Brent and I grew up in southeastern New Mexico not far from Carlsbad Caverns National Park. I guess you could say we took the caverns for granted since we lived so close. Before this trip, our kids had never been to Carlsbad Caverns and they’re almost all in double digits. Since we were coming through the area on the way to visit family, we thought it would be a good place to stop for a day trip.
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We visited Carlsbad Caverns in March and did everything we wanted to do in just under 5 hours. If you have littles, you may want to do less than this or break it up into two days. If you’re visiting during bat flight season, you could easily spend the entire day there. Have a look at how we spent our day and then modify it accordingly for your family and for the time of year you are visiting.
We started our day with breakfast at our camper at Chosa Campground outside the entrance to Carlsbad Caverns. We stayed overnight in our RV so that we could get an early start at the caverns the next day. It was a nice, free place to stay with plenty of room for large RVs. We were easily hooked up and ready to head towards the national park by 9 AM.
As we do at almost every national park, we stopped on the way in to get a picture at the Carlsbad Caverns National Park sign. Then we continued along on the winding road up the canyon in a beautiful section of the Chihuahuan Desert.
Carlsbad Caverns Visitor Center
After about a 30 minute drive from the campground, we reached the visitor center to park. If you’re towing an RV, you’ll have no problem driving in or parking. Though if you go during the busy season, parking could be tough, so consider leaving the RV at the campground.
Once inside the visitor center, we went to the ticket booth to get our tickets for our self-guided tour. We have an America the Beautiful pass so our tickets for the tour were free. Tickets are typically $15 for ages 16 and up and free for anyone 15 and under. They also have ranger-guided tours that we chose not to do this time that vary in price. It’s on our list to do when the kids get a bit older.
Next, we walked to the cave entrance. There we had to wait for the park ranger to gather a small group of people and give us a safety talk before heading into the cave. This is where they also recommend that you take a last-minute bathroom break before going inside.
Natural Entrance Trail
By 10 AM, we were making our way down the Natural Entrance Trail. Along the way, we saw the Bat Flight Amphitheater where you can watch bats exit the cavern nightly during the summer months. Then we stopped for a picture at the huge opening into the cavern before taking the 1.25-mile hike that winds down into the cavern 750 feet.
This trail took us about an hour to complete. There are benches along the way so that you can sit and rest should you need to. No strollers or wheelchairs are permitted on this trail.
Big Room Trail
Once we made it down the Natural Entrance Trail, we decided to go ahead and hike the Big Room Trail. This trail is also 1.25 miles, but unlike the Natural Entrance Trail, it is relatively flat along the entire hike. Wheelchairs are permitted on certain sections of this trail.
If you don’t have water bottles with you (we didn’t), I’d actually recommend you take this opportunity to head over to the rest area and water fountains for a break. They also have snacks and merchandise in this area.
Caves can cause anxiety for those that feel claustrophobic, and though the Natural Entrance Trail is fairly wide open, getting to the Big Room made one of our kids feel much better. It really is one huge open room with humongous cave formations.
Our kids really loved the Big Room! This hike also took us about an hour to complete.
Carlsbad Caverns Visitor Center (Second Time)
After finishing up our tour, we hit the elevators for our ride back up to the surface. Once to the top, we stopped by the Park Ranger’s desk to grab Junior Ranger Books.
We looked around the exhibits and then found a bench in the area where the kids could sit to work on their books. Meanwhile, Brent went out to the truck to grab our National Parks Passports.
After completing the Junior Ranger books, we stopped at the Park Ranger’s desk so the kids could be sworn in as Junior Park Rangers. Then we went into the bookstore to grab a sticker and stamp our passports to end our day.
We didn’t end up watching the film this time around because it was after 1 PM and everyone was hungry. We almost always watch the film at any national park that we go to. But since we have family that lives so close to the area, we knew that we’d be back. We’ll definitely catch it next time.
Additional Tips for Visiting Carlsbad Caverns
- Visit early in the day
- Take your own water bottles
- Wear good walking/hiking shoes
- Wear a light jacket (you’ll start off cold, but you’ll warm up as you hike)
- Eat a good breakfast
- Take lots of pictures
- The walkways and signs are lighted in the caves
- Be prepared for what we like to call “butt-lock” the next day (sore butt and thighs) if you hike the Natural Entrance Trail
The kids really enjoyed walking these two trails and seeing all the different cave formations along the way. We’ve also been to Wind Cave in South Dakota and we much prefer Carlsbad Caverns. Check out this video filled with pictures from our trip!