Ultimate Guide to Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico (Tours, Pricing, History, Map)
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Carlsbad Caverns National Park is one of the most popular tourist attractions in New Mexico. It also happens to be the most visited National Park in the US.
Carlsbad Caverns are not just underground, but they’re on top too! The park is home to a variety of hiking trails – from easy walks like Cave Loop Trail and Bat Flight Deck Trail to more difficult hikes such as Hall of Giants (a favorite of hikers) and the Big Room Loop.
Ultimate Guide to Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico (Tours, Pricing, History, Map)
For more adventurous visitors, there are climbing routes for those who have proper knowledge of rigging techniques such as single-pitch or multi-pitch climbs that range from beginner to advanced difficulty level.
Here’s what you need to know about visiting Carlsbad Caverns: fees, tours, maps and more!
What’s the difference between a cavern and a cave?
Many times, the names are used synonymously, but this isn’t technically right. A cave is defined as any cavity in the ground that has a section that does not receive direct sunlight. A cavern is just one type of cave that is formed naturally in soluble rock and grows speleothems, the general term for cave formations like stalagmites and stalactites also cave draperies, and cave popcorn. So, a cavern can rightfully be called a cave, but not all caves are caverns.
History of Carlsbad Caverns
Carlsbad Caverns make up part of the Carlsbad Caverns National Park located along the southwestern side of New Mexico, in the Guadalupe Mountains. Interestingly, it is one of the best-known caves in the world that is open to general visits.
The cave setup is unique as it allows you to walk down the cavern or take an elevator down to the underground sections of the cavern. So, what led to the discovery of this amazing landmark? In 1898, Jim White, a teenager from the area, made a wire ladder to explore the caverns.
As he traversed the cave regions, he named many of the rooms to include Green Lake Room, Queens Ladder, Kings Palace, Papoose Room, New Mexico Room, and Big Room. Many of the cavern formations were discovered to include Witch’s Finger, Totem Pole, Iceberg Rock, Fairyland, Rock of Ages, and Temple of the Sun.
Carlsbad is the national park’s namesake and was named after Karlsbad (Carlsbad in English), a German native.
The journey through the cavern was rather rough and challenging especially when one has to walk the 750-feet journey back up to the entrance. However, in 1932, the park made clear ways for people to get to the bottom of the cavern via elevators which were designed in a newly built visitor center building.
People also have the privilege of benefitting from other amenities such as a waiting room, first aid area, a cafeteria, and a museum. Intriguingly, Carlsbad Caverns is seated on a former part of an underwater reef known as Captain Reef. The rocks comprise a lot of marine fossils.
Download our FREE Carlsbad Caverns Guide (Unofficial)
Carlsbad Caverns Fun Facts
- Formed by Acid – Unlike many other caverns that had their formations derived from water erosion, the Carlsbad Caverns had their own formation from sulfuric acid.
- It is waterless – Carlsbad Caverns does not have any water bodies or streams flowing through neither on the floors nor walls of the cavern.
- Over 100 caves – There is an estimated 119 caves in the cavern that are all formed from dissolved sulphuric acid. They do vary in size and shape.
- Bat Poop Hunters! – Back in the 18th century, people didn’t visit Carlsbad Caverns as a means of touring but more so to hunt for guano. It is said the bat poop is a very effective fertilizer.
- Always 56 degrees plus – The caverns never experience temperatures too far above or below 56 degrees Fahrenheit.
- It has elevators – Before elevators were designed to take people down to the bottom of the cavern, they were lowered in a huge bucket. That sure sounds like one hell of an experience if you ask us!
- Lots of Bats – Each night, an estimated 300,000 Mexican free-tail bats fly out from the caverns as they are in huge numbers in this region.
- Famous visitors – Amelia Earhart, an American aviation pioneer and the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean solo, visited the caverns back in 1928.
- A Movie Location – Carlsbad Caverns have seen many interesting activities take place here and this includes being a location for “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” a famous film from the day. It was shot in King’s Palace and the Boneyard.
- Play post office – There is a way for you to mail a postcard from the bottom of the cavern – sounds like an interesting feature, right!?
- DIne in – There is an underground lunchroom in the cavern where you can get refreshments to keep you going on your tour. Even though you can only get sandwiches served to you these days, history has that more nutritious meals were once served back in the days.
