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Getting There

The main section of Carlsbad Caverns National Park, with the visitor center and entrance to Carlsbad Cavern, the park's main cave, is located about 35 miles from Guadalupe Mountains National Park. From Guadalupe Mountains National Park take U.S. 62/180 northeast to White's City, and turn left onto N. Mex. 7, the park access road. You enter the boundary of Carlsbad Caverns National Park almost immediately and reach the visitor center in about 7 miles. From the city of Carlsbad, head 30 miles southwest on U.S. 62/180 and then 7 miles on N. Mex. 7 to the visitor center.

Visitor Information

Contact Carlsbad Caverns National Park, 3225 National Parks Hwy., Carlsbad, NM 88220 (tel. 575/785-2232; www.nps.gov/cave). Books and maps can be ordered from the Carlsbad Caverns Guadalupe Mountains Association, 727 Carlsbad Caverns Hwy. (P.O. Box 417), Carlsbad, NM 88221 (tel. 575/785-2486; www.ccgma.org).

The visitor center is open daily from 8am to 7pm from Memorial Day to Labor Day; and self-guided cave tours can be started from 8:30am to 5pm. The rest of the year the visitor center is open from 8am to 5pm, with self-guided cave tours from 8:30am to 3:30pm. Tour times and schedules may be modified during slower times in the winter. The park is closed on Christmas Day.

At the visitor center are displays depicting the geology and history of the caverns, bats and other wildlife, and a three-dimensional model of the caverns. You can get information about the tours available and other park activities, both above- and below-ground. There is also a well-stocked bookstore, a restaurant, and a gift shop.

Fees

Admission to the visitor center and aboveground sections of the park is free. The basic cavern entry fee, which is good for 3 days and includes self-guided tours of the Natural Entrance and Big Room, is $6 for adults and free for children 15 and under. Annual passes and senior passes are good for the entry of four adults.

A general cave admission ticket is required in addition to tour fees for all guided cave tours except those to Slaughter Canyon Cave and Spider Cave. Reservations are required for all guided tours. Holders of annual and senior passports receive 50% discounts on tours. The Kings Palace guided tour costs $8 for adults, $4 for children ages 6 to 15, and is free for children ages 4 and 5 with an adult -- younger children are not permitted. Guided tours of Left Hand Tunnel, limited to those 6 and older, cost $7 for adults and $3.50 for children 6 to 15. Guided tours of Spider Cave, Lower Cave, and Hall of the White Giant are limited to those 12 and older, and cost $20 for adults and $10 for youths 12 to 15. Slaughter Canyon Cave tours, for those 6 and older, cost $15 for adults and $7.50 for children 6 to 15. You can make reservations for cave tours up to 3 months in advance by phone or online (tel. 800/444-6777; www.recreation.gov).

Regulations & Permits

As you would expect, damaging the cave formations in any way is prohibited. What some people do not understand is that they should not even touch the formations, walls, or ceilings. This is not only because many of the features are delicate and easily broken, but also because skin oils will both discolor the rock and disturb the mineral deposits that are necessary for growth.

All tobacco use is prohibited underground. In addition, food, drinks, candy, and chewing gum are not allowed on the underground trails. Those making wishes should not throw coins or other objects into the underground pools.

Cave explorers should wear flat shoes with rubber soles and heels, because of the slippery paths. Children 15 and under must remain with an adult at all times while in the caves. Although strollers are not allowed for younger children, child backpacks are a good idea, but beware of low ceilings and doorways along the pathways.

No photography is permitted at the evening Bat Flight programs without a special permit.

Pets are not permitted in the caverns, on park trails, or in the backcountry, and because of the hot summer temperatures, pets should not be left unattended in vehicles. There is a kennel (tel. 575/785-2281) available at the visitor center. It has cages in an air-conditioned room, but no runs, and is primarily used by pet owners for periods of 3 hours or so while they are on cave tours. Pets are provided with water, but not food, and there are no grooming or overnight facilities. Reservations are not necessary; cost is $5 per pet.

Free permits, available at the visitor center, are required for all overnight hikes into the backcountry.

When to Go

The climate aboveground is warm in the summer, with highs often in the 90s (mid-30s Celsius) and sometimes exceeding 100°F (38°C), and evening lows in the mid-60s (teens Celsius). Winters are mild, with highs in the 50s and 60s (teens Celsius) in the day and nighttime lows usually in the 20s and 30s (around 0°C). Summers are known for sudden intense afternoon and evening thunderstorms; August and September see the most rain. Underground it's another story entirely, with a year-round temperature that varies little from its average temperature of 56°F (13°C), making a jacket or sweater a welcome companion.

Crowds are thickest in summer, and on weekends and holidays year-round, so visiting on weekdays between Labor Day and Memorial Day is the best way to avoid them. January is the quietest month.

Visiting during the park's off season is especially attractive because the climate in the caves doesn't vary regardless of the weather on top, where the winters are generally mild and summers warm to hot. The only downside to an off-season visit is that you won't be able to see the bat flights. The bats head to Mexico when the weather starts to get chilly, usually by late October, and don't return until May. There are also fewer guided cave tours off season, although those tours will have fewer people. The best time to see the park might well be in September, when you can still see the bat flights but there are fewer visitors than during the peak summer season.

Ranger Programs

In addition to the cave tours, rangers give a talk on bats at sunset each evening from mid-May to October at the cavern's Natural Entrance (times change; check at the visitor center or call tel. 575/785-3012). Rangers also offer a variety of demonstrations, talks, guided nature walks, and other programs daily. Especially popular are the climbing programs, where rangers demonstrate caving techniques. In recent years there has also been a series of stargazing programs presented by graduate students from New Mexico State University. The park also offers a Junior Ranger Program, in which kids can earn badges by completing various activities. Details are available at the visitor center.

On the second Thursday in August (usually), a "bat flight breakfast" from 5 to 7am encourages visitors to watch the bats return to the cavern after their night of insect hunting. Park rangers prepare breakfast for early-morning visitors for a small fee and then join them to watch the early-morning return flight. Call the park for details.

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.