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Visiting Carlsbad Caverns: The Most Amazing Cave (2024)

Deep beneath the Chihuahuan Desert, in southeast New Mexico, lies one of the most amazing natural spectacles I have ever seen.

Carlsbad Caverns is an enormous underground cave system, full of beautiful limestone formations and underground lakes.

One of the best things about it is how accessible the place is, especially the Big Room. There’s even a wheelchair-friendly elevator leading right down into the main chamber.

Here I’ll share everything you need to know about visiting this stunning national park and why it’s more than worth making a journey to see.

I came here with a friend I was doing a road trip through Texas with. It was a little out of our way, but my buddy had heard amazing things about it so we decided to make the detour.

I’m so glad we did. This place is incredible!

Stalactites and stalagmites in the Big Room

A Little Bit About Carlsbad Caverns

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is a vast network of over 100 limestone caves and passageways.

The total size of the caverns is still unknown, and professional cave explorers still discover new sections from time to time.

It’s amazing to imagine what other parts of this extraordinary place are yet to be discovered.

However, the thing that makes this place so impressive is how well the National Park Service has managed to open it up to the public. Anyone can visit this amazing place.

The lighting is fantastic and helps give a sense of Carlsbad Caverns’ size

You can either hike down into the cave from the surface via the Natural Entrance Trail (see below) or take an elevator 750 feet (230 metres) down to the chamber.

Paved paths snake through the cave, with key features illuminated by well-placed lighting.

It’s extremely atmospheric and manages to strike a perfect balance between retaining the feel of an authentic “natural” cave, while also being highly accessible.

Practical Information For Visiting Carlsbad Caverns

Desert plants and bushes in the Chihuahuan desert
The Chihuahuan Desert, on the surface above the Carlsbad Caverns

How to get to Carlsbad Caverns

The Carlsbad Caverns National Park visitor center is just off US Highway 62/180, about 25 miles southwest of the town of Carlsbad, New Mexico.

The closest city with a major airport is El Paso, Texas, about 150 miles to the west, via US 62. If driving this way, be sure to check out the Guadalupe Mountains National Park en route (see below).

This dramatic mountain range has some epic scenery and is a highlight of any West Texas road trip.

If you need to rent a car, check out rentalcars.com.

Opening hours & entrance fees

The visitor center opens at 8 am and the cavern opens at 8:30 am. The last elevator out of the cavern is usually at 4:45 pm, but check here for the latest info.

Both the visitor center and the cavern are closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. It’s open pretty much every other day of the year.

Tickets cost $15 per adult (valid for 3 days). National Park Pass holders get in for free, as do children under 15.


For a giant cave, 750 feet underground, the Big Room is surprisingly accessible.

Wheelchair users, with assistance, should have no trouble using the elevator to reach the Big Room. Most (though not all) of the Big Room Trail is wheelchair accessible.

The Natural Entrance Trail is not wheelchair accessible.

For more info on accessibility within the cavern, refer to the NPS’ Accessibility Guide.

Best time to visit

You can visit this amazing place any time of year. The temperature inside the Carlsbad Caverns stays constant throughout the year – about about 56ºF (13ºC).

If you want to see the bat flight (more info on this below), the best time to visit is in July and August. Just remember, it will be hot outside during these months.

Where to stay near Carlsbad Caverns

There are many hotels (including the standard chains) in the town of Carlsbad itself, which is 25 miles from the caverns.

If you’d like to stay closer to the caverns, you’ll find a couple of budget motels in Whites City, a tiny community on US Highway 62, near the entrance to the national park.

Click here for the latest prices and more details.

Camping options

For those looking for a campsite with facilities, Kampgrounds of America (KOA) has a great site north of Carlsbad, just off US 285. (Note, this is a little far from the Carlsbad Caverns visitor center – about 45 miles.)

Backcountry/wild camping is allowed in certain sections of the park (west of the Rattlesnake Canyon trailhead, off the Desert Scenic Loop Road, and south of the Guadalupe Ridge Trail).

This requires a permit, which is free from the visitor center.

Fires are prohibited. Beware of scorpions and snakes, and bring lots of water! See the NPS website for more info.

