National Parks

Top 9 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

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

Carlsbad Caverns 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

 

Top Things to do at Carlsbad Caverns with Kids

  • Tour the Visitor Center 
  • See the Caverns on a Tour
  • Take a Hike
  • Check out the bats during the summer
  • Go to a Night Sky Program
  • Earn a Junior Ranger Badge
  • Learn about White Nose Syndrome 
  • Visit Nearby Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas

Why Visit Carlsbad Caverns

If you are on an extended road trip, Carlsbad Caverns makes an interesting stop. Its weather is consistent and cool in the summer.

With its proximity to Guadalupe Mountains National Park in West Texas, it is convenient to visit both sites on the same trip. Carlsbad Caverns, which offers an elevator and a Big Room, is an excellent option for those new to cave tours.

Tour Carlsbad Caverns Visitor Center

After arriving at Carlsbad Caverns, visitors head to the Visitor Center. It offers park maps, a 16-minute park film, Hidden World and a concession area.

The Visitor Center features exhibits to help visitors learn more about how the cave was formed. Visitors will also learn about the park’s animals, 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 and reservation 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

Visitors must secure online reservations (in addition to the cave entrance fee) in advance to see Carlsbad Caverns. They can make reservations online or over the phone. Reservations are for a timed-entry ticket for a particular day. Everyone in your party entering the cave will need a reservation ($1 per person).

Note: Reservations are not available at the park.

Self Guided Tours

Visitors can explore Carlsbad Caverns on their own. To enter the cave, cave goers can hike down the Natural Entrance Trail or take the elevators directly into the Big Room Trail.

Natural Entrance Trail

This 1.25—mile trail descends 750 feet through a series of steep switchbacks. It meets the Big Room Trail near the elevators.

Big Room Trail

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

The last entrance into the cave, both the natural entrance and the elevators, is at 2:30 p.m. All visitors must exit the cave by 4:30 p.m.

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 guided tour through four highly decorated rooms. This tour travels one mile. Children must be at least 6 years old.

Guided tours require an additional ticket. Adult tours are $8 and children’s tours are $4. Advance reservations are required by calling 877-444-6777 or visiting Recreation.gov.

The last entrance into the cave, both the natural entrance and the elevators, is at 2:30 p.m. All visitors must exit the cave by 4:30 p.m.

Lower Cave Tour

For adventurous families with kids 12 and older, tour-goers will see The Rookery, with countless nests of cave pearls, and the Colonel Boles Formation. This tour descends sixty feet of ladders and a knotted rope to get into the cave.  Hiking boots with ankle support are required, and helmets and gloves are provided. This tour takes 3 hours.

Adult admission is $20 and $10 for children. Advance reservations are required by calling 877-444-6777 or visiting Recreation.gov.

Slaughter Canyon Tour

This tour is over five hours long. Participants must Canavan in their own car to the entrance, and special precautions are in place to prevent White Nose Fungus. Must be 10 years old.

Adult admission is$15.00 and $7.50 for kids. Advance reservations are required by calling 877-444-6777 or visiting Recreation.gov.

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Hiking Trails at Carlsbad Caverns 

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

Walnut Canyon Overlook–A 180-yard trail to an overlook, suitable for most travelers.

Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail–A .5-mile level trail with desert plants.

Slaughter Canyon Cave Trail–A .5-mile trail with a 500-foot elevation gain.

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. The minimum age is 8, and long pants and closed-toe shoes are required. All night programs are first-come, first-serve.

Night Hikes are held on several dates during the summer and depend on weather. Check the NPS schedule for current availability. Additional trails are available.

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

For those who visit Carlsbad Caverns from late May through October, the Cave features a Bat Flight Program. In addition to learning about the Brazilian Free-Tail Bats, visitors will see the bats leave the cave.

The colony fluctuates, and the bat population is between 200,000 and 500,000. The Bat Flight Program 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. Electronic devices, including cameras, phones, and tablets, are not allowed, and pets are not allowed. Wheelchair seating is available, and all seating is first-come, first-serve.

Night Sky Viewing 

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

The rangers do not have telescopes out, though visitors are encouraged to bring binoculars and camp chairs. Inquire at the Visitor Center for the next Night Sky Viewing.

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 the Rangers present them after they complete 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.

Learn About Bats and White-Nose Syndrome

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

If you visit Carlsbad Caverns two days in a row, you will be required to wear fresh clothes for your second visit. Otherwise, you will have to thoroughly 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.

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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.

See the Guadalupe Mountains National Park

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

Guadalupe Mountains is the high point of Texas at 8,751 ft. 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 a 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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6:31 am, April 14, 2024

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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