The world that exists deep below the surface in Carlsbad Caverns National Park is a subterranean marvel. Created slowly over the millennia, its beautiful formations awe visitors year-round. Considered by many as the Eighth Wonder of the World, it is one of twenty World Heritage Sites in the United States. Visitors walking through the cave […]
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
The world that exists deep below the surface in Carlsbad Caverns National Park is a subterranean marvel. Created slowly over the millennia, its beautiful formations awe visitors year-round. Considered by many as the Eighth Wonder of the World, it is one of twenty World Heritage Sites in the United States. Visitors walking through the cave today are seeing but a snapshot of the area’s geologic history. Cavern development began about 250 million years ago when a reef formed along the edge of an inland sea. The sea eventually evaporated and left the reef buried under deposits of gypsum and salts.
Then, 20 to 30 million years later, the Guadalupe Mountains were uplifted thousands of feet above sea level, fracturing the ancient reef. Rainwater percolated down from the surface and mixed with hydrogen sulfide-rich brine from local oil and gas deposits to form sulfuric acid. This very strong acid carved out the large rooms and passageways that exist today. Finally, about 500,000 years ago, after groundwater levels had dropped, the slow process of speleothem – stalactites, stalagmites, and flowstone – formation began with a single drop of water. Drop by drop…billions and billions of drops later, park visitors marvel at these monuments of time.
There are a variety of cave tours available at the park – and at a comfortable 56F year-round, Carlsbad Caverns is an exciting place to spend the day anytime of the year. Self-guided tours of the cave allow visitors to enjoy the cave at their own pace. Elevators are available for those who do not feel up to the 750-foot descent of the Natural Entrance that traces the steps of Carlsbad Caverns early explorers. Ranger-guided tours vary from walking on a paved trail through the highly decorated King’s Palace to crawling and squeezing through tight passages while getting dirty on the Hall of the White Giant and Spider Cave tours.
- Adult – $6
- Children 15 & Under – Free
- Audio Tour Rental – $3
- Entrance Fee is good for three days
The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass, the Senior Pass and the Access Pass all cover the basic entrance fee for the cardholder and three individuals. The Senior and Access Passes also provide at half-price guided tours for cardholder only.
Ranger-Guided Tour Fees
- King’s Palace – $8 for adults, $4 for children, under 4 not permitted. Must also purchase entrance ticket. $4 for Senior and Access Pass holders.
- Left Hand Tunnel – $7 for adults, $3.50 for children, under 6 not permitted. Must also purchase entrance ticket. $3.50 for Senior and Access Pass holders.
- Slaughter Canyon Cave – $15 for adults, $7.50 for children, under 8 not permitted. $7.50 for Senior and Access Pass holders.
- Lower Cave – $20 for adults, $10 for children, under 12 not permitted. Must also purchase entrance ticket. $10 for Senior and Access Pass holders.
- Hall of the White Giant – $20 for adults, $10 for children, under 12 not permitted. Must also purchase entrance ticket. $10 for Senior and Access Pass holders.
- Spider Cave – $20 for adults, $10 for children, under 12 not permitted. $10 for Senior and Access Pass holders.
- Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend Visitor Center hours – 8 a.m. – 7 p.m.
- Cave tours begin – 8:30 a.m.
- Last entry into cave via Natural Entrance – 3:30 p.m. Last elevator – 5 p.m.
- After Labor Day weekend until Memorial Day weekend Visitor Center hours – 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
- Cave tours begin – 8:30 a.m.
- Last entry into cave via Natural Entrance – 2 p.m. Last elevator – 3:30 p.m.
Natural Entrance Route: This one-mile tour follows the traditional explorer’s route. The 750-foot descent is a fantastic way to begin your visit, but visitors are encouraged to consider their time and physical ability before attempting the hike. The path is steep, with numerous switchbacks. Devils Spring, Witch’s Finger and Iceberg Rock are just a few of the highlights to be found on this tour.
The Big Room: A one-mile stroll around the perimeter of the largest room in Carlsbad Caverns takes approximately 1.5 hours. Access the cave by elevators located in the Visitor Center. This is a great tour for visitors limited by time or physical challenges. Paved and lighted trails make this a very popular option. Portions of the trail are wheelchair accessible with assistance.
Ranger Guided Tours
King’s Palace: A 1.5-hour guided tour that takes visitors to the deepest part of the Carlsbad Cavern open to the public. Highlights include four highly decorated chambers. Tour times: Winter: 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Summer: 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 12 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Adults $8 and children $4.
Left Hand Tunnel: The easiest of the adventure tours, this half-mile lantern-guided tour exposes visitors to cave pools, ancient reef fossils and beautiful formations. Tour times daily: 9 a.m. No children under six. Adults $7 and children $3.50.
