Carlsbad Caverns National Park – Cave Tours, Tips & Photos

Petr Novák

Carlsbad Caverns is situated near the city of Carlsbad in the Guadalupe Mountains in southern New Mexico. The stunning limestone caves, hundreds of millions of years old, are rightfully recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Along with Wind Cave National Park and Mammoth Cave National Park, they are the only national parks in the USA whose main attraction is caves.

NP Carlsbad Caverns | © Pixabay

Table of Contents
  1. Information About Carlsbad Caverns National Park
  2. What to See and Do in Carlsbad Caverns National Park
  3. When to Visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park
  4. Carlsbad Caverns National Park Entrance Fee
  5. How to Reach Carlsbad Caverns National Park
  6. Accommodations in Carlsbad Caverns National Park
  7. Guidance and Recommendations Before Visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park
  8. Photographs of Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Information About Carlsbad Caverns National Park

The national park, encompassing merely 73 mi2, was established on May 14, 1930. The caves themselves were known long before that, with the first exploration recorded in 1898 by the then 16-year-old James “Jim” Larkin White. A cowboy, caver, and later a national park ranger, he explored the caves using a homemade wire ladder. In 2021, 349,244 people visited the park.

The origins of the caves’ name are interesting. Up until 1899, the entire spa area was known as Eddy before being renamed Carlsbad. This name is the German term for Carlsbad, inspired by the many mineral springs in the vicinity of the caves. Adjacent to the park is another national park – Guadalupe Mountains.

Bats are typical inhabitants of the caves, with 17 different species living in Carlsbad Caverns. The most numerous species, with hundreds of thousands of individuals, is the guano tadarida; you can spot this bat with a wingspan of about 28 cm, especially between late April and late October. The other 67 mammal species include pumas, mules, squirrels, and wild pigs, 357 bird species, 55 different reptiles and amphibians, and 5 fish species.

What to See and Do in Carlsbad Caverns National Park

The entire Carlsbad Caverns NP contains over 119 caves, a smaller number of which are named:

Bat Cave

The most populous group of bats lives in this large hall not far from the entrance hall.

Bell Cord Room

The room at the far end of the left tunnel is named after the long, straight stalactite that runs through a hole in the ceiling.

Bifrost Room

One of the youngest chambers, it was only opened in 1982 and is located directly above the Lake of the Clouds room.

The Hall of the Giants

The largest room in the complex is 33,210 square meters.

Guadalupe Room

The second-largest room in the park was discovered in 1966. It is known for its many formations that resemble straws.

King’s Palace

The hall is famous for the formation in the central part that resembles a fairytale castle.

Lake of the Clouds

The lowest point of the caves is named after the lake, which is filled with formations resembling large boulders. These were formed when the lake level was much higher.

Mystery Room

The Great Chamber near the Queen’s Chamber is famous for a mysterious sound that is only heard here.

Queen’s Chamber

This is probably the most visible part of the complex.

The most famous formations include the largest stalagmite ever discovered, the Giant Dome, as well as the Witch’s Finger, Totem Pole, Temple of Sun, Iceberg Rock, and Rock of Ages.

You can explore the caves either for free on your own without guided tours, or for a fee with a ranger talk. You can choose from six different tours, and tour start times vary depending on the time of year:

King’s Palace Tour

Duration: 1.5 hours, price: $8.00 adults, children $4.00

The program includes a tour of the entire spectrum of formations; those interested will see the King’s Palace and the deepest section of the caves.

Left Hand Tunnel

Duration: 2 hours, price: $7.00 adult, $3.50 child

This moderately challenging circuit follows the unpaved paths of the less developed left side of the caves. During the tour, you will feel like in the old days as kerosene lamps are used for lighting.

Lower Cave Tour

Duration: 3 hours, price: $20.00 adult, $10.00 child

A more challenging tour of the lower parts of the caves, which was already explored in 1924 by an expedition organized by National Geographic.

Hall of the White Giant Tour

Duration: 4 hours, price: $20.00 adult, $10.00 child

The tour, which is dominated by a visit to the giant white formation, includes climbing on ladders and on slippery walls.

Spider Cave Tour

Duration: 4 hours, price: $20.00 adult, $10.00 child

Spider Cave is a 3D maze, a treat for speleologists. The tour includes a visit to the Mace Room, Medusa Room, and Cactus Spring.

Slaughter Canyon Cave Tour

Duration: 5.5 hours, price: $15.00 adult, $7.50 child

The most challenging tour takes you into the bowels of the caves, where there are no paved roads or electricity. Headlamps are used and one of the highlights of the tour is the 89 ft high Monarch formation.

Carlsbad Caverns is home to hundreds of bats, with their nightly flight becoming a regular attraction. The best months for viewing are July and August when young bats born in early summer first venture further north with their parents. The bats emerge from the caves after dark, an event usually preceded by a chat with the rangers. Early risers can witness the bats’ return to the caves between 4 and 6 a.m. Please note, the use of all electronic devices is prohibited during the program.

