Truthfully, Carlsbad Caverns National Park should be on any good traveler’s or road tripper’s “must see” list. A massive and epic dark hole in the ground, it’s ranked as the 15th-largest cave system within the United States, and is home to the largest chamber in North America, known as the Big Room. An incredibly vast cave system, it extends for almost 40 miles, with 23 explored and named “rooms”, although some are closed off for accessibility and/or public safety reasons. Every type of speleothem can be found within, including massive stalactites and columns, unique straws, beautiful yet eerie drapery, bubbly flowstone, and stalagmites of differing sizes rising from the ground everywhere. It’s a beautiful and surreal different world down inside Carlsbad Caverns.
Located a stone’s throw over the Texas border, and about 25 minutes south of Carlsbad, New Mexico, it’s strategically located near numerous other “must see” places like White Sands National Park (3 hours), Guadalupe Mountains National Park (25 minutes), and Roswell, New Mexico (1 hour, 45 minutes – Roswell, New Mexico: Greetings, Earthlings.✌🏼👽). Open daily, the Visitor’s Center is open from 8am to 5pm, however – last entrance to the actual cave is at 2:30pm. The last elevator out is at 4:45pm, so if you miss it, you’ll be hiking back up and per the NPS website, one must complete the hike back out by 3:30pm. 😬
Very important: ‼️Buy your tickets in advance‼️. It costs $15 per adult, and you can purchase tickets on the NPS website at – https://www.nps.gov/cave/planyourvisit/fees.htm. Those younger than 15 enter for free. They also offer discounts for military (active and veterans) and seniors. According to the National Park employee we spoke to, due to federal regulations, only 2,300 people are allowed into the cave per day. Therefore, if they sell 2,000 reservations, they will only sell 300 “walk up” tickets, regardless of whether all 2,000 reservation-holders show up. According to the employee, they sold out of walk-up tickets before 11am the last 3 days, including the day we came. My brother and I got extremely lucky, as we weren’t aware of this, arriving around 9:50am and snagging one of the few walk-up tickets that day. We later heard him explaining to a couple that they couldn’t purchase tickets for that day and to try again in the morning. So… I strongly recommend purchasing tickets beforehand.
Carlsbad Cavern goes down 750 feet (228 m), and while it’s a gradual descent along a paved path with guardrails, it will still give your legs a major workout. While some parts are more horizontal than others, allowing for a small reprieve on the legs, many parts of the path are quite steep, requiring some effort into not starting a run down the dark, bumpy pathway. I highly suggest wearing sturdy and comfortable shoes and bringing a walking cane and flashlight if needed. While the walk through can technically be done in approximately 45 minutes, I suggest planning for 1-2 hours, allowing time to stop, take photos, and gaze at the amazing formations that surround you from every direction.
As mentioned, there are 23 named rooms or chambers inside the cave, along with numerous named formations and points of interest. Some can be seen via the main, public path, while others are only accessible via the ranger-guided tour. Some of the ones accessible via the main path include Whales Mouth, Green Lake, Queen’s Chamber, Giant Dome, Fairyland, Totem Pole, the Lions Tail, Silent Bell, and Rock of Ages. The NPS offers a paper map of all the formations and points of interest, along with having a helpful 4-D display of the entire Carlsbad Cavern set up at the Visitor’s Center.
Overall, if you ever get the opportunity to visit the amazing, beautiful, and epic Carlsbad Caverns National Park, take it! While all the National Parks are amazing in their own ways, Carlsbad Caverns really is a unique, uncommon, and otherworldly experience. The closest comparison is like being on a dark, humid, incredibly mesmerizing other planet!