strongly suggest taking the trail to enter the caverns and using the elevator to go back up. You can also take the elevator down and then ascend from this cavern opening, but it’s a double-doozy going up!
And if that’s not enough, the trail also has interpretive signs along the way, ensuring you understand the history, geology, and ecology of the caverns.
9. Have Lunch Underground
Arrive hungry and wait until you’re at the bottom of the 750-foot elevator ride to grab some grub. While eating lunch isn’t all that EPIC, who else gets to chow down two football fields underground? I think the Underground Lunchroom is one of the best things to do in Carlsbad Caverns National Park because it’s just so rare. Tables are set up with cavern walls ghoulishly lit around you. It is estimated that more than 50 million people have lunched here.
This is also the only spot you can eat when you’re underground, and only water is allowed on the trails. There’s another restaurant at the top of the visitors center, but you can’t bring that food down here.
If that’s not epic enough for you, how about this–the advent of the lunchroom was so popular over the decades that an effort to remove it by the National Park Service was overridden by a (literal) act of Congress.
“None of the funds made available by this Act may be obligated or expended by the National Park Service to enter into or implement a concession contract which permits or requires the removal of the underground lunchroom at the Carlsbad Caverns National Park.”Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 1997
Before you leave, feel free to send a postcard to your loved ones stamped with “Mailed from 750 feet below the surface of Carlsbad Caverns National Park.”
8. Left Hand Tunnel Tour
Caving by candlelight? Sign us up! This is one of the best things to do in Carlsbad Caverns National Park if you want to go from caving to spelunking. The two-hour guided tour goes through undeveloped caverns with dirt trails and only lanterns lighting the way.
Additionally, the trail leads to the lowest known section of Carlsbad Caverns–Lake of the Clouds. It’s more than 1,000 feet down, covering a depth that almost matches the length of the Eiffel Tower.
7. Take the Scenic Drive
The Walnut Canyon Desert Drive is one of the top things to do in Carlsbad Caverns National Park when you want to come above ground for a little while. The Carlsbad Caverns Highway, combined with the Walnut Canyon Desert Drive (aka Desert Loop Road), is about 20 miles from Whites City, around the unpaved loop, and back to the visitors center.
The one-way 9.5-mile loop road is bumpy and rugged, just like the surrounding mountain landscape. Interpretive signs are found along the road, but here are three of the best things to do in Carlsbad Caverns National Park on those roads.
- Walnut Canyon Nature Trail: Signs explain how Indigenous People lived off the land, and you can visit an overhang where there’s evidence that humans once used this for shelter.
- Rattlesnake Canyon Trail: This is the more remote part of the park you can access by car. A three-mile trail awaits if you’re up for it.
- Juniper Ridge Trail: With just a one-mile trail, you can see the remote mountains of the region.
This begs the question, “Are there rattlesnakes in the park?”. Yes. Several species, in fact. They literally want nothing to do with you. Give them space, stay on the trails, and never reach into a hole or on top of a rock you can’t see with your own eyes first. The younger snakes haven’t learned how to regulate their venom, so even smaller ones can be dangerous if you mess with them.
6. Enjoy World-Class Stargazing
There are many excellent national parks in the United States for stargazing, but Carlsbad Caverns is one of the most suitable. The national park has many excellent spots to watch the stars—such as the Bat Flight Amphitheater, the Walnut Canyon Desert Drive, and the Junior Campground.
The most common area for stargazing, however, is the Rattlesnake Springs Picnic Area. Located on Walnut Canyon Desert Drive, the picnic area—on top of being ideal for snacking—has the unobstructed peace required for excellent stargazing.
Check for a Night Sky Program during your visit. or enjoy a ranger-led night walk.
5. Watch Bats at the Bat Flight Amphitheater
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is popular for its eclectic range of wildlife—and the Bat Flight Amphitheater only adds to that! There are many bats in the national park, but the bats that roost there are Mexican free-tailed bats. Therefore, watching the bats is one of the top things to do in Carlsbad Caverns.
Every spring, the bats migrate to the national park from Mexico, where they spend the winter months away from the colder weather. You should visit the national park between May and October, commonly between 7.30 and 8.30 pm, where you may see the bats fly.
Here’s the good news for you: Carlsbad Caverns National Park has designed the Bat Flight Amphitheater for optimal viewing. They have speakers to provide bat details and information, and they offer tiered seating for the best view.
4. Hike the Guadalupe Ridge Trail
Right, it’s time to put your hiking shoes on. One of the best things to do in Carlsbad Caverns is hike the Guadalupe Ridge Trail. The moderately challenging trail spans over 20 miles in Carlsbad Caverns National Park, and the rest of the 100-mile route goes through Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
We’re not suggesting you take the entire 100-mile trail, but if you do, get a permit and plan for it to take at least five days.
This hike showcases the national park’s majestic flora and fauna, including yucca, agave, and various cacti. You may witness the occasional lizard, snake, and elk or mule deer along the trek. Don’t forget to bring your camera; there are always fantastic photography opportunities.
Depending on where you begin, you can complete the entire hike—though you’ll need good fitness levels—or opt for shorter sections. Thankfully, the trail is well-marked throughout, but it’s always a wise idea to bring a map, lots of water, and suitable footwear.
