Just northeast of Texas’s Guadalupe Mountains National Park, which most people haven’t heard of, is New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns National Park, which a surprising number of people have heard of! And if you talk to someone who’s visited Carlsbad Caverns, you’re sure to hear a strong positive reaction from them. Now that we’ve been there, we know why.
To be honest, when I heard that Carlsbad Caverns was on the itinerary for our 2017 spring break road trip, I wasn’t that thrilled. We’d already visited Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky (world’s longest cave), Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota, and the Oregon Caves and Ape Cave in the Pacific Northwest. While I’ve enjoyed exploring all these caves, I’m just not that into caving. Was this cave really going to be that different than the other ones we’d already been to? In a word, YES.
Carlsbad Caverns is the world’s largest cave, and it is spectacular. Your visit to the cave begins with either an elevator ride down 750 feet (think 75 story building) or a hike down through the natural entrance. The elevator ride costs $8 and takes just a few minutes. The hike down takes about an hour. If you purchase tickets for a tour, the round-trip elevator ride is included!
Once you get down to the cave, you can take a free self-guided tour in the main room of the cavern. It took us about two hours, but most people would probably finish in about 90 minutes. The main room of the cavern really is incredible. There are so many different types of formations, and it really is a gigantic space. It takes a lot of twists and turns, however, so there are only a few places where you really get a sense of the size of it. With the sound being pretty well swallowed up in there, the dim lighting, and the incredible formations, this cave really felt like a sacred space.
There are a lot of guided tours available as well, and tickets can be purchased online. We took the King’s Palace Tour, and luckily had purchased our tickets in advance, since both time slots for that tour were sold out on the day of our trip. As we’ve mentioned in the past, if you really want to do a particular tour, arrange it ahead of time. We thought the tour was well worth its $15 per person price. First of all, the King’s Palace and Queen’s Palace rooms are absolutely stunning, but they are only accessible via tour due to the idiocy of some tourists who were breaking off parts of the formations for souvenirs. Seriously?! But also, the tours are ranger-led, so you get the opportunity to hear the story of the cave — both of the people and the place. Learning about a place like this makes a visit much more meaningful. And if you need a third reason to go on a tour — when you’re with a ranger, they’ll turn off ALL the lights. SO fun!
The tours at Carlsbad Caverns range in difficulty and type of experience more than most, so read the descriptions carefully and choose one that you’ll be comfortable doing. We, for instance, did not choose one involving crawling on our bellies or hanging out with spiders, but some other people obviously live on the edge more than we do…
If you’re considering a trip to Carlsbad Caverns, you can be assured it’s worth the effort of getting there. We highly recommend it. Enjoy your next adventure — above ground or down in a cave — whether it’s for a week or a weekend!