Carlsbad Caverns is: 150 miles from El Paso, Texas, 200 miles from Lubbock, Texas, and 300 miles from Albuquerque, New Mexico
El Paso is the closest city with a major airport so our road trip will start from there.
⇒From El Paso, take US Highway 62/180 east toward Carlsbad, New Mexico. Distance between El Paso and Carlsbad Caverns: 150 miles/2.25 hours.
Travel tip: fill up with gas, use the restroom, and grab a few drinks and snacks before leaving El Paso. Services are very minimal along this desert highway. Watch for the salt flats and beautiful mountain peaks of Guadalupe Mountains National Park along the way.
Carlsbad Caverns Visitor Information
- Timed entry reservations are now required to enter the park. The free passes can be obtained by calling 877-444-6777 or online at recreation.gov. Timed passes are only for reserving a time to enter the park and cannot be obtained at the park. Entry fees are paid upon arrival at the park’s visitor center.
- Basic Entrance Fee: $15.00 per person for a 3-day pass. Kids 15 and under are admitted free, and baby strollers are not allowed in the cavern.
- Parts of the Big Room Trail are wheelchair accessible.
- Ranger guided tours to other sections of the cave (or other caves) may be available for additional fees. Advance reservations and proper footwear are required for guided tours.
- Hours vary depending on the season. Check the website for information.
- A cafeteria is available in the visitor center, and a snack bar is located in the cavern near the elevators and restrooms.
- Hotels and restaurants are available in the city of Carlsbad, New Mexico.
- RV/tent camping is available in White’s City, the city of Carlsbad, and on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands near the park. Backcountry camping requires a permit. Check the website for additional information.
- When to go? Anytime.
- Website Link: Carlsbad Caverns
Learn Before You Go
Do you know the difference between stalagmites and stalactites? A stalagmite grows on a cave’s floor, so watch where you’re walking, or you might (mite) trip over it. Stalactites grow from a cave’s ceiling, so if they don’t hang on tight (tite) they could fall. A park ranger at Carlsbad Caverns told us this years ago, and we haven’t forgotten his wise words!
Travel tip: the temperature in the cave is a constant 56 degrees, so a light jacket is recommended, along with sturdy, closed toe walking shoes with non-slip soles.
Prepare to descend seventy-five stories beneath the earth into a dark and magical place like no other in the world. Stalagmites, stalactites, domes, totems, mirror-like pools, and even chandeliers make for breathtaking sights (as well as exceptional photo ops) on your journey through Carlsbad Caverns. Walk into the caverns via the natural entrance if you are up for the challenge or take the speedy elevator to the entrance of the Big Room. The Big Room Trail is a little over a mile long, and it is definitely worth every step. Plan to spend at least two hours in the cavern.
The Park is More Than a Cave
Most people visit Carlsbad Caverns to see the caves, but the park has much more to offer such as:
- An amphitheater from which to watch up to 500,000 bats come out at night during the months of May through October
- Walnut Canyon Scenic Drive – 9.5 miles on an unpaved road
- Ranger led night sky programs
- Picnic areas
- Hiking trails
- Shopping, exhibits, and a nature walk at the visitor center
Carlsbad Caverns National Park and neighboring Guadalupe Mountains National Park are part of an ancient reef that was created by an inland sea about 250 million years ago. Approximately 300 known caves have been found in the areas surrounding the parks with 119 of them in Carlsbad Caverns National Park alone. The parks lie in the Chihuahuan Desert which covers 250,000 miles and reaches into parts of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, although ninety percent of the desert lies in north-central Mexico.
Discovery of the Caverns
Indigenous people are said to have known about the caves long before modern exploration, however, cowboy Jim White is credited with the discovery of the caverns. In 1898, sixteen-year-old White was searching for stray cows when he saw smoke rising up from the ground. Upon approach he quickly realized the smoke was actually thousands of bats emerging from a large hole. Jim fashioned a rickety ladder from fence wire and sticks, and a few days later he climbed down into the hole carrying nothing but a lantern and an axe. How terrifying it must have been to take those first steps into the unknown! Jim continued to explore and map the caverns throughout the years and even assisted with building the improvements to make the cave accessible to visitors. White also served as Chief Ranger of Carlsbad Cave National Monument from 1926-1929.
Creation and Sustainability of the Park
- President Calvin Coolidge signed a proclamation designating Carlsbad Cave National Monument in October of 1923.
- Congress formally established Carlsbad Caverns National Park in May of 1930.
- Citing its caves’ natural beauty, unique features and formations, and ongoing geologic processes, UNESCO proclaimed the park a World Heritage Site in 1995.
The park averages almost half a million visitors per year which may be detrimental to the cave. Visitors are instructed not to touch the formations because the build-up of bodily oils causes them to die. Carbon dioxide from our breath can even damage the delicate ecosystem of the caverns. During our visit we saw park volunteers using small paintbrushes to painstakingly remove lint, yes lint, left behind from visitors’ clothing and skin. Lint builds up in nooks and crannies along the trail and also attracts unwanted insects, so the park has it removed – about 44 pounds of it per year in the Big Room alone!
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is also home to another one of the deepest and most beautiful caves in the world – Lechuguilla. The cave’s name (pronounced letch-uh-ghee-a) comes from a type of agave plant that grows only in the Chihuahuan Desert. Bat guano was mined from the cave’s entrance through the early 1900s, but after mining operations ceased the area was basically forgotten. A Colorado exploration company, suspecting another large cave lay hidden beneath the park, got permission to begin digging in 1984. In 1986, they broke through to discover a virtual fairyland. So far, explorers have found huge draperies, delicate chandeliers, cave pearls, and colorful pools, though their explorations continue. Lechuguilla is not open to the public and is only accessible to scientific researchers and authorized exploration teams. Click here for a National Park Service photo gallery: Lechuguilla Cave Gallery. Click here for a YouTube video: Lechuguilla Cave Video.
- Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park – located in the city of Carlsbad
- Brantley Lake State Park. Water sports, RV and tent camping – located 20 miles/30 minutes north of the city of Carlsbad via US Highway 285
- Lake Carlsbad Beach Park. Water sports, playground, swimming, fishing, and miles of walker-friendly sidewalks – located at 708 Park Drive, Carlsbad, New Mexico.
- Guadalupe Mountains National Park – 56 miles/1 hour south of the city of Carlsbad, and 25 miles/30 minutes south of Carlsbad Caverns National Park via National Park Highway.
- Sitting Bull Falls – 57 miles/1 hour southwest of Carlsbad in the Lincoln National Forest via US Highway 285 and State Highway 137.
Also check out our Quick Stop post that features Carlsbad’s famous flume. The “It’s a Fact, Jack” section is interesting too. Here’s the link: Quick Stop – The Flume
Want to lean about other national parks sites? Click on these exciting destinations:
We sincerely hope our road trip to Carlsbad Caverns National Park inspires you to grab your camera, hop in the car, and head that way.
Mike and Kellye
As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) Our opinions are our own.