It’s a lesser-known treasure of a national park, but a treasure nonetheless. While many people plan out their spring and summer vacations to places like Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountain National Park, and Yosemite, Carlsbad Caverns sits waiting for eager outdoor-enthusiasts to sift through its glories.
Some of which include gorgeous flowering cactus, deep canyons, sea ledges, and a lot of desert wildlife minding its business.
The national park is in Eddy County, New Mexico, and has over 100 caves in pristine form. While in the area, most people opt for a visit to the Natural Entrance, which will get you into the one-and-only Carlsbad Cavern. This is a massive underground chamber within the cavern. While there, it only makes sense to drive through Walnut Canyon Desert Loop to watch the desert surround you from the confines of your car. Meanwhile, Rattlesnake Springs (it, sadly, has that name for a reason) is a wetland full of reptiles and birds.
All in all, Carlsbad Caverns are the perfect embodiment of New Mexico. If you’re sold on taking a visit, here’s just about everything you need to know to book a trip. As Outsiders, we’re always trying to dirty up our old hiking boots somewhere new and to add a new notch to our national park list.
Outsider’s Top Five Things to Remember Before Your Trip
- Make your reservations beforehand
- Make sure to pay that entrance fee first thing
- Know the guidelines to backcountry hiking and camping
- Book a ranger-guided tour on one of the days of your visit
- Adults 16 years and older are $15, children 15 and younger enter for free
Carlsbad Caverns Reservations
Similar to many national parks across the nation, you’re going to need to make a reservation before visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Carlsbad Caverns reservations can be made online, here, or you can go ahead and call 877-444-6777 to sort that out. Make sure you do this, we’d hate to see you make the trek to New Mexico only to miss out on this experience because you’re reservation-less. There are no reservations available at the park.
Also, the reservations you do make are only available for certain entry times into the park. Once you arrive, head to the visitor center to buy entrance tickets.
The self-guided tour can be enjoyed by hiking or an elevator. That means you can hitch a ride to the Big Room Trail or hike through the Natural Entrance for 1.25 miles instead.
Camping Permits at the National Park
If you’re ready to head out with your camping tent, a sleeping bag, a little makeshift stove, and your favorite cooler, then make sure you have your camping permit sorted out. You’re actually only allowed to camp in the backcountry of the park (beware of some slithery friends, if you do). Just be sure to zip up that sleeping bag and you’ll be golden.
To do this you’ll need to get a (free!) backcountry use permit at the visitor center when you arrive for your trip. You won’t need to stress about making any reservations in advance for this. You’ll have to be 18 and up and you can only stay seven nights at a time.
Don’t start any open fires (take those s’mores elsewhere, please). Also, you’ll have to leave your dog at home for this trip since you can’t hike or camp with dogs in the backcountry. This is also not the time to pack up your RV or your truck because you can’t camp with those, either.
Here’s where to go:
- The Rattlesnake Canyon trailhead
- Located near Desert Scenic Loop Road, close to Guadalupe Ridge Trail
- You can camp both north and south of this trail
- Make sure that your campsite is 100 feet off an established trail and 300 feet from a water site
What’s Coming Out of Your Wallet?
When it comes to planning a trip, there are two most important factors to consider — where are you going and what are you spending? There’s a big difference between take, for example, a trip to Grand Canyon National Park and spending two weeks exploring London, England.
For starters, the entrance fees at Carlsbad Caverns are required and good for three days. For adults (ages 16 and older, in this case) it’s going to be $15 a person. Children (15 and under) get in for free.
There are some ways to get in free, such as holidays events like National Park Week or the anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act. Also, veterans get into national parks for free.
As for other expenses, that is going to vary on where you are coming from. Plane tickets will vary, especially considering everything is more expensive (including gas, if you’re driving).
As for sleeping arrangements outside of camping, the area offers plenty of hotels or even Airbnb experiences not far from the national park.
If you are planning a visit, there are certain things you should buy and pack first. For starters, you’ll want some solid hiking boots, layers, thick socks, a first aid kit, a water bottle, a good backpack, etc. That’ll all depend on whether you’re hiking, camping, or doing more of a sight-seeing-type trip.
What to do if You’re Wanting a Tour of Carlsbad Cavern
If you’re afraid you’ll miss the action and best spots to see, consider booking a tour guide to show you the ropes.
Reservations are recommended for tours guided by a ranger and you can call the same number used for park reservations. It is notable that children 4 and under can’t go on a ranger-guided tour with you.
Sometimes, tours can get a bad reputation for high prices. When it comes to Carlsbad, you’re not going to be breaking the bank. Here are a couple of good options to consider.
King’s Palace Tour
- $8 for adults, $4 for children
- It’s a 1.5-hour tour into the deepest part of the cavern that is open to the public
- It is about 830 feet underneath the desert surface
- Requires some steep hills, other difficult terrain
- Take a look at some cave formations with an expert. This also includes what are called “black-outs.” This is when the ranger will turn off artificial lights to give you a glimpse into the real pitch dark of the cave
Left Hand Tunnel
- Cost is $7 for adults and $3.50 for children. You have to be 6 or older and people under 16 need an adult with them
- This is a more difficult option
- It’s a candle-lit lantern tour on an unpaved path
- Make sure you bring good shoes, seeing as it requires some careful steps
Slaughter Canyon Cave
- Costs are higher at $15 for adults and $7.50 for children
- Minimum age is 8
- This tour is much longer at 5.5 hours
- Far more strenuous, a full-day event
- Takes you through winding underground trails with only flashlights and headlamps
- You’ll witness the gorgeous 89-foot Monarch, which is one of the tallest columns in the world, and the Christmas Tree, a crystal-decorated column
- $20 for adults, $10 for children 12 and over only
- Three-hour-long tour
- Highlights include “The Rookery,” nests of cave pearls, “Colonel Boles Formation,” amazing cave formations
- Perhaps the most exciting highlight so far is a 60-foot descent using ladders and rope
Hall of the White Giant
- $20 for adults, $10 for kids 12 and up
- Four-hour-long tour
- Time to crawl, kids! Don’t come along if heights and claustrophobia are a problem
- Trail includes climbing ladders, climbing up formations, crawling through passageways, and maneuvering through flowstone
- White Giant and Matlock’s Pinch are the sights to see