Oh, the places you will go! I took a fun trip with my parents who flew into town this past Monday to Carlsbad Caverns National Park in White City, New Mexico.
Our day started with a three hour drive (8:30 am) from El Paso, TX along a long desert highway that weaved through the beautiful Guadalupe Mountains National Park. We didn’t stop and get out of the car but the scenic drive was impressive enough.
[General admission for adults is $10.00. Children, seniors, military, and pass holders I know had discounted ticket prices. I’d refer to the website for more information on this.]
Since we went on a weekday, the crowds were not bad. I recommend avoiding the weekends if possible. Also, get there toward the morning or early afternoon hours aka before noon. Why? Because while you can take the elevator down into the cave, you’re given the option to walk down into it which is the BEST part of the whole experience/cavern. We did this and I would do it again! Just keep in mind that the park does not allow people to walk down after 2:30 pm. Hence, the arriving early tip. It is a long trek down, but you get to appreciate it a whole lot more.
The top picture above is where you enter the cave if you walk down and the second picture is the path winds down and deep into the dark abyss. I honestly thought it wouldn’t be a long walk down, but it took us easily 45 minutes and just when you think you’ve reached the bottom, there’s more! Make sure you have a good pair of sneakers because the pavement can be steep and slick. Also, bring a jacket because it can be chilly. You are in a cave underground after all!
The walk down was a little strenuous and did make me rethink the idea of walking back out (by the way, walking back up is totally doable as long as you’re in good health and take your time). It was neat though and gave you a new perspective of how far down the cave really went.
By the time we reached the bottom of the cave, which is huge, I was a little tired and almost didn’t need my jacket honestly. I worked up a sweat! At the bottom of is the “main room” that can easily take another 45 minutes to an hour to tour. It all depends on how fast you walk, stop to look at things, or how crowded it is. We did a self guided tour, by the way. No guide, no audio. You really don’t need anyone telling you what to look at or the small facts here and there via a listening device. There are plaques all throughout that explain major visual points, but if you want a more detailed or educational experience I guess I would recommended a non-self guided tour.
There’s a lot to explore and gaze at once you’re in the main part. It was amazing to see how the cave has been formed over the years and how it continues to mold itself. There are parts of the cave that haven’t been developed yet and go on for miles, but is not open to the public. It’s hard to put into words how impressive it all is. It’s definitely something you need to experience in person at least once.
After all the walking and gawking, you can decide to be the daring soul to climb back out of it. We saw several people doing this (all huffing and puffing I might add). If you’re up for it, do it! We took the elevator which was ten times faster. There was a line, but it was short. I’ve heard the line during busy days and seasons can get really long. Plan ahead for this! Keep in mind the elevator can only hold 8 people at a time.
And of course, it wouldn’t be a true adventure if it didn’t lead you into a gift shop of sorts at the end. There are two gift shops in the visitor center and a little cafeteria. Actually, there’s a cold foods cafeteria in the cave along with bathrooms, too. We didn’t use or check this out, but the option is there to eat below the surface in dim light if you need a snack.
[Another fun fact about this particular cave: you can watch the bats fly out. We weren’t there at the right time for this, but it seemed like a fun thing to do if it fit your schedule.]
By the time all was said and done, we left about 1:30 pm. It is time consuming, but totally worth visiting! I have been to two other caves in the US in the past and hands down this one if my favorite. The fact that you get to walk into it by yourself is what makes this place super unique.
Go add this to your travel list, bucket list, etc.
Note: Like all national parks, please be respectful of the grounds. The only way these places can continue to be preserved for many more years to come is by following the rules and restrictions that are stated by the park.
You can find all more information about pricing, directions, hours of operation, guidelines, FAQs, and more at https://www.nps.gov/cave/index.htm.
Have you been to Carlsbad Caverns? What did you think? Or what National Park that you have visited has been your favorite? Tell me I’m the comments below.