Entrance Sign to Carlsbad Caverns National Park New Mexico

Where is Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Located amongst the Guadalupe Mountains, Carlsbad Caverns National Park resides in the southernmost region of New Mexico. The national park’s premier attraction is the Carlsbad Cavern; a cavern which visitors can enter on their own through the natural entrance or explore via a ranger led cavern tour. The national park visitor center is also equipped with an elevator that can take visitors into the cavern. Aside from the cavern with its many rooms, Carlsbad Caverns US National Park also contains acres of desert backcountry. These acres of desert can be explored by visitors via several hiking trails that meander throughout the backcountry. The national park contains no overnight lodging or campgrounds. However, visitors may set up for primitive camping in the park’s backcountry. Guadalupe Mountains National Park, which contains numerous additional hiking trails, and a small campground is located about 35 minutes south of Carlsbad Caverns National Park in the state of Texas. 

How Large is Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Carlsbad Caverns National Park manages and protects about 46,766 acres. Above ground, the terrain of Carlsbad Caverns National Park consists of desert shrub and oasis of desert woodlands. These woodlands, which are rare in the desert environment, contain a large diversity of flora and fauna. Below ground the national park contains one of the most extensive cavern systems in the United States. In total, Carlsbad Caverns National Park contains 119 recorded and documented caves. In the main cavern system, there are a number of larger subterranean rooms. The largest of these rooms is The Big Room, which is the largest cave room in the United States and the thirty fifth largest room in the world. The Big Room is about 4,000 feet long, 625 feet wide, and 222 feet high at some points. 

View of The Big Room at Carlsbad Caverns National Park New Mexico

Carlsbad Caverns National Park Weather

The climate of Carlsbad Caverns National Park is classified as a hot semi-arid climate. In the summer, temperatures in the national park consistently approach 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The hottest temperatures ever recorded in the park reached 111 degrees Fahrenheit. In the winter, Carlsbad Caverns National Park experiences cooler temperatures that occasionally drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The hottest months of the year in the national park are June, July, and August, whereas the coldest temperatures of the year fall upon Carlsbad Caverns National Park in December, January, and February. Precipitation is normally held to a minimum throughout the year in the park. However, during the summer the park can experience up to 3 inches of rain per month. Annual precipitation totals for Carlsbad Caverns National Park consistently total around 14-15 inches.

When did Carlsbad Caverns Become a National Park

Carlsbad Caverns National Park first received its designation as a national park in 1930. The park, which was originally protected as a national monument back in 1923 under the presidency of Calvin Coolidge, drew support for continued protection because of the unique qualities of its subterranean and service level environments. All though, much of the early protection of the park was centered around the actually caverns. In 1978, almost fifty years after the park’s original designation and protection, President Jimmy Carter signed the National Parks and Recreation Act. This act help establish the Carlsbad Caverns Wilderness area, which vows to continue to manage and protect the acres surrounding the caverns as naturally as possible. Human involvement and influence in the backcountry of Carlsbad Caverns National Park has been kept to a minimum since this protection.

Things to do in Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Carlsbad Caverns National Park offers visitors the ability to see two wonders above and below the earth’s surface. Visitors planning a trip to the park will find a variety of adventures to embark on. Our National Park Visitors Guide outlines some of these adventures which are discussed and explored in more detail below. 

Start at the Visitor Center

On every national park trip it is a good idea to start at the visitor center. However, on a trip to Carlsbad Caverns National Park it is almost necessary. The only way visitors are able to gain entrance into the park’s protected caverns or establish a primitive campsite in the wilderness area is through a visit to the visitor center. Here visitors can purchase cavern passes and obtain wilderness permits. The visitor center also contains an extensive array of educational displays and exhibits that discuss the park’s history, ecology, cultural influence, and future. The visitor center also is commonly the starting place for cave tours and other interpretive programs offered by Carlsbad Caverns National Park. 

Join an Interpretive Program

The most popular interpretive program offered at Carlsbad Caverns National Park is the variety of cavern tours visitors can purchase tickets to. However, the park also consistently offers additional programs that do not require a ticket or additional fee to participate in. These programs normally include range guided hikes, flora exploration, or evening bat watches. Visitors interested in learning more about a specific topic can inquire about the various programs being offered during their stay. The schedule of interpretive offered throughout the week is normally displayed throughout the park’s visitor center. However, if you cannot locate the schedule, your best bet is to ask park ranges working in the visitor center. 

Explore the Carlsbad Caverns

When exploring the park’s caverns, you will be able to decide between joining a guided ranger led tour or hiking into the caverns by yourself. Either way, your trip into the cavern will most likely begin with a walk through the natural entrance of the cavern. The natural entrance is a large oval opening which several staircases descend into. From here, visitors will observe cave swallows diving in and out of the entrance feeding on small flying insects and other prey. Once in the cavern, the true wonders of Carlsbad Caverns National Park begin to reveal themselves. The total hike into the cavern is about 1.5 miles each way. Visitors unable to hike 1.5 miles out of the cavern will be able to take an elevator back to the visitor center. 

