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NATIONAL PARKS GUIDES: CARLSBAD CAVERNS

Carlsbad Caverns; NPS Photo by Peter Jones
Carlsbad Caverns; NPS Photo by Peter Jones

History and Stats

While there is ample archeological evidence that natives in the region were aware of the caves, they would not be explored in earnest until hundreds of years later, as ranchers began to settle the area in the last half of the 19th century.

Many of the names of the rooms within the system of caves were the creation of Jim White, who explored the caverns as a child near the turn of the century. White would be a leading proponent of preservation and conservation of the area. Two decades later, the area would be protected as a National Monument by order of President Coolidge.

After a series of legislative efforts, the area would be redesignated as a National Park. President Carter would later protect portions of the park by designating them as Wilderness.

Date Founded: May 14, 1930

Size: 46,766 acres, 339 private

Elevation: 3,599ft

Rainfall: 15in, 5in of snow

Visitors: 520,000 a year

Open: Year-round; closed on January 1, November 24, and December 25. The Visitor Center is open at 8, though hours change seasonally. Additionally, the hours of the caverns are also subject to change. More information can be found here.

Fees: Tickets are $12 a person for adults ages 16 and up. *We will note that these fees are covered completely by the America The Beautiful Pass, which applies to over 2,000 different sites. Additionally, there is a variety of Ranger-guided tours available, and prices will vary, but an ATB pass allows for discounted admission.

Mission

“To preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.”

The focus of the park is the geologic history of the region and the preservation of the delicate ecosystem within the caves. Both self-guided and guided tours serve to educate and inspire. The native bat colony is also a star attraction, second only to the stargazing to be had.

Facilities

The Visitor Center sells tickets to the Caverns but also features exhibits on how caves are formed and the delicate ecosystem they create. There is also a short film documenting the secret world of caves. There is also a bookstore, gift shop, and cafeteria. Access to the elevator for those who opt not to hike into the caves is also located within the Center.

Closest Civilization

Carlsbad is less than a half hour away and known as the “Pearl on the Pecos”. Restaurants, gift shops, lodging, and supplies can all be found here.

NPS Carlsbad

Lodging

Backcountry camping is permitted within the park, and permits may be obtained for free at the Visitor’s Center. More information can be found here. Additionally, the area surrounding the park is operated by the Bureau of Land Management, and available for both tent camping and RVs. More information can be found here.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park is the sister park to Carlsbad and only a short drive away. The park has primitive sites as well as backcountry camping available. More information can be found on our Guadalupe Mountains guide.

Finally, the city of Carlsbad offers a variety of lodging options, as well as further campground selections in the immediate area.

Camping Level

Intermediate to Expert. Backcountry camping should only be undertaken by those with solid outdoor skills and with thorough preparation. More forgiving campsites for the Newbie or Novice are in the area and may be more comfortable for those not willing to hike into bare-bones sites. Our Newbie Camping Gear Guide can be found here, and our Novice Camping Gear Guide can be found here.

Seasonal Programs

The cave tours are center stage, and a number of them are offered, similar to Mammoth Cave. Reservations are recommended by the NPS. More information on the cave tours can be found here.

Every evening Rangers deliver a talk on the resident Free-tail Mexican Bat colony that resides in the cavern at the park’s auditorium at sundown. There are also astronomy-focused programs, and more information on those can be found here.

Our experience

We arrived too late to take even a short walk into the cave but were just in time for the emergence of the bat colony. It was a beautiful counterpoint to the urban bat colony of Austin. Our only regret is that we ran out of time to fully enjoy the park.

Things we’d like to try next time

Walking in the caves would be on the top of our list, especially when guided by a Ranger, as would camping in the backcountry.

Special Note

  • Jim White, who is credited with the first in-depth exploration of the caves is honored with a bronze statue in nearby Carlsbad.
  • Two-thirds of the park has been set aside as Wilderness, helping to preserve the majesty of the area.
  • There is an active fire ban, and those camping in the backcountry will have to cook with camp stoves.
  • The remote location of the park allows for some excellent views of the night sky.
  • Carlsbad Caverns are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and made up of over 119 caves.
  • The Big Room in the Caverns is the 5th largest in North America, and 28th largest in the world. It is 625 feet wide, 4,000 feet long and 255 feet tall at its height.
Entrance to the Carlsbad Caverns; NPS Photo, Peter Jones
Entrance to the Carlsbad Caverns; NPS Photo, Peter Jones

What was your favorite room in the Caverns? Did you learn any crazy trivia? If you’ve been on more than one tour, what’s the best? If you’ve been camping in the backcountry, how was it? Did we leave anything out?

Official NPS Site

Check out more of our guides to the National Parks.

Read more about our experience at the Carlsbad Caverns National Park here.

4 thoughts on “NATIONAL PARKS GUIDES: CARLSBAD CAVERNS Leave a comment

  1. We loved Carlsbad Caverns. We visited the caverns during the afternoon and the morning on two separate days on two self-guided tours for visitors. They are the Big Room Route which is the one taken by most visitors and the Natural Entrance Route. The formations inside were incredible. We were there in March so missed the bat colony exit. You definitely need to return to see the caves more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We were lucky to see the bats, but next time we’ll definitely do the Big Room route, and potentially others (we really like caves!). Thanks for the recommendations!

      Like

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