Check out this article where I review the best tents for wild camping.

Other info

  • Don’t bring food and drink (except plain water) into the caverns.
  • Cameras are permitted, except during the bat flight.
  • Wear comfortable walking shoes when inside the caverns.
  • You must walk on bio-cleaning mats after leaving the caverns, to prevent the spread of a fungus which causes White-Nose Syndrome, a disease which is fatal to bats.
  • Lechuguilla Cave, a separate cave network in another section of the national park, is far longer and deeper than Carlsbad Cavern. It’s still being explored but is at least 140 miles (225 km) long, and 1,600 feet (490 m) deep. However, this enormous cave is not open to the public, and is only accessible for research and exploration purposes.

How Big Is Carlsbad Caverns Big Room?

Carlsbad Caverns Big Room is the largest cave chamber in North America by volume. This is a very big cave!

It’s approximately 4,000 feet (1.2 kilometres) long, 625 feet (190 metres) wide, and 255 feet (78 metres) high at its tallest point.

You could fit over six American football fields inside this one chamber. It’s hard to comprehend just how massive it is until you’re standing in the middle, surrounded by towering stalactites and stalagmites.

How Deep Are The Carlsbad Caverns?

The deepest known section of Carlsbad Caverns is over 1,000 feet (300 metres) below ground.

But, new sections are discovered from time to time. So the caves may extend even deeper than we think today.

Carlsbad Caverns Big Room – Hall Of The Giants

Some of the limestone formations in the Big Room are truly massive. It’s impossible to get a real sense of their scale without visiting. You really need to see it to believe it.

One section of the cavern is called the Hall of the Giants. Can you guess why?

Three huge stalagmites that look like giants inside the big room
These Giants are over 60 feet tall

The Big Room is only one part of a vast network of caves – connected by a series of tunnels and passageways – that is known as Carlsbad Cavern.

Cave Decorations

Carlsbad Caverns were carved out over millions of years by acidic groundwater, which pooled and dissolved the surrounding rock.

The constant dripping of this acidic water, mixed with the air in the cave, created (and is still creating) some of the most incredible decorative rock formations imaginable.

These mineral deposits (called “speleothems”) include stalactites (hanging down) and stalagmites (reaching up), some of which are enormous.

A Giant stalagmite

As well as the classic stalactites and stalagmites, the Big Room also contains thousands of examples of other formations.

These include columns (or totem poles) – which reach from the ceiling to the floor, soda straws – hollow mineral tubes, draperies – thin wavy sheets, and popcorn – take a guess.

Illuminated flowstone draperies and popcorn mineral features
Flowstone draperies and popcorn

UNESCO has included the Carlsbad Caverns on its World Heritage List, in recognition of the “abundance, diversity and beauty” of the mineral formations found here.

Carlsbad Caverns Big Room Walking Trail

The easiest way to see what the Big Room has to offer is to walk the Big Room Trail.

This 1.25-mile self-guided walking trail is relatively flat and can be done entirely at your own pace. Most of it is wheelchair accessible.

Path leading through a large open section of the big room
Part of the Carlsbad Caverns Big Room Walking Trail

The trail snakes its way around various sections of the Big Room, highlighting areas of particular interest. Signs and boards provide information about the cave and some of its notable features.

Many of these are lit dramatically and have cool names, such as the Rock of Ages, the Painted Grotto, Mirror Lake, Lion’s Tail, the Sword of Damocles, and the Temple of the Sun.

Rope ladder descending into the darkness
The rope ladder used by explorers in 1924 to reach the Lower Caves

The spookiest part of the cavern is the Bottomless Pit.

Bottomless or not, standing on the edge of this black chasm feels like you’re looking into the depths of the earth.

An excellent audio guide is available to rent from the visitor center. This is optional but provides lots of information on the history of the cave, its geology, formations, and discovery.

Mirror lake with illuminated cave features reflected on the still surface of the water
Mirror Lake – inside the Big Room

If you’d prefer a shorter walk, the trail has a shortcut, which reduces the distance to 0.6 miles.

The Natural Entrance

While you can take the elevator straight down to the Carlsbad Big Room, there is another, more adventurous way of getting down there.

