In addition to cave tours, rangers give a sunset bat talk each evening from mid-May through mid-October at the Bat Flight Amphitheater at cavern's Natural Entrance. Another popular program are star parties, which are planned about six times during the summer. Telescopes are available for viewing the night sky and rangers discuss astronomy, the night sky, and related topics. Especially popular are climbing programs, during which rangers demonstrate caving techniques. Rangers also offer a variety of other demonstrations, talks, guided nature walks, and other programs. Check at the visitor center for the current schedule of ranger-led activities.
Caving Tour Programs in Carlsbad Cavern
Ranger-led tours to these less developed sections of Carlsbad Cavern provide more of the experience of exploration and genuine caving than the above routes, which follow well-trodden trails. Caving tours vary in difficulty, but all include a period of absolute darkness or "blackout," which can make some people uncomfortable. Because some tours involve walking or crawling through tight spaces, people who suffer from claustrophobia or who have other health concerns should discuss specifics with rangers before purchasing tickets.
See below for age restrictions and required equipment. Rangers provide headlamps and helmets on some tours. All tours must be reserved; the cost is separate from the general entrance fee. Tours can book up weeks in advance, so reserve early.
Hall of the White Giant -- If you want a strenuous 4-hour trip during which you crawl through narrow, dirty passageways and climb slippery rocks, this tour is for you. The highlight is the huge formation called the White Giant. Only those in excellent condition should consider this tour; children must be at least 12. Four AA batteries for the provided headlamp, sturdy hiking boots, kneepads, gloves, and long pants are required. .5 mile one-way. Strenuous. Access: Visitor center.
Left Hand Tunnel -- The easiest of the caving tours, this one allows you to actually walk -- rather than crawl -- the entire time! Hand-carried lanterns (provided by the Park Service) light the way, and the trail is dirt but relatively level. You'll see a variety of formations, fossils from Permian times, and pools of water. Children must be at least 6. The tour takes about 2 hours. .5 mile one-way. Easy. Access: Visitor center, near the elevator.
Lower Cave -- This 3-hour trek involves descending or climbing over 50 feet of ladders, and an optional crawl. It takes you through an area that was explored by a National Geographic Society expedition in the 1920s, and you'll see artifacts from that and other excursions. In addition, you'll encounter a variety of formations, including cave pearls, which look a lot like the pearls created by oysters and can be as big as golf balls. Participants must be at least 12. Four AA batteries are required for the provided headlamp. Hiking boots or good sneakers and gloves are also required. 1 mile RT. Moderate. Access: Visitor center, near the elevator.
Other Caving Tours
It takes some hiking to reach the other caves in the park, so carry drinking water, especially on hot summer days. Children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult; other age restrictions apply as well. Each tour includes a period of total darkness or "blackout." Fees apply for both, but a general cave admission ticket is not required. Tours are popular and are frequently fully booked; call a few months ahead for reservations.
Slaughter Canyon Cave -- Discovered in 1937, this cave was commercially mined for bat guano (used as fertilizer) until the 1950s. It consists of a corridor 1,140 feet long with many side passageways. The excellent guided tour lasts about 2 hours, plus at least another half-hour to hike up the steep trail to the cave entrance. No crawling is involved, although the smooth flowstone and old bat guano on the floor can be slippery. You'll see a number of wonderful cave formations, including the crystal-decorated Christmas Tree, the 89-foot-high Monarch, and the menacing Klansman. Children must be at least 6. Participants must take strong flashlights with fresh batteries, drinking water, and good hiking boots. 1.25 miles RT (plus .5-mile hike to and from cave entrance). Moderate. Access: Take U.S. 62/180 from Carlsbad, going south 5 miles from White's City, to marked turnoff that leads 11 miles to parking lot. Driving time is 45 min. Tours meet at and depart from cave entrance.
Spider Cave -- Very strenuous, this tour is ideal for those who want the experience of a rugged caving adventure, as well as some great underground scenery. Highlights include climbing down a 15-foot ladder, squeezing through tight passageways, and climbing on slippery surfaces -- all this after a fairly tough half-mile hike to the cave entrance. But it's worth it. The cave has numerous beautiful formations -- most much smaller than those in the Big Room -- and picturesque pools of water. Allow 4 hours. Participants must be at least 12, need four AA batteries for the provided headlamps, and should have good hiking boots, kneepads, gloves, long pants, and drinking water. 1-mile loop (plus .5-mile hike to and from cave). Strenuous. Access: Visitor center; follow ranger to cave.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.