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The Complete Guide To Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Carlsbad Caverns completely blew Jake and I away. This massive network of underground caves is truly an enchanting experience. The mystical formations formed over millions of years is truly a sight to see. You can choose your own adventure or book a tour with a ranger to get a more in-depth feel for the park. But you will want to learn the rich history of how these caverns were created nonetheless. In this Complete Guide To Carlsbad Caverns National Park we will go over the history, safety, different cave tours, hikes and more. 

History of the Carlsbad Caverns Over Time:

The Carlsbad Caverns began 265 million years ago when an ocean reef covered the lands of Western Texas and Southeastern New Mexico. The reef consisted of sponges and algae, therefore as time passed and new formations of land formed the reef compressed into limestone. Several millions of years later, when the land shifted and rose above sea level, rainwater seeped into the cracks creating swiss-cheese-like interconnected voids (spongework).

As the land continued to shift, creating mountains such as the Guadalupe Mountains, air and hydrogen sulfide entered into the caverns. The oxidized gas mixture created sulfur that crystalized on the cavern walls which created sulfuric acid. As the process of the oxidized gas took place, the bacteria that grew on the walls turned limestone that was part of the reef into gypsum. 

Circling back to the spongework, as the oxidized gas dissolved the gypsum, the process continued over 2 million years creating the huge chambers we get to explore today. 

Human Discovery Of The Carlsbad Caverns: 

1898: Now, you might be wondering how we (humans) came to discover this underground cavern. In 1898, Jim White saw a black “cloud-like” exhale from a cave. Which was coming from what is now called the Natural Entrance. He thought it might be a volcano or whirlwind, but it didn’t quite act the same. Therefore, Jim White made a ladder, and began descending into a dark cave to discover the Carlsbad Caverns. 

History Continued- After Human Discovery

1923:  After many years of exploration, in 1923 the US Government established the Carlsbad Caverns as a National Monument.

1925:  In 1925, the park created a 216 steep wooden staircase into the cave from the Natural Entrance.

1930:  The Carlsbad Caverns National Monument became the 26th National Park. 

1931:  An elevator was installed into the park.

1932-Present:  There have been upgrades to the lighting system and the paths we get to walk today. But much of the exploration is the same as to what was discovered by Jim White. 

Safety & General Tips: 

There are a few precautionary measures you should take when visiting the park. 

White Nose Syndrome:

There is a fungal disease that is spreading between the bat populations. Bats get this disease through parts of their body that aren’t covered in fur. This disease has killed over a million bats. Scientists are continuously doing research on this disease. As far as they know, this disease isn’t harmful to humans.

You are required to walk over bio-cleaning mats on your way out of the park in case your footwear was to collect any spores of this fungal disease. If you choose to go on more than 1 tour on your visit, the National Park Service might ask you to change clothing between tours. 

For more information about White Nose Syndrome, visit the National Park Service Website


Choose your footwear wisely when going on the tours. Although many paths are paved, the caverns are humid and can be slick in sections. So choose a pair of shoes that have good traction. 


The cavern stays around 56 degrees year round and doesn’t see much sunlight, so bring layers for when exploring inside the cave. 

Best Time To Visit On The Complete Guide To Carlsbad Caverns National Park:

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is busiest from Memorial day to Labor Day. If you want to avoid the crowds, winter is a great time to visit. But you won’t be able to experience the bat flights since the bats migrate toward Mexico for the winters. But like mentioned above, the caves stay a consistent 56 degrees year-round, so it can be a great way to escape the hot summer temperatures. 

The Bat Flight:

Photo by Clément Falize on Unsplash

The bat flight is an interesting sight to see as the bats come soaring out of the cave for their nightly hunt for insects. You can experience a bat flight usually between Early Spring (Memorial Day) through October. The Bat Flight takes off from the amphitheater right outside the Natural Cave. 

A Park Ranger will give you a brief talk about bats at the amphitheater until the bats exit the natural entrance to feast for the evening. The cave is home to anywhere from 200,000 to 500,000 bats. But the bats winter in Mexico, so if you visit during winter, you won’t be able to experience this flight. 

The Bat flights are free (besides the park entry fee) and first-come first-serve for the seating in the amphitheater. The time for the flight will change throughout the season, so check within the visitor center to find out when you should arrive to witness this unique experience. 

How To Get Tickets For Carlsbad Caverns National Park:

One important thing to note in this complete guide to Carlsbad Caverns, is that you will need a ticket to get into any of these tours listed below. And tours end mid-afternoon, so be sure to plan accordingly.

Two are self-guided, and the others are a ranger-guided tour. The tickets do not cover the price of the National Park entrance fee. You can get one of these tickets either from the visitor center or some are available to pre-purchase online. 

Labor Day to Memorial Day: Tickets Sold from 8:30am to 2:15pm

Memorial Day to Labor Day: Tickets Sold from 8am to 3:30pm

Cave Tours On The Complete Guide To Carlsbad Caverns:

Natural Entrance:

On this Complete Guide To Carlsbad Caverns National Park, we recommend all new visitors start with Natural Entrance. Natural Entrance is a self-guided tour. It is 1.2 miles and 750 feet elevation. You will be walking down 75 stories, so it does require to be in decent physical shape. (But you only have to descend because an elevator takes you back into the visitor center.)

This is the first hike Jake and I started with, and to say our minds were blown, is an understatement. Entering into a dark underground cave is a bit eerie, but it was one of the coolest sights. It might take a bit for your eyes to adjust to the darkness, but there are various lights that will help you find your way. There are also guard rails to assist you if needed.

But be prepared to see some of the most interesting formations. 

Big Room:

You can enter the big room via the Natural Entrance Hike or via the elevator at the visitor center. The hike is 1.25 miles. It takes you along some of the most unique formations that I’ve ever seen. 

