13 Best Things to do in Carlsbad Caverns National Park – First Timers Guide

13 Things to do in Carlsbad Cavern National Park

Are you looking for the best things to do in Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico?  In a word, visiting Carlsbad Caverns is stunning.  The Carlsbad Caverns are located about 40 minutes from Carlsbad and makes a great day trip.

visiting carlsbad caverns

There is so much to do in Carlsbad and the caves will leave you awe-struck, especially the Big Room.  This guide has all the information you need to have a memorable trip and help you plan your trip.

Visiting the Carlsbad Caves in New Mexico is a memorable experience. I was really expecting to go for a couple of hours but there is so much to do there that it is worth spending the day there.

To visit any of the National Parks in the USA, I recommend buying a National Park Pass. The America the Beautiful Pass is valid for one year and costs $80. Plus 10% of sale proceeds go to the National Park Foundation.

Fun Things to do in Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

1.  Spend most of your time in the big room

There are two major trails at Carlsbad Caverns National Park that are free to explore when you visit this place – The Natural Entrance Trail and The Big Room Trail. Both are equally amazing trails but one is easier than the other. 

carlsbad caves in new mexico

The Big Room is composed of a large limestone chamber with a floor space of 357,469 square feet and is almost 4,000 feet long, 625 feet wide, and 255 feet tall at its peak point. In fact, it is the 5th largest chamber in North America and the 28th largest in the world. This trail is paved and considered easy and the 1 mile section of it is even accessible to those in wheelchairs. 

This trail features a snaking loop trail that traverses thousands of rock formations and intricate sculptures. You can also find helictites, stalagmites, stalactites, fossils, and a lot more here. The rock formations are well-lit so that it will add a dramatic and mesmerizing view of the site. Expect to see a lot of enormous limestone, towering stalagmites, and gorgeous stalactites and don’t forget to take lots of pictures. 

2.  Enter via Natural Entrance Trail

Aside from the Big Room, there is also another option to enter the Carlsbad Caverns and that is via Natural Entrance Trail. It is a steep 1.25 mile trail with numerous curving switchbacks that descends 750 feet into the caverns.

things to do in carlsbad caverns
Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

In fact, taking this trail is extra challenging than the Big Room because it is equivalent to walking up or down a 75 story building and it takes an average of 60 to 90 to complete this trail. So, if you want that extra kick of challenge, you should definitely enter and explore this trail. 

Before you start the trail, you will be heading outside the Visitor Center and down to Ranger Check Point where you will be subjected to a brief overview of the cavern rules such as not spitting any gum or candy. 

Don’t be intimidated by this trail because there are available hand railings lining most of the trail to help you walk up and down and there are concrete benches spread out in case you want to sit and take a break. 

3.  Take Ranger Guided Tour

Aside from exploring the Carlsbad Caverns on your own by taking either the Big Room or Natural Entrance trails, you can also take a ranger-guided tour. However, availability on all ranger-guided tours is limited so it is highly suggested that you plan ahead your trip and reserve early. 

carlsbad caverns visitor center

Now, if you are wondering what is the difference between a self-guided tour vs ranger-guided tour, well apparently a ranger-guided tour is much more convenient than a self-guided tour because you will be meeting the rangers at the back of the Visitor’s center where you will be briefed with the safety and and get geared up. They will also be the one to provide protection equipment such as a helmet, headlamp, and gloves. And as you go along with the tour, the ranger would explain the history and significance of the different sites.

4.  Walnut Canyon Desert Drive

The Walnut Canyon Desert Drive is just one of the beautiful things that you will experience at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

carlsbad nm caverns
Carlsbad Caverns National Park

It is actually a one-way gravel round that loops from the top of the entrance drive then back towards the entrance. Since it is a 9.5 mile drive, you can drive slowly so that you will be able to see the wildlife and scenery in the area. 

5.  Rattlesnake Springs

Rattlesnake Springs is a hidden little spring located south of the caves and just waiting to be discovered by many. These crystal clear springs carry a bit of history to the Carlsbad Caverns and it is a perfect place for a picnic or just relax and enjoy the natural surroundings. Today, this spring is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Aside from its blue green waters, you can also see wildlife at Rattlesnake Springs. In fact, you can see lots of friendly birds pop up next to you. This is truly an amazing place to unwind and relax and just be with nature. 