Carlsbad Caverns Wildlife
Carlsbad Cavern is one of the most interesting caverns globally and sure has a lot of wildlife living within its rocks. Reports indicate more than 17 species of bats living in the entire park, with many of them being the Mexican Free-tailed Bats. In years past, there was a record of millions of these bats living in the cavern, but as the years passed, the numbers reduced.
Interestingly, there have been many methods to test the true number of bats existing in the caverns. With an installed thermal imaging camera set up, there were an estimated 793,000 bats captured in 2005. The bats usually appear around April to May and go extinct about October into November until they start their fresh season again. The bats usually come around and cause an amazing stir in visitors who come around to watch them.
The extended park features other animals – about 67 different mammal species that are not commonly spotted, such as the skunk and the black bear. There are other non-native animals, including barbary sheep and eastern fox squirrel. Some of the other animals living in the region include Rocky Mountain Elk (which replaced the Merriam’s Elk that went extinct) and the javelina DNA pronghorn.
Carlsbad Caverns Geological Formations
Carlsbad Caverns’ entrance was first formed millions of years ago after a collapse, and select surface erosion started to happen. The breakaway led to the discovery of many other cave openings that were hidden beneath the surface. As air started to flow through the passageway, other geologic cave formations started to grow and develop.
The speleothems found in Carlsbad Caverns are formed as a result of rain and melted snow which soaks through the limestone rocks and initially start to drip on the floors and walls of the caves. The water droplets have a mixture of absorbed gasses and dissolved minerals from the soil and limestone combination.
As soon as the water drops, it is evaporated, and the carbon dioxide is released into the air. Before it vanishes, a small portion of calcite is left behind. The stalactites and stalagmites, and other formations in the caves form over time with the continued dripping of the mineral-infused water.
The water droplets that take longer to fall generally leave their minerals stuck to the roof of the cavern. Some of the most common stalactites you may encounter on your tours include soda straws, curtains or ribbons, and draperies.
As for the stalagmites, some of the unique formations include flowstone, lily pads, totem poles, rimstone dams, cave pools, and shelves.
Carlsbad Caverns Tours
There are multiple tour options visitors can choose from to include. These tours are amazing and suited for just about every enthusiastic adult who wishes to explore a taste of nature’s best.
When going on these tours, bear in mind must focus on dressing for the occasion. Ensure you have the right boots, headgear, and proper clothing. No flip-flops or sandals are allowed on these tours. You will get a chance to explore the interior of the caves and learn not only the history but also a different setting where caves are concerned.
ALL tours have visitors walking on bio-cleaning mats after exiting. This extraordinary measure is due to the potential presence of the fungus which causes White-Nose Syndrome in New Mexico.
Lower Cave Tours
This is a challenging one and is about 3 hours long. Highlights of this tour include “The Rookery,” with countless nests of cave pearls, the “Colonel Boles Formation,” and an incredible diversity of cave formations that compete for your attention everywhere you look. Included in the tour is a descent of sixty feet of ladders and a knotted rope to hang onto as you slowly walk backward down a slope at the tour entrance.
They are strict on safety, and have mandatory safety drills before the tour – and no large bags are allowed.
While anyone under 16 has to be accompanied by an adult, you have to be at least 12 to go on this tour. You also NEED hiking boots with ankle support. If you don’t have the right shoes, you can’t go on the tour.
You HAVE to use their caving equipment, it is mandatory. It is how they are combating the transmission of the lethal fungus that causes White-Nose Syndrome in bats.
Hall of the White Giant Tours
The rules on age, boots, and gear are the same for this tour – and if you have ANY kind of claustrophobia? This isn’t your top pick of the tours. You are looking at FOUR hours of a lot of time in narrow cave passages, and you will find yourself getting dirty, crawling through tight passageways, and climbing slippery flowstone.
You will be in tight, narrow passages like Matlock’s Pinch, and see amazing formations like the White Giant. This is a smaller group as the narrow cave passages require special attention to group communication and safety.
Left-Hand Tunnel Tours
This is the family tour – kids 6 and up can join you. It is only about two hours long and only moderately difficult. You still need good footwear, but the price is significantly less.