The Natural Entrance to carlsbad caverns with blue sky above
Start of the Natural Entrance Trail

The Natural Entrance Trail is a short hiking route which takes you all the way from the surface down to the main chamber. This is the way the early explorers came when they first discovered the caverns.

It’s pretty steep, descending 750 feet (230 meters) in just over a mile, and takes about an hour. Sturdy footwear is recommended.

Bats in Carlsbad Caverns

Between April and October, a colony of thousands of migrating Brazilian free-tailed bats roost in a section of the caverns (called the Bat Cave, naturally).

As the sun sets each evening, they flock out of the Natural Entrance in search of food.

July and August are usually the best months to experience this phenomenon. This is when the bat pups first join the flight.

The National Park Service puts on daily talks between late May and October, prior to the bats’ evening flight. Reservations are not required, but check the NPS website for further info.

Note – Electronic devices (including phones) can confuse the bats, so please don’t use these during the bat flight. 

Photography is strictly forbidden, as this can disorient the bats and disturb their flight.

Other Places To Visit Nearby

Once you’ve finished exploring Carlsbad Caverns, why not check out some of the other fantastic places nearby?

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

View from one of the peaks of the Guadalupe mountains
The Guadalupe Mountains

Guadalupe Mountains National Park is located about halfway between Carlsbad and El Paso, Texas. From the Carlsbad Caverns visitor center, it’s just under an hour’s drive southwest, along US 62.

The towering Guadalupe Mountains rise steeply from the surrounding desert. Included in the range are two famous peaks – the iconic El Capitan and Guadalupe Peak, the tallest mountain in Texas (8,751 ft / 2,667 m).

Here you’ll find some exceptional hiking trails. Just be aware that the terrain is very steep in places, and the heat can be extreme, with temperatures regularly exceeding 105ºF (40ºC) in the summer. Prepare well, and bring lots of water!

Check out this blog for an excellent guide to hiking the Guadalupe Peak trail.

And here are some of my favourite desert quotes and captions.

Other caves

There are over 100 different caves in the Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

Although the Big Room is the most visited, the National Park Service organises several fantastic ranger-guided adventure tours in various other sections of the park which are not usually open to the public.

These tours vary in length and difficulty, and explore areas such as the Lower Cave (a huge area beneath the Big Room), the Hall of the White Giant, and Slaughter Canyon Cave.

Reservations are essential. Check here for further info.


Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about visiting Carlsbad Caverns.

How much time should I spend at Carlsbad Caverns?

To thoroughly enjoy Carlsbad Caverns, plan to spend at least 3-4 hours. This duration allows you ample time to explore the main cave, including the Big Room, and participate in a ranger-led tour. The time spent can vary depending on your interest in hiking the nature trails or attending additional cave tours.

Is Carlsbad Caverns worth visiting?

Yes, Carlsbad Caverns is definitely worth visiting. It’s renowned for its extraordinary cave formations, large underground chambers, and the unique experience of exploring one of the most accessible and well-known cave systems in the world.

Is there a lot of walking at Carlsbad Caverns?

There is a fairly significant amount of walking at Carlsbad Caverns. The most popular route, the Big Room Trail, is about 1.25 miles and takes roughly 1.5 hours to complete. The Natural Entrance Trail is more strenuous and steep, descending over 750 feet into the cave.

What should I wear to Carlsbad Caverns?

Wear comfortable, sturdy walking shoes as there is a lot of walking, often on wet and uneven surfaces. The temperature inside the caverns remains around 56°F (13°C) year-round, so it’s advisable to wear layers or bring a light jacket, even in summer.

See also: Best Things to Do in Fort Collins, Colorado

Final Thoughts

Carlsbad Caverns is one of the biggest and most impressive caves I’ve ever visited. I highly recommend a visit. It’s a fantastic place and one that definitely deserves to be on your USA bucket list.

Which other caves have you explored? How do they compare? Let me know in the comments below!

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One Comment

  1. Spot on with this write-up, I actually believe that this site needs a lot more attention. I’ll probably be back again to see more, thanks for the advice!

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  • I’m Alex Tiffany.  Former corporate city robot; lifelong travel addict.


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