6.  Bat Flight Program

The Bat Flight Program is a program at Carlsbad Caverns where an evening ranger talks about bats and this program occurs every evening from late May to October. It is held at the Bat Flight Amphitheater located at the Natural Entrance to Carlsbad Cavern. It is free and you don’t need prior reservations in order to witness it, however seating at the amphitheater is on a first come-first served basis. 

7.  King’s Palace

The King’s Palace is an area of the Caverns where most of the stalactites and stalagmites are located. Usually, visitors take a guided-tour of the King’s Palace to learn more about the significance of these cave formations. On this tour, you will be leisurely strolling through four naturally decorated chambers of the cave while a ranger is explaining its origins and other useful information. 

Rangers mostly conduct “black-outs” during this tour to highlight the cave formations and give it a more dramatic effect. Although the trail is paved, you will still encounter a flight of stairs so make sure to wear closed-toe shoes. And children below four years old are not allowed on this tour. 

8.  Bottomless Pit

Tours at Carlsbad Caverns typically start with the Big Room Trail since it is easier than the other trails. And one of the well-known features of the Big Room is the Bottomless Pit which is a deep rift in the limestone floors that extends downward sans limit. The bottom is about 140 feet and it is covered with loose soil. Although you can’t really get down the bottomless pit, it is still worthy to visit this site and experience the wonders of nature. 

9.  Lion’s Tail

Another interesting site at Carlsbad Cavern is the Lion’s Tail located along the west side of the Big Room. It is actually an oddly-shaped stalactite with a pom-pon shape at the end. There are many other great formations that you can find in the Big Room and the Lion’s Tail is one of them. Here, visitors stop by and take lots of photos and marvel at the wonders of the cave formations. 

10.  Slaughter Canyon Cave

Slaughter Canyon Cave is another adventure tour at Carlsbad Cavern that will take you to an underground wilderness without electricity but don’t worry because the walkways are paved. This cave highlights one of the world’s tallest columns which is the 89-foot high Monarch; a crystal-decorated column the Christmas Tree; and the delicate, ankle high-rimstone dam, the Chinese Wall. 

The cave trails are narrow and very slippery so make sure to wear the comfiest and sturdy shoes that you have. It will take 5.5 hours to finish the whole tour of the Slaughter Canyon Cave and the minimum age allowed is 8 years old, and anyone under 16 years old must be accompanied by an adult. 

11.  Guadalupe Mountain Trail

The Guadalupe Mountain Trail is a designated National Recreational Trail that stretches 161 km long and gives hikers and backpack a whole new experience in the Chihuahuan Desert and Guadalupe Mountains. The trail starts at the highest point in Texas and traverses the Lincoln National Forest and Bureau of Land Management property, and ends at Carlsbad Caverns National Park’s eastern boundary. 

In the area, you can find Salt Basin Dunes, rich grassland, conifer forests, and various collections of flora and fauna. Although it is a remote location and least visited National Park, this is still worthy to visit because of its fascinating terrain, and widespread views. 

12.  Upper Rattlesnake Canyon Trail

If you are up for a longer and slightly strenuous hike, then the Upper Rattlesnake Canyon Trail is highly recommended for you. However, driving here is harder than taking the trail because of the rough road. It’ll take 4 hours and 30 minutes to finish the trail depending on your pacing and the trail highlights the scenic arches and canyons in the area.

13.  Hall of the White Giant

If you love getting muddy and crawl through tight passageways, you might want to try the Hall of the White Giant tour at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. But if you are claustrophobic or afraid of heights, this is not recommended for you. 

Some of the highlights of this tour are the tight and narrow passages like Matlock’s Pinch, and the enchanting formations like the White Giant. The duration of the tour is 4 hours and the minimum age allowed is 12 years old. Plus, anyone under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult. 

Carlsbad Caverns Tour

You will need to book the guided tours at Carlsbad Caverns in advance. You can book these through the National Park Service.

Continue Reading more on my website on New Mexico:

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Best Hot Springs in New Mexico

16 Prettiest Waterfalls in New Mexico

Best New Mexico Resorts

The Best Santa Fe Hikes

Nicole LaBarge

Nicole is a travel expert who has been traveling to the American Southwest since 1992. There is so much to see and do in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, and California. I spend part of the year in Phoenix and travel around the area visiting all the best places and going on the best hikes. Check out my detailed destination guides, the best hiking in each state guides, and the travel gear you need for your next trip.

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