Simply Gorgeous: Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Stef Zisovska
Carlsbad Interior Formations - Author: Eric Guinther - CC BY-SA 3.0
Carlsbad Interior Formations - Author: Eric Guinther - CC BY-SA 3.0

The Guadalupe Mountains of New Mexico are home to the spectacular Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Carlsbad Cave is the primary attraction of the park and the one that receives the biggest number of visitors. It’s open every day of the year, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day when the park is closed.

The park’s entrance is about 18 miles southwest of Carlsbad, New Mexico. Carlsbad Cavern includes a large cave chamber (The Big Room), a natural limestone chamber 4,000 feet long, 625 feet wide, and 255 feet high at the highest point. The Big Room is the fifth largest cave chamber in North America.

People who visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park can do a self-guided tour starting from the Natural Entrance or take an elevator from the visitors center. The Guadalupe Mountains were once part of an ancient reef that was on the edge of an inland sea. 250 million years ago sulfuric acid dissolved the fossil reef and created the spectacular rock formations beneath the surface. In the rocks, there are ancient remains of sponges, algae, and snails.

Carlsbad Caverns – Author: Coveredinsevindust – CC BY-SA 3.0
Carlsbad Caverns – Author: Coveredinsevindust – CC BY-SA 3.0

Visitors can walk the quarter mile paved path from the Natural Entrance to get to the Big Cave Trail or do the same thing in an elevator. There are also ranger-guided tours for an extra fee. The Big Room ‘self-guided’ Trail is 1.25 miles long, and it will take you about 1.5 hours to explore. It’s a relatively flat walk and one that will reward you with amazing sights of rock formations of all shapes and sizes, and a rope ladder used by explorers in 1924. Parts of the Big Room Trail are wheelchair accessible.

Natural Entrance ‘self-guided’ trail is a different experience that requires you to be in good physical condition to enjoy it. The hike down the Natural Entrance Trail is steep and descends for about 750 feet. On the way down you can enjoy formations such as the Devil’s Spring, the Whale’s Mouth, and Iceberg Rock. The steep and narrow trails are recommended for experienced hikers only. All visitors who enter Carlsbad Cavern for any tour are required to purchase an entrance ticket – it’s good for three days.

Outside the entrance to the caverns – Author: Jadecolour – CC BY-SA 3.0
Outside the entrance to the caverns – Author: Jadecolour – CC BY-SA 3.0

There are many different rooms in the Carlsbad Caverns, and all of them have names. Balloon Ballroom is a small room above the entrance that was accessed by ropes tied up to balloons. The Bat Cave is a rocky passage connected to the main corridor, and it’s home to a large population of bats. As mentioned above, the Big Room, or the Hole of the Giants, is the largest chamber in Carlsbad Caverns, with a floor space of 357,469 square feet.

The Green Lake Room is also an interesting place to visit. Halloween Hall got its name because it was discovered on October 31, 2013. Lake of the clouds is the lowest part in the Carlsbad Caverns, and its name comes from the cloud-like rock formation that was actually formed underwater when the lake level was higher. The passage that goes to the Lake of the clouds is called Left Hand Tunnel.

Map of park grounds
Map of park grounds

Carlsbad Caverns National Park receives around 500,000 visitors per year. From September 5, 2017, through Memorial Day weekend 2018 the Visitors Center will be open from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Working hours of the caverns are:

  • Hiking in the Natural Entrance opens at 8:30 a.m.
  • Elevator service into the cave begins at 8:30 a.m.
  • Last time to hike in the Natural Entrance is 4 p.m.
  • Last time to hike out of the Natural Entrance is 4 p.m.
  • The last elevator into the cave is at 5 p.m.

Enjoy your visit to the best national park in New Mexico and stay safe. Good luck!

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stef-zisovska is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival