The Best Time to Visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park
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Carlsbad Caverns National Park has been impressing visitors since it was established in 1930. The main attraction of this park is the cavern, which consists of a large cave system with more than 119 known caves. With its unique and impressive formation, Carlsbad Caverns National Park draws visitors from all over the world. So when is the best time to visit?
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is located in Southeastern New Mexico, 23 miles from Carlsbad on US Hwy 62/180 and 7 miles from White’s City, in the High Chihuahuan Desert and the Guadalupe Mountains. Allow an hour for the entire drive from Carlsbad since the road is steep as it winds through the beautiful Walnut canyon, between White’s City and the Visitor’s Center parking lot.
Be cautious as you drive, and be on the lookout for deer and other wildlife which might be crossing the road.
The best time to visit Carlsbad Caverns depends on the type of experience you’re looking for. If you want to see the many species of bats that call it home, then late spring and early summer are your best bet. The park is home to 17 species of bats and they are most visible during evening hours starting in May and into June.
This is also when they are most active as they depart their cave homes at dusk in search of food. So if you’re looking for an up-close encounter with nature’s flying mammal, this is the perfect time to go!
For those who are interested in seeing other attractions within the park, like its ancient limestone cave formations or crystal-clear underground lake, any time during the warm months is suitable for exploring these features. Though temperatures inside the caves can be quite damp (reaching up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit!), it’s still comfortable enough for a day trip from mid-April through October. This means that you can visit during any season and still get a good look at what this unique national park has to offer.
The peak season for visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park runs from Memorial Day through Labor Day. During this period, thousands of tourists will flock here each year to marvel at its geological wonders and take part in educational tours led by experienced rangers. Furthermore, July 4th typically sees some of its highest turnout—so if you don’t mind crowds, then this might be one of your better options!
The summer months are generally considered the best time to visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park. During the summertime, there are no temperature extremes and no snow or ice to interfere with your exploration of this spectacular national park.
Additionally, the summer months tend to be less crowded than at other times of the year, so you’ll have more room to explore without feeling too rushed by other visitors. It’s important to keep in mind that during July and August, temperatures can reach up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius) in some parts of the park – so make sure you bring plenty of water and protective clothing!
Late fall and early winter may also be a great time for visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park. During these months, temperatures drop significantly but remain quite mild – usually between 40 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit (4-15 degrees Celsius). As an added bonus, you won’t have to worry about the scorching summer heat! If you’re lucky enough to visit during this time of year, you may even get to witness some incredible natural phenomena like snowfall inside the caverns!
Visiting By Season
Summer Season (June – August)
June, July, and August are great months for visiting Carlsbad Caverns. This is the park’s busiest time of year due to it being a popular summer vacation destination, so be sure to make reservations well in advance if possible. During this season, you can witness more bat activity than at any other time of the year as the bats return from their winter hibernation. The cave temperature remains relatively stable throughout the summer at approximately 57°F (14°C).
Fall Season (September – November)
If you’re looking for a quieter stay while still enjoying all that Carlsbad Caverns has to offer, then September through November is an ideal time to visit. You can expect mild temperatures and plenty of sunshine during this time period which makes it perfect for outdoor activities like hiking and bird watching. However, please note that some attractions may be closed due to fewer visitors during this season.
Winter Season (December – February)
Wintertime at Carlsbad Caverns offers a peaceful respite from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. While there is still plenty of stunning natural beauty around, many attractions will be closed due to low temperatures from December through February. If you’re looking for some peace and quiet away from crowds then this may be a good option for you. Just remember to bring layers as temperatures can range from 40°F (4°C) down into the 30s (below 0°C).
Spring Season (March – May)
Springtime brings blooming wildflowers and migrating birds back into the area which makes March – May an ideal time for outdoor activities like bird watching or horseback riding. Temperatures during this season range between 65-80°F (18-27°C), making it comfortable enough to explore all aspects of Carlsbad Caverns without having to worry about extreme weather conditions. Memorial Day weekend will certainly be busy.
Unusual Geologic History
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is not just one cave but actually includes over a hundred caves within its boundaries, which is yet just a portion of the approximately 300 known caves in the area.
These are unusual caves in regard to their formation; the large promontory cliff facing toward Texas, called El Capitan, is actually the remains of a very ancient coral reef, about 400 miles long, that formed when the whole area to the north and west was a shallow inland sea during the Permian Period 250 million years ago.
The skeletons left behind by the coral and its marine inhabitants and neighbors (sponges, algae, shells, etc) became the white limestone that we see today. Exposed following a period of uplift and erosion, the limestone began a slow process of dissolution from slightly corrosive rainwater seeping into its cracks.
All the while, there was an upward seeping, from the oil and gas deposits forming underneath, of hydrogen sulfide gas. The gas was dissolved by the water and became sulfuric acid, intensifying the process of dissolution upon the limestone. This was a small but steady working by the acid upon the rock and over millions of years, the small cracks became very large underground caverns.
Later on, after all the carving-out of the old reef had taken place and the climate changed to one that was wetter and cooler, stalactites and stalagmites, and many other fascinations began to form as the water dripping all throughout the cavities left behind the dissolved limestone and carbon dioxide that it had carried down from the surface, which became calcite.
The Cave is home to around 400,000 Mexican Free-tailed Bats that leave the dark safety of their home, en masse, every evening at dusk to hunt their daily meal of insects. Their exit is a display of spiraling and undulating choreography so perfect it could only be produced by Mother Nature. It is an experience that no visitor to the Caverns should miss.
In the morning, right after first light, they return again; the great number of individuals arriving generally together but yet not altogether in the same way as they did the night before. They come in, one by one, each on its own personal flight plan, sometimes taking long swooping dives into the black mouth of the cave at speeds of around 25 miles per hour!
Adding miracle, to wonder, they do all this using just echo-location, completely without eyesight of the sort we humans depend on! This same method of echo location is the same means used to hunt and grab their nightly feast of flying desert insects!
The bat population swells during the months of July and August due to a new generation’s growth qualifying their joining in the nightly moonlit hunt. Bats are mammals and roost upside down in the cave (or in thick treetops and other dark places where caves are not available) during the daytime when they aren’t on their nocturnal aerial tours; therefore they spend their whole life practically never touching the actual ground!
Located in the Guadalupe Mountains of southeastern New Mexico North America, Carlsbad Caverns National Park is a unique and awe-inspiring destination. Home to dozens of spectacular underground caves and breathtaking rock formations, this park is one of the most popular destinations in the United States for both tourists and adventurers alike.
But with so many exciting tours and activities to choose from, how can you decide which ones are right for you? Read on to learn more about the best tours available at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
ALL tours have visitors walking on bio-cleaning mats after exiting. This extraordinary measure is due to the potential presence of the fungus which causes White-Nose Syndrome in New Mexico.
The King’s Palace Tour
This two-hour guided tour takes visitors through one of the park’s most impressive caves – King’s Palace. On this tour, visitors will explore several spectacularly decorated chambers including “Lions Tail,” “Queen’s Chamber,” and “King’s Hall.” Along with learning about the history of these chambers and their unique geological features, visitors will also have an opportunity to view some rare examples of cave art found throughout King’s Palace.
The Big Room Trail Tour
The Big Room tour is the most popular tour offered at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. This two-hour walking tour takes visitors through some of the park’s most impressive chambers including the vast “Big Room” which measures nearly 4,000 feet long and 255 feet tall. It is the largest single cave chamber by volume in North America. On this 1.25-mile trail tour, visitors will have an opportunity to explore some of the park’s famous rock formations such as “Honeycomb Rock” and “Caveman Dome” while learning about its fascinating geology along the way.
The Natural Entrance Trail Tour
Ideal for those looking for a more adventurous experience, this two-hour walking tour takes visitors down 750 feet into the depths of Carlsbad Cavern via its natural entrance. Here guests will walk through towering passages filled with delicate stalactites and stalagmites before reaching a large open room known as “The Pit”. From here they can view dramatic views of both sides of Carlsbad Cavern before heading back up towards daylight.
The Carlsbad Caverns Visitor Center and Cave is open every day, except Christmas, at 8 am and remains open until 7 pm between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and until 5 pm for the rest of the year. Cave entry starts at 8:30 am, all year long. During the summer season, full tours may start until 3:30 pm and short tours are allowed until 5:00 pm. For the rest of the year, the cut-off times are 2 pm and 3:30 pm, respectively.