Some popular viewpoints are The Cavemen, Chinese Theater, Crystal Spring Dome, Temple of the sun and more. For individual pictures of each, visit the National Park Service Photo Gallery. Big room was our favorite part of the self-guided tour on this complete guide to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. 

Lower Cave:

Lower Cave is a ranger-guided tour. The price is $20 for adults and $10 for children (this is not including the National Park Entrance Fee). The tour typically takes about 3 hours. You will be required to wear a helmet, headlamp, and gloves which are provided with the tour. 

Part of the tour descents down a 60-foot long ladder and requires you to hold onto a knotted rope as you walk backward down a steep section. Along this tour, you will come across some cave formations that are truly mind-blowing. 

You can purchase your reservation online at

Left-Hand Tunnel:

This is a ranger-guided tour that lasts about 2 hours. This tour will give you the feel of what it was like for Jim White to explore the caverns with just a lantern. You will be provided with a lantern to carry through undeveloped sections of the cave. The cost is $7 for adults and $3.50 for children for this tour. 

You can purchase your reservation online at

King’s Palace:

If you want to explore into the deepest section of this cave open to the public, then the King’s Palace tour is for you. It is a ranger-guided tour that lasts about 1 ½ hours. The cost is $8 for adults and $4 for children. The tour descents 850 feet into the caverns exploring 4 different highly decorated chambers. Along this tour, the ranger will also have you turn off any light source to show you how truly dark the cave is. 

You can purchase your reservations online at

Slaughter Canyon Cave:

This ranger-guided tour is a bit off the beaten path. It isn’t located under the visitor center like the other tours mentioned above. Although you still meet at the visitor center and then caravan down to the trailhead. It is home to one of the world’s tallest columns, stretching as tall as 89 feet. The duration of this tour is about 5 ½ hours and costs $15.00 for adults and $7.50 for children. There is no light system in this cave, so a flashlight and/or headlamp will be provided to be able to see your way. 

You can purchase your reservation online at

Hall Of The White Giant:

If you want to get the true feel of being in a cave, then this ranger-guided tour of Hall Of The White Giant might be for you. You have to get down and dirty by climbing through tight spaces to explore this cave. Also, along this tour, you are required to climb ladders, free climb, and climb through narrow passages in a couple of sections. The tour lasts around 4 hours and costs $20 for adults and $10 for children.

You can purchase your reservation online at

Best Hikes in Carlsbad Caverns National Park:

If you are in the park for a few days, consider taking a hike amongst the desert scenery. You might be able to find some solitude on the complete guide to Carlsbad Caverns National Park, as the hikes in the park are less traveled. 

Yucca Canyon Trail:

Yucca Canyon Trail is 7.7 miles with 1,520 ft elevation change. It is a beautiful hike up to the ridge with a view over the basin. Near the top you will encounter ponderosa Pine Trees to get a little bit of shade. But most of the hike offers little to no shade, so be sure to pack plenty of water and layers to shield yourself from the sun. 

Slaughter Canyon Trail:

North Slaughter Canyon Trail is 11.1 miles with 1541 ft elevation change. The first 2 miles are hiking along a drive river bed, which can be rocky. Therefore, people suggest hiking poles to help you keep your balance along this section. After the river bed you climb up in elevation to get a gorgeous view up on the Guadalupe Ridge. 

Rattlesnake Canyon Trail:

Rattlesnake Canyon Trail is 5.4 miles with 682 ft election change. You begin along the beautiful desert shrubs and shortly descend into the canyon. Follow the cairns to stay on the trail down in the canyon. The hike offers stunning views exploring the canyon and beautiful desert scenery. 

Scenic Drive in Carlsbad Caverns National Park | Walnut Canyon Desert Drive:

If you are just looking to sit back and relax on your complete guide to Carlsbad Caverns National Park, you can take a one-way 9 ½ mile scenic loop that takes you through dramatic desert mountain scenery. High clearance is advised as the road is not well-maintained and can be rocky in sections. The scenic loop takes you along beautiful desert scenery with viewpoints to stop at and learn along the way. You can also spot some wildlife along this drive. 

Accommodation Near Carlsbad Caverns: 


There are no designated campgrounds within the park. 

But if you are looking for a campground near the area, check into Whites City RV Campground or Carlsbad RV Park

You can also find a few FREE primitive campsites near the area. Sunset Reef Campground has 11 campsites that are first-come, first-serve. Jake and I stayed on Dillahunty Road which is a free primitive spot we found using the app iOverlander. 

Check out our post: 3 Great Websites For Finding Free Camping for other great spots to camp in the area. 

Backcountry Camping:

Backcountry camping is allowed along the hiking trails in Carlsbad Caverns National Park. You must obtain a permit in the visitor center. The permit is free. Visit the National Park Service Website for the full details about Backcountry Camping within Carlsbad Cavern National Park. 

Hotels & Vacation Rentals:

There is no lodging within the park, but there are hotels and vacation rentals in the cities nearby. Use VRBO or Kayak to find the best deals. 

Take A Virtual Tour With Us Through The Park:

Screenshot of Two Roaming Souls youtube video called Back on the road: Vanlife Adentures in White Sands, Carlsbad Caver, and guadalupe mountains

Takeaway | The Complete Guide To Carlsbad Caverns National Park:

The Carlsbad Caverns are completely mind-blowing. Exploring the caves is an experience unlike any other. It’s truly crazy how something so majestic was formed underground to be explored. Jake’s and my favorite tours were the Natural Entrance and Big room because they were self-guided and we got to go at our own pace. But if you have extra time, you should definitely consider going on a ranger-guided tour to get a more in-depth feel for the park. We hope you enjoy The Complete Guide To Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

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