Carlsbad Caverns National Park
727 Carlsbad Caverns Highway Carlsbad, New Mexico 88220
outdoor-adventures, parks, road-trip, local-highlights, hike
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Carlsbad Caverns National Park is Unlike Any Other.
Wow. This National Park is pretty unbelievable; you’ll experience things at Carlsbad Caverns that you can’t experience anywhere else. From crawling around in underground tunnels to watching hundreds of bats take flight, this is a National Park that you don’t want to miss! We want to emphasize that we recommend going to Carlsbad Caverns with your older, more adventurous kiddos as many of the most exciting things at the park can feel a little scary to little ones and most of the hiking can be steep and difficult. We suggest that if your child is younger than seven you may want to wait to visit that park so that you can visit it in its entirety.
While at the park you have to visit the caverns. If you’re nervous about being in an underground cave, start with the Big Room Trail. It’s the largest and most popular of the caves and you can descend into it without a ranger, at your own pace. It’s a little more than a mile walk, with a potential short cut that brings it down to about half a mile, and you’re sure to be in awe the entire time. This is also the best option if you or your child tend to get claustrophobic. The ceilings are high the whole time. There is also a special area with a snack bar and restrooms in the middle, which is helpful for kiddos who get tired and need a break from walking.
If you love your experience in the Big Room, we suggest that you either try out the Natural Entrance Trail, or you go on a guided tour with a ranger. The Natural Entrance Trail is very steep, so expect to carry your little ones, but it’s slightly less crowded than the Big Room and the rock formations are indescribably beautiful and shocking. You could also go on a guided tour with a ranger. We love this option because guided tours have limited capacity and are less crowded than the busy, easily accessible trails. You can sign up with a ranger over the phone or in the visitor center. These tours are best with older kids, children under 4 aren’t allowed on these tours, and the ranger signing you up will help you decide which caves are good for your kids based on their age and comfort levels. There are age restrictions on many of the tours.
Above Ground Hiking
Once you’re done exploring the caverns, there plenty to see on the surface of the park as well. Our favorite trail, despite its frightening name, is the Slaughter Canyon Cave Trail. This is another one that is best with slightly older kids as it is steep, and there are sharp drops at some points. However, if you are confident in your kids' abilities, we still recommend this hike because the views of the mountains and the desert are fantastic. The hike ends at the entrance to a cave that is only accessible through a guided ranger tour.
The Juniper Ridge Trail is probably the gentlest hike in the park. It is about two miles with desert views the whole way and very little elevation. There are beautiful cacti to observe along the way, but make sure you keep an eye out for cairns as it’s easy to wander off the trail.
We also love the Old Guano Road Trail, which is relatively flat, although it is three and a half miles each way. You can turn around at any point, making this hike any distance you like. The trail is the old road that guano miners used to use to transport guano from the caverns to the nearest town, White’s City in the twentieth century. This trail passes by old mines, with decades-old trash and fences left behind by miners, and beautiful canyons that you can’t see from the developed part of the park. This hike especially nice if you are able to leave a car in White’s City or can have someone pick you up at the other side, so you don’t have to hike the three and a half miles back. This trail is also difficult to follow, so it’s important that you pay close attention to tracks and cairns the entire time.
Other Things to Do
One of our favorite activities at Carlsbad Caverns National Park is the Bat Flight Program. If you’re visiting the park, it is definitely a must-see. From late May to October, you can see hundreds of bats take flight from the Natural Entrance Cavern at dusk. Visitors gather at the Bat Flight Amphitheater and a ranger gives a short lecture on the bats and their ecosystem. While your kids might not be fascinated by the rangers’ speech, the flood of bats from the cave is sure to capture their attention and be something that they never forget. Check with rangers at the visitor center for the exact timing of the bats' flight, as it changes as the season goes on.
The park also offers many night sky programs, including meteor viewings and star walks. These events are supposed to be fantastic and good for kids who can stay up a little late. Check the website for more information on dates and times.
Where to Stay
Unfortunately, there are no campgrounds in the park. There is a very limited amount of backcountry camping permits available, but they are difficult to get and often involve hiking that is too difficult for your average kid. Luckily the park is surrounded by BLM land, which is undeveloped but free to camp at.
Mile 10 Rd (to access turn off the main road at mile marker 10) offers some great camping pull-offs, many of which have make-shift fire rings. You’re likely not to have anyone next to you which is a plus but the road can be difficult to traverse in bad weather. Chosa Campground is also BLM land that you can camp on, but it essentially amounts to a parking lot, okay in an RV but not great in a tent. Parks Ranch Dispersed Camping is better if you’re in a tent, but RVs are not allowed. These locations don’t have addresses, but if you talk to a ranger at the park, or call ahead, they are usually able to give you simple directions.
If camping isn’t your style, White’s City is the nearest town and has RV parks and a few older motels. If you’re willing to drive a little further, Carlsbad has lots of mid to high range hotel options as well as plenty of dining and grocery choices and is worth the extra twenty minutes in the car after a long day at the park.
The memories you and your kids make at Carlsbad Cavern National Park will be unforgettable and are sure to something you cherish for years to come.