National Parks

Top Things to do at Carlsbad Caverns with Kids

Carlsbad Caverns sign. visiting Carlsbad Caverns with kids
Head to the show cave in the Guadalupe Mountains of New Mexico. Photo Credit: Pixabay

If the weather is blazing out, head underground to southern New Mexico and the Guadalupe Mountains. Carlsbad Caverns National Park is limestone show cave.  As the fifth largest chamber in North America, its Big Room, is 4,000 feet long (1200 m) and 255 feet tall (78 m). Best of all, you can explore Carlsbad Caverns at your-own-pace or take a guided tour. Here’s the top things to do at Carlsbad Caverns with kids.

Top Things to do at Carlsbad Caverns with Kids

  • Tour the Visitor Center 
  • See the Caverns
  • Check out the bats during the summer
  • Earn a Junior Ranger Badge
  • Take a Hike

At a Glance

Year Established: 1930
Located: Southern New Mexico
Size: Below: over 30 miles of surveyed passageways Above: 46,000 acres
Top Features: Cave Tours and Bat Programs

Carlsbad Caverns Visitor Center

After arriving at Carlsbad Caverns, head to the Visitor Center. Grab a park map, watch the 16-minute park film Hidden World or grab a snack in the concession area.

Inside the Visitor Center, tour the exhibits to learn more about how the cave was formed. Then learn about the animals of the park, including the Brazilian free-tailed bats.

The visitor center is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed major holidays. Tours require an additional ticket for everyone.

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Visiting Carlsbad Caverns with kids
Tour Carlsbad Caverns on your own or take a tour. Photo Credit: NPS/Peter Jones

How to See Carlsbad Cavern

You must secure reservations (this is additional to the cave entrance fee)  in advance to see Carlsbad Caverns and you can do this online or over-the-phone. Reservations will be for a timed-entry ticket for a particular day. Reservations are for everyone is your party that will be entering the cave. Reservations are $1 per person.

You can take a self-guided tour of Carlsbad Caverns. To enter the cave, you can hike down the Natural Entrance Trail or take the elevators directly into the Big Room Trail.

Natural Entrance Trail—Descend 750 feet through a series of steep switchbacks on this 1.25-mile trail. The Natural Entrance Trail meets the Big Room Trail, close to the elevators.

Big Room Trail—See the largest single cave chamber by volume in North America with this 1.25-mile trail that mostly flat, and some of it is wheelchair accessible.

Guided Tours of Carlsbad Caverns

If you prefer a guided tour of Carlsbad Caverns, it offers several.

King’s Palace Tour—Take a 90-minute guidedtour through four highly decorated rooms. This tour travels one mile. Kids need to be at least 4-years-old.

Left Hand Tunnel Tour—Take a two-hour guided tour using a candle light lantern on unpaved trails in an undeveloped portion of the caverns. Kids need to be at least 6-years-old and everyone must wear closed-toed shoes. Tour temporarily unavailable.

For adventurous families with kids 12 and older, consider the Lower Cave Tour or Hall of White Giant Tour. Both tours require hiking boots. Slaughter Canyon Tour participants must canavan in their own car to the entrance and special precauations are in place to prevent White Nose Fungus. Tours temporarily unavailable.

Ranger tours require an additional ticket. Reservations are recommended by calling 877-444-6777 or visiting Recreation.gov.

Last entrance into the cave is at 2:30 for both the natural entrance and the elevators. All visitors need to out of the cave by 4:45 p.m.

Natural Entrance. Visiting Carlsbad Caverns with kids
See the summertime bats at the natural entrance of Carlsbad Caverns. Photo Credit: NPS/Peter Jones

Bat Flight Programs

If you are visiting Carlsbad Caverns from late May through October then attend a Bat Flight Program. In addtion to learning  about the Brazilian Free-Tail Bats, you will get to see the group leave the cave.

The colony fluctuates and the bat population is between 200,00 to 500,00 bats. The Bat Flight Programs starts at 6 p.m. and the bat emergence time is based on the sunset.

Located at the Natural Entrance, it’s a five minute walk from the visitor center. It’s a free ranger program and reservations are not required. No electronic devices are allowed, including cameras, phones and tablets. Pets are not allowed as well. Wheel chair seating is available and all seating is first-come, first-serve.

Night Sky Viewing 

During the summer, park rangers guide host night sky and star gazing programs. The night ranger programs start after the Bat Flight Programs.

Star Viewing Programs

See the star over head in this program. The rangers do not have telescopes out, though visitors are encouraged to bring binoculars and camp chairs.