Inside View of Cavern at Carlsbad Caverns National Park New Mexico

Take a Hike in the Desert

In addition to the wonders below ground, Carlsbad Caverns also contains a number of desert hiking trails that are sure to amaze visitors. One particular area in the park, the Rattlesnake Springs Picnic Area, is revered for its oasis-like qualities. In total, the park contains ten designated hiking trails that meander throughout the park’s wilderness and desert environment. The most popular hiking trails contained in the park are the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail, Walnut Canyon Overlook, and the Slaughter Canyon Cave Trail. Visitors planning to hike into the desert should make sure they are equipped with proper footwear, adequate supplies of water, and protection from the sun. 

Backcountry Camping in Carlsbad Caverns National Park

As previously mentioned, Carlsbad Caverns National Park does not contain any established campgrounds or lodging. Visitors may, however, camp in the park’s backcountry. Primitive campsites in the park can only be established with a proper backcountry permit. These free permits can be obtained from the park’s visitor center. Visitors venturing and staying overnight in the park’s wilderness area should be equipped with a navigation device (compass and topographic map) additional supplies of water and sustenance, and proper clothing and footwear. The desert ecosystem around Carlsbad Caverns National Park is full of wonders, but it also can be brutally devastating to the unprepared. 

Wildlife Viewing in Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Carlsbad Caverns National Park provides a home to a variety of desert species. These species include a variety of songbirds, coyotes, roadrunners, and other desert specialists. The caverns of the park also provide a home to cliff swallows and Brazilian free-tailed bats. Visitors may view these bats leaving the caverns via one of the park’s Bat Flight programs. These programs are offered from late May to October when the bats are present in the park.

When to Visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is open throughout the entire year. However, the park is best visited during the summer months. During the summer, visitors of the park can not only explore the caverns and hike throughout the park, they will also be able to join in on one of the park’s Bat Flight programs. Visitors uninterested in the Bat Flight programs can plan their visit to the park in early spring to avoid the crowds that appear at the park in the summer. 

Underground Pool at Carlsbad Caverns National Park New Mexico

Must Have Items To Bring to Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Every trip to a national park requires some packing and planning. A complete trip to Carlsbad Caverns National Park is somewhat different, for it may require visitors to plan for the cavern and for a backpacking trip into the wilderness area of the park. Listed below are a few items every visitor should bring with them to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. 


Every year visitors hiking in Carlsbad Caverns National Park underestimate the severity of the desert sun. List of Parks advises all visitors recreating in the park, whether it is in the cavern or in the backcountry, should be equipped with water and some form of energy providing sustenance. However, if you are planning an extended or overnight trip into the park’s wilderness area you will need to bring additional quantities of water and high-energy snacks. 

Sturdy Footwear

Visitors planning to walk throughout the caverns may be better suited wearing an athletic or walking shoe instead of hiking boots. Ultimately, this decision comes down to personal comfort, but the walkway into the cavern is paved entirely. On the other hand, visitors venturing into the backcountry will need to be equipped with a study and protective pair of hiking boots. 

Camping Equipment

Camping in Carlsbad Caverns National Park will require visitors to take a trip into the backcountry. Therefore, visitors will need to be selective about what camping equipment they decide to bring with them. A great way to keep all of this equipment organized is through the use of a camping checklist. This checklist can be utilized once during initial packing and then once again before visitors leave for the park. 

Field Guides & Park Maps

Wildlife enthusiasts visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park will want to purchase and pack a wildlife field guide. These field guides will assist visitors with identifying and studying various desert species. Bringing park maps along on your trip will also be helpful if you plan to navigate throughout the park’s wilderness. 

The Natural Entrance Switchbacks of the Carlsbad Caverns National Park New Mexico

Where to Stay in Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Carlsbad Caverns National Park contains no overnight lodging or developed campgrounds. Visitors may establish primitive campsites in the park’s backcountry. These visitors will need to first obtain a free backcountry permit from the visitor center. Visitors interested in staying overnight in the surrounding area will find various hotels and lodges spread out around the national park. Carlsbad, New Mexico is located about 20 miles away from the park.

Food Near Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Carlsbad Caverns National Park does contain a small restaurant that offers limited food and drink options. Visitors will find the Carlsbad Caverns Trading Company restaurant in the park’s visitor center. Additional dining options can be found in Whites City or Carlsbad, New Mexico.

Airports Near Carlsbad National Park

The closest international airport to Carlsbad National Park is located in El Paso, Texas. The El Paso International Airport is located about 139 miles and a two hour drive west of the park. Another international airport is located in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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