The Carlsbad Caverns national park of New Mexico is legendary. The massive underground areas are composed of several rooms and walkways filled with different colors and formations that are some of the oldest ever discovered. Guided and self-guided tours are available to see the majestic creations constructed by acidic underground water. The water eventually receded leaving amazing stalactites growing from the roof as well as stalagmites that rise upwards from the floor and many other cave formations you have to see to believe. Watch bats fly out of the caves they call home from mid-April through late-October around evening time when they leave the caves to eat the meal of insects. Explore the caverns and its inhabitants and see the fantastic creations that have formed underground at the Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
Self-Guided Cave Tours
Explore these massive caves at your own pace! There are two underground routes to take for your very personal self-guided tour. The Big Room and the Natural Entrance trails are both about 1.25 miles long and all underground. The Big Room takes about 2 hours to complete, and the Big Room for which it is named for is the largest single cave chamber in North America. See the rope ladder used by cave explorers in the early 1920s and view all the different shapes, formations and the “chandelier” formation hanging from the roof. The Big Room self-tour also has a shortcut if you are limited on time and it is about half a mile long. This is one of the most popular tours of one of the most popular rooms in the caves, so don’t miss it! The Natural Entrance self-guided trail walks through the entrance of the cave at ground level and then zig-zags down into the cave. It is very steep as you climb down about 750 feet into the caverns. See the formations known as the Whale’s Mouth, Devil’s Spring and Iceberg Rock. This trail is strenuous, so please use caution. These two options are fantastic ways to the major points of the caves on your own!
There are several guided tours to choose from depending on how difficult or leisurely you would like to be during your exploration. Some tours have you crawling through tight spaces or comfortably walking along viewing the impressive formations. Either way, a ranger will be there to lead you and give you great information along the way. Try one of these guided tours for unbelievable views of the caves!
Kings Palace Tour
This 1.5-hour tour takes you to the deepest part of the cave, over 800 feet below the surface. A ranger will lead you through 4 different chambers as you descend. Experience a true “black-out” during this tour where rangers have everyone turn off the lights to experience true darkness in an underground cave. The climb back up is a steep hill, so be prepared.
Be prepared to navigate undeveloped sections of the caves on this moderately difficult trail. A ranger will lead you through unpaved terrain, and you will be able to explore with the candle-lit lanterns on the tour. The trail is rough, mostly dirt and there are slippery rocks, and unsteady terrain visitors will cover. Watch for cavern pools and some fantastic formations along the way and wear good hiking boots.
Slaughter Canyon Cave
This trail is also moderate in difficulty. A ranger will lead you underground to see some of the most massive formations in the caves. The fantastic 89-foot tall Monarch formation can be observed as well as Christmas tree which sparkles due to the crystals that decorate it, the Mushroom and the Chinese Wall formation. The Monarch is one of the world’s tallest cave columns and is an impressive sight. It takes over 5 hours for this tour, but some fantastic views can be seen. Headlamps and flashlights are available, or you can bring your own too.
This three hour, ranger lead tour will let visitors see the wonders of the Lower Cave area. Visitors will see “The Rookery,” which has many nests of cave pearls and the “Colonel Boles Formation” as well as a huge variety of other formations in every direction. Sixty feet of ladders, as well as knotted rope, will help visitors descend into the caves at the entrance. Due to the ropes and ladders, there is an age limit on this tour, and you must be twelve years or older to participate.
Hall of the White Giant
This tour is the most difficult of the guided tours. Prepare to get dirty climbing through tight spaces, narrow passages, slippery surfaces and free climbing. The “White Giant” formation is a towering rock in a large room that is entirely white. It is a fantastic cave formation, and visitors can see the White Giant as well as other magnificent formations. This tour is not recommended for people who are afraid of tight spaces or heights.
Try this four-hour tour if you like to crawl or climb! Visitors of all ages have enjoyed the trek down into the Garden Grove Canyon underground, where the fun begins. There is a cave crawl so expect to get dirty. Participants can see some more fantastic cave areas and rooms like the Medusa Room, Cactus Spring, and Mace Room. The park will provide helmets with lamps, kneepads, and gloves. Explore some of the massive caverns by crawling and climbing through some fantastic places.
Tour Times and Openings
The tours of the caves are offered at specific times and sometimes during different seasons. Make sure to check the schedule to see what is available for your visit. Visitors are required to bring 3-AA batteries on their guided tour for flashlights. The cave’s temperature is on average in the 50s underground, so a light jacket or something similar might be needed. The cave can be slippery, since it is usually moist and damp below ground, so wear appropriate shoes and watch your step.
Above Ground Fun
The Visitor Center at the Carlsbad Caverns is located above ground and has some fantastic exhibits to see. Rangers hold talks here and can answer any questions or concerns you may have about going underground or the caverns or bats. Take time to do a self-guided or ranger-led tour to see some of the most amazing caves you will ever witness. Some of the rooms are huge, and the formations are stunning. Explore a new world underground and learn about the creation and existence of some of the most impressive cave systems in the U.S.