Do you like caves and caverns? Do you enjoy exploring the underground? I do and Carlsbad Caverns National Park is definitely a must-see stop for outstanding trails and anyone who loves caves.
Located in and below the Chihuahuan Desert of southeastern New Mexico is Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Carlsbad Caverns began in a fossil reef leftover by the sea about 265 million years ago. As the sea receded, sulfuric acid dissolved the limestone and more than 119 caverns were created. Not just caverns, but amazing structures that you can only see deep underground. Stalactites, stalagmites, and so many other cool, natural formations.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park was established in 1930 and is open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's days. There are many different things to do in and around Carlsbad Caverns National Park; ranger-guided tours (not currently happening due to COVID), Bat Programs, Night Sky Programs (also not happening due to COVID), and you can explore the outstanding trails at Carlsbad Caverns on your own.
Self-guided tours are still happening during COVID, although tickets are limited to 1,000 daily and the last tickets are sold at 2:15 pm. Tickets to enter the cave are $15 per person over 16 and under 16 are free. If you have a National Park pass, it is also free. At this time, you must also make a reservation in advance for every member of your party in order to enter the cave. The cost is $1.00 per person (not included in the admission fee). Tickets are NOT sold at the park. You can make your reservation by calling 1-877-444-6777 or you can go online to recreation. gov here. Make sure you either print or take a picture of your reservation as cell service is unreliable at Carlsbad Caverns.
Closed-toe shoes with good traction are recommended to reduce slipping. The park suggests hiking boots but sandals or flip flops are not recommended. You also may want to bring a sweatshirt or jacket as the temperatures in the caverns are 56 degrees year-round. Don't forget your camera or cell phone because you will see some completely amazing formations!
The Natural Entrance Trail is a very steep trail covering 750 feet in 1.25-miles. You can go down or up this trail… or both if you're really motivated! Regardless of the direction, the views seen from this trail are exquisite. The entrance to the trail is actually the entrance to the caverns and it's huge. You know you're there when you can smell the bat guano! It's quite potent but after you get through the entrance the smell dissipates a bit and you hardly notice it. You'll forget about the smell once you start seeing formations such as Devil's Spring and the Witch's Fingers. If you aren't able to take the Natural Entrance Trail, don't worry because there is an elevator that will bring you down to the bottom where you can still experience the Big Room Trail.
The Big Room Trail is a flat 1.25-mile trail and many parts of it are wheelchair accessible. The trail has many different types and sizes of cave formations and amazing views. Here you can look down into the Bottomless Pit, view the Hall of Giants, or go to the Chinese Theater. Specially placed lights illuminate the caverns so you can truly see the beauty of the formations and a few of the caverns have multi-colored lights which add to the glory! Words can't describe the awesomeness of the Big Room so experience it for yourself!
There are actually over 3 miles of trails if you take all the paths during the self-guided tour. You could spend hours walking around reading the signs and looking at all the beautiful formations. If you get hungry during your tour, there is also a small café with sandwiches, drinks, and snacks. And what national park wouldn't be complete without a gift shop. Yes, there's a gift shop at the bottom where you can purchase your miner's helmet or Carlsbad souvenirs.
The Bat Flight Program at Carlsbad Caverns is a seasonal event taking place in the evenings from Memorial Day through the end of October. You do not need to make reservations for this event and there is plenty of seating in the Bat Flight Amphitheater. The ranger-led program talks about the Brazilian Free-tailed bats, who live in Carlsbad Caverns, and how they all leave at dusk in search of food. It's a very cool experience as you sit and sometimes watch for 45 minutes or longer as the bats emerge from the caves almost all at once!
The bats return as a group early in the morning, I'm talking between 4-6 am, if you want to experience this. It's said to be quite impressive with the bats doing acrobatics into the darkness of the caverns. As with the Night Flight, you do not need to make reservations ahead of time for this event. This event occurs on the 3rd Saturday of July and is ranger-led.
NOTE: Be aware that no electronic devices are allowed to be powered on during these events as it can affect the bats' behavior. No pictures can be taken unless you acquire a special permit 2 weeks prior to the programs.
Make sure you add this national park to your list of places to go. Don't miss out on the outstanding trails of Carlsbad Caverns and the beautiful and awe-inspiring formations. You won't regret it!
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