Night Hike

Take a guided 1.5-mile (2.4 km) hike through the Chihuahuan Desert to see how the desert comes alive at night. Minimum age is 8-years-old and long pants and closed-toe shoes are required. All night programs are first-come, first-serve.

Star Viewing and Night Hikes are held on several dates during the summer and dependent on weather. Check the NPS schedule for the current availabilty.

Earn a Junior Ranger Badge

The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about a National Park Service site. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the Rangers present them after completing their booklet.

Pick up a Junior Ranger booklet when visiting Carlsbad Caverns with kids. Find several different booklets for kids to earn their Junior Ranger Badges based on age.

  • Babies (with adult assistance) and kids to 6 can earn a Junior Ranger badge.
  • Kids 7 to 12 get a booklet with activities to learn more about the parks.
  • Kids 13+ (and adults) can earn a badge while exploring the cave.

Junior Bat Biologist is a separate Junior Ranger Badge that kids can earn. Learn more about the cave along with the bats.

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Dark Skies Program

Since Carlsbad Caverns is in the desert, it features dark night skies. Learn about the importance of Dark Skies by attending a Dark Skies Program during your visit to Carlsbad Caverns.

Star Walks—Hike a .5-mile hike with the help of a red headlamp.

Star Parties—Explore the night sky with a ranger and a powerful telescope.

Moon Hikes—Take a 1.5-mile hike with the moon light leading the way.

Check out the availability before arriving and check in with the visitor center for reservations.

Programming depends on weather and available on select nights.Kids must be 6-years-old to participate.

Hiking Trails at Carlsbad Caverns

See the Chihuahuan Desert with a hike during your visit to Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

Walnut Canyon Overlook-Less than a .25-mile, this is a paved walkway to an overlook

Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail-A .5-mile (1 km) one-way paved trail with interpretive markers.

There are several moderation trails in addition to back country trails at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

Chinese Theater
Take a tour to learn more or to see a different portion of the cave. Photo Credit: NPS/Peter Jones

When to Visit Carlsbad Caverns

The best part of visiting caves is the weather. It never rains. Though be prepared for cool temperatures with a fleece layer. The cave temperature is 56F (13C) year round.

If you are interested in attending the Bat Flight Programs, visit Carlsbad Caverns from Memorial Day weekend through October.

Where’s Carlsbad Caverns

Located 20 miles from southwest Carlsbad, New Mexico, the visitor center’s address is 727 Carlsbad Caverns Highway. It’s seven miles from the entrance sign to the visitor center. Find lots of parking including RV parking.

Adult admission (16+) is $15 per person and free for kids 15 and under.

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Bats and White-Nose Syndrome

You can not wear any clothing, this includes shoes, that has been in another cave due to White-Nose Syndrome. And camera and camera equipment will have to be disinfected if its been in another cave.

If you are visiting Carlsbad Caverns two days in a row, you will be required to wear fresh clothes for your second visit. Or you will have to throughly wash the clothes that you wore into the cave.

White-Nose Syndrome kills hibernating bat colonies across the U.S. and Canada. A fungus that thrives in low temperatures and high humidity that’s killed 6 million bats since it’s discovery in 2006.

See more of the Guadalupe Mountains

Since Carlsbad Caverns is located in the Guadalupe Mountains in southern New Mexico, visit the Guadalupe Mountains National Park in West Texas.

Guadalupe Mountains is the high point of Texas at 8,751 ft. And it features a developed trail for high pointers to reach the summit and mark another peak off their list.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park offers dark skies and quiet hiking. Guadalupe Peak boasts a rugged mountain backdrop and over 80 miles of hiking trails, some accessible and over half open to horseback riding.

Located at 400 Pine Canyon, Salt Flat, just south of the New Mexico border and 110 miles east of El Paso. Open 24-hours a day and 365 days year. The Big Springs Visitor Center is open Monday to Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is $7 a person for 16+ for a seven-day pass.

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Explore one of the largest show caves in North America. Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico can be explored on your own or on a guided cave tour. Also during the summer, there's bat flight programs along with night sky programs and fun activities for kids. National Parks with Caves | Best Caves in the US | What to do at Carlsbad Caverns | Best time to visit Carlsbad Caverns | Caves with bats #NewMexico #NationalParks

Catherine Parker has a passion for travel and seen all 50 U.S. States. As a former flight attendant with one of the largest airlines, there isn't a North American airport that she hasn't landed in at least once. Since clipping her professional wings after 9/11, she combines her love of the open road with visiting architectural and cultural icons. She is based out of Central Texas dividing her time between writing and restoring a pair of 100-year-old houses. She shares her life with her three kids and her husband.

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