This is the historic candle-lit lantern tour through an undeveloped section of the cave on unpaved trails. If you are visually challenged, you need to know it might be too dim for you – but hand-held lanterns are provided.
Slaughter Canyon Tours
Kids 8 and up can join you on this 5-6 hour-long tour. This one is tough, dark, and long – they suggest packing snacks and your water bottle, along with a hat and sunscreen as part of the hike is outside. They make it clear that this tour has a “strenuous half-mile hike up to the cave entrance takes 30-45 minutes.”
Highlights of the tour may include the 89-foot high Monarch, one of the world’s tallest columns; the Christmas Tree, a sparkling, crystal-decorated column; and the Chinese Wall, a delicate, ankle-high rimstone dam. Old bat guano mining excavations attest to the human history and impact in the cave.
Same rules for good shoes and you need to have FRESHLY washed clothes on to protect the bats.
Carlsbad Caverns Prices and Discounts
For all those who desire to enter Carlsbad Cavern, you need to get an entrance ticket which can last for up to three days after purchase. This is to enter the area – not the caves. If you happen to own a pass, you may need to visit the ticket counter to access a free admission ticket.
Interestingly, children 15 years and under can enter for free while adults 16 years and older pay $15 per ticket per person.
A senior pass is available to United States Citizens with proof of age 62 or older for $80 (lifetime) and $20 (annual). Get more information on that here.
Military Discounts are Carlsbad Caverns
There are also FREE entrance benefits for both military veterans and gold star families with vouchers. Veterans need ID and the Gold Star vouchers need to be filled out in advance of your visit.
Intriguingly, there some free days cave enthusiasts can benefit from to include…
- January 18: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
- April 17: First Day of National Park Week
- August 4: First Anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act
- August 25: National Park Service Birthday
- September 25: National Public Lands Day
- November 11: Veterans Day
Tour prices are additional and as follows:
- Lower Cave – $20 adults, $10 kids, and seniors
- White Giant – $20 adults, $10 kids, and seniors
- Left-Hand Tunnel – $7 adults, $3.50 kids, and seniors
- Slaughter Canyon – $15 adults, $7.50 kids, and seniors
Where to Stay Near Carlsbad Caverns
When planning to visit Carlsbad Caverns, you might need a place to stick around when you get tired and need to spend some time with your family. There are multiple places one can chill out to include…
White’s City Cavern Inn
These rooms are designed to be family-friendly, with free wifi, recreational spots, and services that will definitely compliment your stay. It is one of the closest places to stay near Carlsbad Cavern, and you can enjoy other specially designed features. It is located at 6 Carlsbad Hwy, Whites City, NM 88268, United States, and can be reached at 575-361-2687.
Sleep Inn and Suites
Located at 3825 National Park Hwy, this lodging area sits about 18 miles away from Carlsbad Cavern and is perfect to complete your stay. Great food, amazing environment, and lovely staff help make your stay just memorable.
Places To Stay Nearby
Download our FREE Carlsbad Caverns Cave Guide (Unofficial)
Carlsbad Caverns Details
- Length: The explorable regions of the cavern is an average of 30 miles down
- Time recommended: Depends on which tour you take
- Trail Type: Occasionally dirt, often slippery
- Difficulty: Moderate to challenging
- Kid-Friendly: Depending on the tour you are going on, different age groups are allowed for each. The Left-Hand Tunnel tours are your best bet with kids as young as 6.
- Dog-Friendly: Pets are not allowed in the cavern, but you can have your dogs on a leash no longer than six feet when outside in the parking area. Service animals are also allowed inside the cave on the King’s Palace Trail, Big Room, Natural Entrance Trail, and Bat Flight Amphitheater. Service animals are not allowed on off-trail cave tours due to the close proximity of safety caution tape on trails that mark deep drop-offs and protect park resources.
- Accessibility: Via an elevator to enter to lower regions of the cavern
- Fee/Permit: The general entrance ticket costs an average of $15, and depending on if you want tours or not, you will be required to pay more.
How to Get to Carlsbad Caverns
Getting to Carlsbad Caverns is relatively easy, no matter the location you are coming from. You may opt for traveling in your own vehicle or take desire rentals to the location. On the Carlsbad Cavern Highway, take a north turn from US Hwy 62/180, roughly 20 miles Southwest of Carlsbad. This is the national park’s main entry point.
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