For all those who desire to enter Carlsbad Cavern, you need to get an entrance ticket which can last for up to three days after purchase. This is to enter the area – not the caves. If you happen to own a pass, you may need to visit the ticket counter to access a free permit or admission ticket. Cave tours are an extra cost.
Interestingly, children 15 years and under can enter for free while adults 16 years and older pay $15 per ticket per person.
A senior pass for the National Park Service is available to United States Citizens with proof of age 62 or older for $80 (lifetime) and $20 (annual). Get more information on that here.
Follow the Rules
For safety reasons, baby strollers are not allowed anywhere in the underground cave. Babies can be carried in baby packs on their parent’s backs. All children must be supervised at all times. Keep children, and yourself, on the trail at all times in order to remain safe from injury as well as prevent damage to the cave. No walking sticks or canes are allowed on either tour. The shorter Big Room Tour is wheelchair accessible, however.
Staying on the trail applies to all visitors, both adults, and children, without exception. Anyone found off the trail can be immediately escorted out of the cave, at the discretion of the attending Park Ranger. Touching any cave formation is also strictly prohibited.
No food or beverages are allowed on any Cave tour except for drinking water. Pictures are allowed although the lighting and conditions in the cave make the possibility of a good image turning out very slim. No pets are allowed in the cave, except for service dogs.
The cave is very humid with a constant temperature of 56, so a light jacket is recommended. Those who use inhalers to assist their breathing should be sure and bring their inhaler along with them. You should wear well-fitting closed-toe shoes with a non-slip sole. Under NO circumstances should you wear sandals of any sort, especially thongs or ‘flip-flops.’ Not only will you be compromising your personal safety, but by the end of your visit, you will be absolutely miserable!
The full tour is about 1 1/4 miles long and takes anywhere from 1 1/2 to 3 hours to complete. The first half of the tour is a rather steep descent of 750 feet, from the entrance to the Big Room, on a relatively narrow paved path that has solidly planted stainless steel handrails wherever necessary. Along the way, there are many convenient places beside the trail to sit and rest on benches.
All general tours are self-guided so there are no pressures on any visitor to hurry their tour beyond their comfort level. The Big Room Tour is around 1 mile long and usually takes about an hour to complete. In contrast to the full tour, the Big Room is on a relatively flat course around the cavern floor and isn’t at all as physically demanding as the full tour from the natural entrance.
From Memorial Day until mid-October, visitors may attend the nightly Bat Flight held in the small bat flight amphitheater at the Cave entrance. It is free for all to attend and a must-see for everyone.
Once during the summer season, there is a special Bat Flight Breakfast for a small and reasonable fee in exchange for a breakfast cooked by Park Employees and another unforgettable natural spectacle well worth the very early wake-up call required by the schedule of the bats. After breakfast, all attendees may then tour the cave without having to pay the usual entrance fee.
For the well-being of the bats, absolutely no cameras, of any kind, are allowed at any bat flight event. There are many excellent images, in multiple formats, available in the visitor center in order to commemorate the experience. No pets are allowed at Bat Flight events.
Places to Stay Near Carlsbad Caverns
An Unforgettable Experience
For the average non-spelunker, nothing compares to the adventure of walking underground in this cavern full of strange and delightful formations that spark the imagination and continually awe the senses. It does require a fair amount of planning and preparation before and can be somewhat physically challenging for a few people, but none to a degree that isn’t well worth a one-of-kind experience that everyone enjoys, regardless of their personal experiences!
Anyone traveling through Southeastern New Mexico, whether for business or pleasure, should certainly put it at the top of their to-do list and make the time to take the one day needed to see and do all that is offered at Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico.
Final Thoughts on the Best Time to Visit Carlsbad Caverns
No matter what season you choose for your trip to Carlsbad Caverns National Park, one thing is certain – an unforgettable experience awaits! Whether it’s during the peak of summer or deep within winter’s chill, this majestic natural wonderland offers something for everyone all year round. So why wait? Start planning your next adventure today!