Slaughter Canyon Cave: This tour takes the adventurous visitor into an undeveloped cave without electricity or paved trails. The two-hour tour meets at the Visitor Center for a brief orientation and gear distribution. After the orientation, visitors will drive their own vehicles, in a caravan, out to the Slaughter Cave parking lot 23 miles away. The cave entrance is accessed by a steep, half-mile hike from the Slaughter Canyon Cave parking lot. Visitors should have sturdy, non-slip shoes, flashlights and water (helmets and gloves will be issued). Tour times: Mid-August to Memorial Day weekend – 10 a.m., Saturday and Sunday only. Memorial Day weekend to mid-August – 10 a.m. daily. No children under eight. Adults $15 and Children $7.50.
Lower Cave: An exciting “wild” cave tour that is moderately strenuous. It challenges visitors with 50 feet of vertical ladder descent in order to experience the highly decorated passageways and rare cave pearls. Each visitor must supply gloves and 4 “AA” batteries. Tour times: Monday through Friday, 1 p.m. No children under twelve Adults $20 and children $10.
Hall of the White Giant: A “wild” cave tour that is strenuous as well as challenging. Visitors must be up to crawling long distances, squeezing through tight passageways, and climbing up slippery flowstone-lined passages. A great caving experience. Visitors must supply gloves, kneepads, and 4 “AA” batteries. Tour times: Saturday, 1 p.m. No children under twelve. Adults $20 and children $10.
Spider Cave: A caving tour not for the faint of heart. This tour takes the adventurous visitor to a complex backcountry maze cave. The strenuous tour involves a half-mile hike to the cave and the negotiation of tight crawlways. Visitors must supply gloves, kneepads, and 4 “AA” batteries. Tour times: Sunday, 1 p.m. No children under twelve. Adults $20 and children $10.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park offers over fifty miles of primitive back country hiking opportunities as well as a short nature trail for visitors interested in experiencing the desert’s unique wildlife and vegetation. Such offerings include Rattlesnake Canyon and Yucca Canyon Trail. Trail heads are located along park roads and hikers should be prepared with water and a topographic map.
Beautiful vistas along the Walnut Canyon Desert Drive will delight visitors as much as the Cavern’s amazing formations. This 9.5 mile-long drive is a one-way loop through spectacular desert landscape reinforcing New Mexico’s state motto, “Land of Enhancement.” The drive is easily accessible to passenger vehicles, but no low clearance vehicles, buses, trailers or motorhomes allowed. Check at the Visitor Center for road closure times.
One of the most exciting attractions at the park is the Bat Flight. Bats cling to the roof of rooms of the cave far from visitor paths. When sundown settles over the New Mexico landscape, the bats begin their nightly foray in search of food. By the thousands, they spiral upward into the night sky. Amphitheater seating is available to those who want to set aside the superstitions surrounding these unique creatures and enjoy their dance. The best bat flights normally occur in July and August. At this time baby bats, born in early summer, join the flight along with migrating bats from colonies further north.
Prior to the evening bat flight, a program is given at the cavern entrance by a park ranger. The starting time of the talk varies with sunset times – it is best to call the park at 575.785.3012 to check for the estimated time. Programs may be canceled in the event of inclement weather. Bat Flight programs are scheduled from Memorial Day weekend through mid-to-late October. There is no charge for the bat flight program. In late October or early November, the bats migrate to Mexico for the winter; they return in April or May, depending on the weather.
This summer Carlsbad Caverns National Park will be hosting several Star Party events. The park is a perfect spot for viewing the wonders of the night sky due to its location away from the lights of the local communities. Weather permitting; telescopes will be available for viewing the celestial night sky and will provide an opportunity for visitors to see for themselves what spectacular views are available in the universe above. Rangers will be available to discuss a variety of topics from nocturnal creatures, cultural folklore and astronomy. The public is welcome. No fee or advance reservations are necessary. Bring a flashlight and dress for the weather.
These events will be held immediately after Bat Flight, so please join us in the East parking lot in front of the visitor center (parking limited to the West lot). The visitor center and cave will not be open during these events.
2015 Star Party dates:
- June 13
- July 18
- August 15
- September 12
- October 10
For more information, contact Park Ranger Valerie Gohlke at 575-785-3090
- No cameras allowed at bat flight
- Portions of Carlsbad Caverns are wheelchair accessible
- Kennels for pets are available
- Stay on the paved trails
- Closely supervise children
- Bring a jacket or sweater – the cave temperature is 56oF year-round
- Bring a baby backpack – strollers are not permitted
- Cameras welcome in the caves
- Rent an audio guide for great in-depth information