3. Stare at the Bottomless Pit
Visiting the Bottomless Pit is one of the top things to do in Carlsbad Caverns National Park if you’re seeking mysterious nature. For years, however, some people thought the pit was indeed bottomless. They threw stones into it only to hear zero noise.
Recently though, a group of cavers made a descent into the pit! Yes, not for the faint of heart! They found the pit does have a bottom of approximately 140ft. So it’s not actually bottomless, as people often believed.
That said, without special lighting, the pit indeed looks bottomless. If you’re visiting with the family, you could tell your kids that it’s bottomless; they wouldn’t know any better, and they’d likely think it’s cool. Either way, the Bottomless Pit looks extremely spooky.
2. Take the Slaughter Canyon Cave Tour
Are you feeling adventurous? If yes, we have the attraction for you. The Slaughter Canyon Cave Tour is one of the top things to do in Carlsbad Caverns because it transports you to a sheer underground wilderness.
The nearly six-hour moderately strenuous tour requires reservations. However, it’s important to know that the cave trails are narrow, slippery, and uneven. Without the help of the rangers and ample flashlights and headlamps, this tour would be hazardous.
But don’t worry: You’re in safe hands with the excellent rangers. The tour requires hiking boots with aggressive tread and freshly laundered clothes that haven’t been worn on any other tour or cave hike. Along the extensive tour, you’ll witness the 89-foot-tall Monarch (one of the world’s tallest columns), the Christmas Tree, and the Chinese Wall. It’s a genuine natural wonder!
1. Walk the Big Room Trail
And now it’s time for our winner: Topping our list of things to do in Carlsbad Caverns National Park is the incredible Big Room Trail. Spanning over 4,000 feet and standing at 255 feet, the Carlsbad Caverns National Park is the largest accessible chamber on the continent. It’s also the 28th largest in the world.
In short—it’s an incredible natural attraction with an easy trail path and a one-mile section available to people in wheelchairs. Along the trail, you’ll witness massive limestone, stunning stalactites, and tall stalagmites.
Here are a few of the most notable features.
I simply love the names of places and objects in Carlsbad Caverns. Here you can see The Caveman.
Don’t see it?
From this angle, The Caveman is sitting facing left, and you’re getting a profile view. Can you now make out his bangs, nose, lips, and beard?
Hall of Giants
“The Big Room trail has a way of making you feel very small, especially when you walk through the Hall of Giants. With the Giant Dome measuring in at over 60 feet high, this area is home to some of the cave’s largest formations.”
The spotlight is on the soda straw stalactites and columns in this special nook of the Big Room.
Rock of Ages
The Rock of Ages is cool to see up close, but it’s also an underground summit with views of the Hall of Giants and other named sections of the Big Room.
Feel free to take the elevator down to the start of the trail. You can expect the trail to take around an hour and a half to complete, but there’s also a shorter route.
Summary of 15 EPIC Things to Do In Carlsbad Caverns
- Enjoy the King’s Palace Tour
- Go Backcountry Camping
- Check Out the Green Lake Room
- Complete the Hall of the White Giant Tour
- Visit the Oasis of Rattlesnake Springs
- Hike Along the Natural Entrance Trail
- Have Lunch Underground
- Left Hand Tunnel Tour
- Take the Scenic Drive
- Enjoy World-Class Stargazing
- Watch Bats at the Bat Flight Amphitheater
- Hike the Guadalupe Ridge Trail
- Stare at the Bottomless Pit
- Take the Slaughter Canyon Cave Tour
- Walk the Big Room Trail
Map of Things to Do in Carlsbad Caverns
Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands National Parks Road Trip
Located a mere three-hour drive apart in New Mexico, Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands National Parks perfectly complement each other for an incredible American Southwest road trip.
In contrast, White Sands National Park presents a landscape like no other, with massive gypsum dunes that create a surreal white sand paradise. They both present unique and other-worldly experiences. But that’s not where the similarities end. They both were shaped by gypsum.
At Carlsbad Caverns, many of the cave formations, like stalactites and stalagmites, are made of calcium carbonate that came from the dissolution of gypsum. Gypsum is present in the groundwater underneath the caves. When this water drips into the cave air, the gypsum dissolved in it undergoes a chemical reaction and transforms into calcium carbonate, forming the cave formations over thousands of years.
Meanwhile, at White Sands, the entire landscape is made up of gypsum in the form of gypsum sand. The gypsum comes from ancient inland seabeds that once covered the area. As water erodes the mountain ranges surrounding White Sands, it dissolves the gypsum deposits and carries the minerals down onto the valley floor. Over time, this process has created the world’s largest gypsum dune field.
Pin Things to Do in Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Helpful Related Links
White Sands: 10 FANTASTIC Facts About White Sands National Park
Guadalupe Mountains National Park: 10 FASCINATING Facts About Guadalupe Mountains National Park
New Mexico National Parks: 20 SURPRISING New Mexico National Parks
Albuquerque: 10 Epic National Parks Near Albuquerque You’ll Love
Historic Sites: 10 Must-See Historic Sites In New Mexico