Enthusiasts of night sky watching will also enjoy several dates throughout the summer. Due to the low light pollution, conditions are excellent in these locations, and rangers will loan telescopes free of charge. For more information, please follow the park’s website.

When to Visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is open year-round except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Thus, you can visit almost anytime, with most people traditionally visiting on the weekends after Memorial Day in May and after the Fourth of July.
The park’s climate is influenced by its location in the Chihuahuan Desert in southern New Mexico. Typically, this means it gets incredibly hot in the summer, usually between 95°F and 104°F. The temperature inside the caves remains around 55°F.

Temperatures tend to be more pleasant in spring and autumn — from March to May, the weather is affected by strong winds, and from August to September by rain. Winters can surprise with frost and snow, yet the park boasts 278 days of sunshine a year.

Average Temperatures and Visitor Numbers at Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Average temperatures in Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Visitor counts are based on a 2017-2021 average, and the data source is the National Park Service.

Max Temp Min Temp Precipitation Days Visitors Popularity
January 59°F 32°F 1.5 13 953 🟩
February 64°F 36°F 1.4 17 436 🟩
March 73°F 43°F 1.6 54 117 🟧🟧🟧
April 81°F 50°F 1.8 33 910 🟨🟨
May 90°F 59°F 3.8 41 050 🟨🟨
June 95°F 66°F 5.4 55 250 🟧🟧🟧
July 95°F 70°F 7.5 74 161 🟥🟥🟥🟥
August 93°F 68°F 7.9 37 886 🟨🟨
September 88°F 61°F 6.7 29 164 🟨🟨
October 79°F 50°F 3.8 35 309 🟨🟨
November 66°F 39°F 1.8 29 842 🟨🟨
December 59°F 32°F 1.8 26 452 🟨🟨

Carlsbad Caverns National Park Entrance Fee

Individuals 16 years of age and older are required to pay a fee $15.00 to enter Carlsbad Caverns National Park, and may stay in the park for three days. Admission for children 15 and under is free. This admission fee includes a self-guided tour of the caves, for which there is an additional fee for interpretation.

The America the Beautiful pass can also be used as a ticket, which allows for free admission to all U.S. national parks. This pass costs $80.

How to Reach Carlsbad Caverns National Park

The most convenient way to reach Carlsbad Caverns National Park is by your own car. New Mexico Highway 7 takes you to the visitor center, and the driving times and routes are as follows:

From / To Distance Driving Time Route
Albuquerque 300 mi 4 hours 50 minutes View Route
Carlsbad 27 mi 38 minutes View Route
Dallas 484 mi 7 hours 30 minutes View Route
Las Vegas 872 mi 13 hours View Route

Complimentary parking is available right at the visitor center, with a brief walk from the visitor center to the entrance of the caves.

Greyhound buses operate to Carlsbad, so alternatively, you can rent a car there. There is no regular bus service to the caves.

Accommodations in Carlsbad Caverns National Park

🏨 Hotels

Numerous hotels and motels operate in the city of Carlsbad and along the National Parks Highway (marked as 62 or 180 on maps). Offerings include chains such as Holiday Inn, Super 8, and Motel 6, with room rates starting at around $65 per night.

⛺ Campsites

While there are no campgrounds directly within the park, adventurers can camp in the wilderness, maintaining a minimum distance of 2,625 ft from roads and parking lots. However, they must obtain a permit from the visitor center.

Guidance and Recommendations Before Visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park

ℹ️ Visitor Center

I suggest starting your park tour with a visit to the visitor center. It’s located on Carlsbad Cavern Highway, with opening hours varying depending on the season. Nonetheless, it is always open daily from 8:00 am to at least 5:00 pm.

👍 Good to Know

The entrance to the caves opens at 8:30 am, with the last entry through the natural entrance at 2:30 pm (3:30 pm in summer). The last elevator downward runs at 3:30 pm (5 pm in summer), and upward at 4:30 pm (6:30 pm in summer).

I recommend arriving at the caves early in the morning and booking tickets for the tours at least a week in advance. Remember to wear sturdy shoes, carry a headlamp (or use the flashlight in your cell phone) and wear multiple layers of clothing. It can get chilly inside the caves.

When planning your trip to American Carlsbad, consider downloading free brochures with information about the caves to your phone. They can be handy to read during long car journeys.

Photographs of Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Carlsbad Caverns National Park | © Ken Lund
National Park Carlsbad Caverns | © Ken Lund
National Park Carlsbad Caverns | © NPS Photo by Peter Jones
Carlsbad Caverns National Park | © Ken Lund
Carlsbad Caverns National Park | © NPS Photo by Peter Jones
Carlsbad Caverns National Park | © Jason Eppink
Carlsbad Caverns National Park | © NPS Photo by Peter Jones

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