Make a trip to the underworld or the world of underground caverns. These wondrous caverns are found under the Chihuahua Desert in New Mexico.
The harsh desert and colorful cacti hide a spectacular National Park under their roots. Drive down to New Mexico and take in the beauties found under the earth!
Interestingly, the caverns were discovered by a local teen named Jim White in 1898, who descended into the caverns using a wire ladder. He would end up naming most of the important rock formations in the caverns we see today.
Phone Number: (575)785-2232
Mailing Address: 3225 National Parks Highway Carlsbad, NM 88220
Carlsbad Caverns National Park Visitor Center
The first thing you’ll need to do before setting your sights on the caves is get to the Visitor Center. While the Caverns are open to the public, you will need to make a reservation to tour the Carlsbad Caverns.
You can choose between a guided tour or a self-guided one. Get your tickets from the Visitor Center and buy a couple of snacks for the tour.
The Visitor Center is located 25 miles from Carlsbad town and can be accessed through the park’s only entrance on New Mexico Highway 7.
Carlsbad Cavern Natural Entrance
The best way to get the full Carlsbad Cavern experience is to reach it via its natural entrance. While there are elevators to make the trip down easier, you don’t want to miss out on this spectacular experience.
The Natural Entrance is behind the Visitor Center and is a large gaping hole some 750 feet below. The hike is called the Natural Entrance Hike is a 60 minutes long steep descent. The trail makes several sharp hairpin loops, so make sure to go slow and steady.
The Natural Entrance Trail will take your breath away as you will straight up walk down into the Devil's Den. This is also where the fossilized remains of Shasta the Sloth were excavated from. The giant Ice Age sloth was almost 9 feet long!
Slaughter Canyon Cave
The Slaughter Canyon Cave is a jaw-dropping cave located in the Carlsbad Cavern National Park. The cave is open to the public only on Fridays and you will need to make prior reservations. The park administration only allows 16 people to hike the caves every Friday and all hikes are assisted by rangers.
The Slaughter Canyon Cave is less frequented than the main Carlsbad Caves. The cave has an unpaved pathway with no handrails, so make sure to wear your trusty treaded boots!
The Slaughter Canyon Cave is home to amazing formations like The Christmas Tree, the Klansman, or Guardian, the ankle-high Chinese Walls, and many smaller unnamed formations.
Slaughter Canyon Trail
The Slaughter Canyon Trail is a moderately difficult hike due to the trail’s uneven pathways and darkness. You will have to reserve a spot for the tour as only a limited number of people are allowed.
Your guide will herd you into a caravan outside the Visitor Center taking you to the trailhead. The Slaughter Canyon Trail is a 1.6 km long hike that has an elevation of 141m.
Pets and walking sticks are not allowed, but the rangers will provide you with protective gear like helmets, gloves, and a headlight.
Rattlesnake Canyon Trail
The Rattlesnake Canyon Trail is 4.9 miles away from the Visitor Center. It’s a moderate 3 miles long hike and has an elevation gain of 200 meters.
The paved trail is hard to miss and snakes through the New Mexico desert. You’ll appreciate the quiet beauty of the desert, it might get a little hot along the way.
Wear pants with long boots to avoid scratches from the unwelcoming thorns and branches.
Black River Recreation Area
The Black River Recreational Area is a 1,200-acre piece of land located on 222 Washington Ranch Road, Carlsbad. The Black River is a spring oasis and separates the southern gypsum soil from the limestone foothills of Guadalupe Escarpment.
There’s much to do at this site and it’s open to the public. Fishing and hiking are allowed around the area. After a long day’s hike, you can unwind at the picnic benches and have a quick bite.
Observe rare wildlife species like waterfowls, songbirds, green-backed herons, and roadrunners.
Bat Flight Amphitheatre
The Bat Flight Amphitheatre is located near the Natural Entrance to the Carlsbad Caverns. The amphitheater is wheelchair accessible although pets are not allowed.
Ask a ranger for the evenings’ Bat Flight Program and make your way to the amphitheater at dusk. The program is free and takes place every evening from May to October.
You won’t be able to take any pictures as any disturbance can be a risk to bats unaccustomed to noise and light.
As you sit and watch the skies, take in the spectacular view of hundreds of bats flying out of the caves at astounding speeds. The bats return to the caves between 4 to 6 am.
Rattlesnake Springs Picnic Area
The Carlsbad Caverns National Park isn’t just dark caves and dusty desert trails. There’s always a hidden oasis nearby, you just have to find it.
The Rattlesnake Springs Picnic Area is a serene and lush area fed by a nearby oasis. The picnic benches are shaded by cottonwood trees. You can even grill out here!
Yucca Canyon Trail
This 7.7-mile trail is a relatively difficult trail due to its steep ascent. The trail begins west of the Slaughter Canyon parking lot and climbs up the canyon. The trail ends with a sheer drop at Big Canyon.
You’ll see loads of beautiful shrubs like ponderosa and pines.
Sitting Bull Falls
The Sitting Bull Falls is a series of waterfalls located in Lincoln National Forest, southeast of Carlsbad City.
The falls give a green relief to the muted desert, it’s a great place for a picnic too! Pack up some bacon to grill and enjoy the beautiful waterfalls and trees.
A cave isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you say “hike”. Yet there is so much to see and admire, even underground.
The Carlsbad Caverns are famous for their stalagmite formations, but the National Park preserving the caverns has just as much to offer. You will never forget it!