Carlsbad Caverns National Park
One of the largest cave chambers in the United States.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park protects more than 100 caves in the Guadalupe Mountains of southwest New Mexico, including the show cave, Carlsbad Cavern. The Big Room in Carlsbad Cavern is the fifth largest cave chamber in the United States and the twenty-eigth largest known to the world.
Carlsbad Caverns is one of more than 300 limestone caves created in a fossil reef which was in an inland sea over 250 million years ago. Human history in the area can be traced back about 12,000 years ago, when natives lived in the Guadalupe Mountains, leaving behind cooking sites and pictographs. In the 1500s, Spanish expeditions from Texas found their way to the area, and it was part of the area Spain claimed until Mexico claimed their independence in 1821. In 1850, the area became part of the United States and was known as the New Mexico Territory, and as New Mexico when it was established as a state in 1912.
The first recorded entry of the caverns as 1898, by 16 year old James White, a Texas-born explorer. Between 1915 and 1918, photographer Ray V Davis took phootos of the Scenic Room and Big Room, which appeared in the New York Times in 1923, stimulating interest in the cavern. The area was surveyed in April 1923 by the General Land Office, guided by Jim White and photographed again by Ray V Davis. It was recommended that a national monument be established, and in October 1923, it was official. Carlsbad Caverns were redesignated as a National Park in 1930. The park was declared a World Heritage Site in 1995.
Entrance passes are $10 per person, and are valid for three days. Children 15 and under are free. The park accepts all America the Beautiful passes. Some tours are an additional fee.
- Percent of annual visits
- Percent of annual visits
There are both self-guided and ranger-led tours of Carlsbad Cavern. The self-guided tours are 1.25 mile walks via the Natural Entrance Trail or the Big Room Trail. The Big Room tour accesses the cave by elevator.
The King’s Palace is the most frequently led tour. It is a 1.5 hour ranger-guided tour through the deepest portion of the cavern open to the public. The Left Hand Tunnel is a 2 hour, moderate difficulty candle lit lantern tour in an undeveloped section over uneven surfaces and slippery slopes. The Hall of the White Giant tour is a more advanced, four hour with some narrow passages, ladder climbing and free climbing required.
Reservations are recommended for all cave tours and need to be made 48 hours in advance. The caves are cool and have an average temperature of about 56 degrees Farenheit year round. Flashlights are permitted. Gloves, knee and elbow pads are provided on tours requiring crawling.
Photography, and flash photography, is permitted in the cavern. Tripods are permitted on self-guided tours but not ranger-led tours. No electronic equipment is permitted during the bat exit flight.
There are 17 species of bats living in the park. The cave is home to half a million or more Brazilian Freetail bats from early spring to late October or early November. They have not yet been infected with White Nose Syndrome, a disease inflicting bats on the East Coast. During the day, they hang on the ceiling of Bat Cave near the natural entrance and emerge in gigantic swarms at nightfall to prey on moths and night-flying insects. The Bat Flight Program, where a ranger talks about the bats prior to their flight from the cave, is one of the most popular in the park. To photograph the bats, a special use permit obtained at least two weeks in advance is required.
There are at least 100 caves on/below the national park property. Park Rangers also lead tours of Spider Cave, Lower Cave and Slaughter Canyon Cave. Individuals and groups with suitable experience and equipment can apply at least one month in advance for a cave permit as part of the wild caving program.
Lechuguilla Cave is also in Carlsbad Caverns National Park. It is the deepest cave in the Continental United States and the seventh longest explored cave in the world (as of 2013). It has a number of rare speleothems (secondary mineral deposits formed in certain caves). Access to the cave is currently limited to scientific researchers, survey/exploration teams and National Park Service management.
Birders will enjoy the Rattlesnake Springs (separate section from the main park), which has been designated an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society. It is a wooded riparian area in the desert where more than 300 species of birds have been recorded. The natural entrance to the Carlsbad Cavern is also an Important Bird Area because of its colony of cave swallows.
Recent Bird Sightings
There are a number of trails through the desert on the national park property. Don’t forget to take a good map and plenty of water.
Camping inside the national park is permitted only in the backcountry with a free permit obtained at the visitor center. There are a number of restrictions on the locations of backcountry camping. Outside the park, there is an RV park in Whites City. Carlsbad also has a KOA and another RV park. In West Texas, there is camping in Guadalupe Mountains National Park.