Who is ready for a road trip to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico? If you are planning an RV trip there–here is what you need to know before you go!
Location of Carlsbad Caverns
Carlsbad Caverns is a national park in southern New Mexico. It is about 300 miles from Albuquerque and almost 500 miles from Dallas. It may be a hike to get there, but it’s well worth the trip; the National Park system boasts many impressive caves, but none can rival Carlsbad Caverns for sheer beauty and grandeur. Carlsbad Caverns is only about half an hour from Guadalupe Mountains National Park in west Texas, so combining the two would make for an excellent week-long vacation.
To listen to Jeremy and Stephanie talk to Gretchen Holcombe about her RV trip to Carlsbad Caverns please click on the media player above or subscribe to The RV Atlas wherever you get your podcasts! Gretchen is the creator of the Boxy Colonial and Boxy Colonial on the Road blogs! Make sure to check out her adventures at home and on the road!
The Main Attraction at Carlsbad Caverns National Park
The main attraction at the park is the caverns themselves, but there are also a number of surface hiking trails of various lengths that take you through the park’s desert landscape. Families with young kids might want to check out some of the shorter trails like the half mile Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail, while more experienced hikers can take in the challenging 7.7 mile Yucca Canyon trail.
Cost of Admission to Carlsbad Caverns
The fee to enter Carlsbad Caverns and explore on your own is $15 for adults and free for kids up to 15 (or admission is free with an America the Beautiful pass). There are ranger led tours of other parts of the caverns available for an additional fee. During the coronavirus pandemic, the only extra tour is the King’s Palace Tour, which is offered twice a day on a first come, first served basis for visitors age 4 and up.
Recommendations for Exploring the Caverns
The most popular option is exploring Carlsbad Caverns on your own, including the Natural Entrance and Big Room trails. Rent a handheld audio guide in the bookstore first for all kinds of information about the caverns and their history. The Natural Entrance trail is a winding, very steep descent into the caverns, going down over 700 feet in a little over a mile.
From the bottom you can explore the 1.25 mile trail through the very impressive Big Room, taking in all the spectacular features in the huge cave that Will Rogers once called “the Grand Canyon with a roof over it.” Afterwards you can take the elevator back up to the surface. The elevators are also available to take you down into the caverns, and parts of the Big Room trail are wheelchair accessible. There are restrooms in the caverns and limited snacks and drinks available at the underground snack bar.
The Bat Flight Program at Carlsbad Caverns
Brazilian free-tailed bats migrate to Carlsbad Caverns and spend their summers in the cave, emerging en masse every evening at sunset to hunt for food. The bats return to the caverns in April, and a nighttime ranger program runs every night from May through October. The program takes place at the amphitheater behind the visitor center; there’s no fee, and reservations aren’t necessary, but get there early to grab a good spot for bat watching.
Program time varies based on sunset. Keep in mind that no photos are allowed and you’ll have to stay silent when the bats come out, so it might try the patience of very young kids.
During the pandemic, the amphitheater is closed in the evenings, but you can observe the bats from the parking lot and listen to the program broadcast on the radio.
Campground Options Near Carlsbad Caverns
There are a few campgrounds close to Carlsbad Caverns and to the nearby town of Carlsbad, but many visitors prefer to stay at bit farther away at the better reviewed Brantley Lake State Park or Carlsbad KOA. Both are around 40-50 minutes away from the park entrance.
The KOA offers full hookup sites in the $50-70 range and has amenities like a pool and rec room, plus activities like movie nights and kids’ arts and crafts.
Brantley Lake State Park offers very spacious and scenic water/electric sites for the amazing price of $14/night. There are hiking trails in the park and kayaking and canoeing are popular on Brantley Lake. On the downside, the bathhouses are dated and sometimes not the cleanest, and the park sits a good way off the main highway.
It’s important to note that New Mexico is requiring a 14 day quarantine for out of state visitors and that New Mexico State parks are currently only open to state residents.
The entire state of New Mexico is beautiful and is perhaps one of the most underrated states for RV travel in the country. We hope this post and our interview with Gretchen inspire you to plan a visit someday soon!