Tucked in the southeast corner of New Mexico, Carlsbad Caverns National Park is one of the most unique national parks you can explore. I’ve been blessed to visit three times in my life, twice with kids in tow, and each one has been a beautiful experience.
I always appreciate reading other parent’s reviews of various adventures and now I get to contribute some of our favorite tips and tricks from Carlsbad and the neighboring area.
Where To Stay
Carlsbad can be done in a day trip, but ideally you’ll spend a chunk of time during the day in the caves and then stay for the bat flight at sunset. That means you’ll want to sleep nearby.
Our family’s favorite hotel is Hilton’s Home2 Suites and luckily there is one in Carlsbad, New Mexico, just 20 minutes from the visitor center. There you can get a 2 queen plus a sofa sleeper room and it has a full mini kitchen (which includes a BIG fridge) that makes quick meals a breeze. The gym and pool at Home2s is always nice and the free breakfast is the best around.
How To Prep
As a homeschool mom, I’m all about a little pre-research when it comes to experiences like this. The Carlsbad site has some free printables and resources and often we’ll YouTube a clip of where we’re headed so the kids can get an idea of what is on the horizon. And, library books, of course! No need to buy a huge stash og books when you can access those for free.
What Route To Take
At the visitor center you’ll find a great visual of the two access points to the caves. The first and quickest option is to go down the elevator. It takes about a minute to descent the 754 feet. And yes, your ears will pop so prepare everyone! From there you loop through the caves on a designated path, a mile of which is wheelchair accessible. Plan for 1-2 hours to explore the Big Room when trekking with little feet.
The second option is to enter through the natural cave entrance. This winding, switchback route is absolutely amazing! With this route you really get the scope of how huge Carlsbad Caverns truly is and there is something special about starting at the beginning. I do recommend sturdy tennis shoes or hiking boots since you’re consistently working your way down at a slope. There are guardrails throughout, but in a handful of spots I did make the boys hold my hand and I felt like I was constantly saying, “Walk slow, hold on”.
If you have the time, a total of 3 hours I’d say, definitely visit Carlsbad Caverns through the natural entrance.
What To Pack
Once you’re down in the caves you won’t want to go back up so head in prepared! There are restrooms where the elevators land, but as you weave down the natural entrance and back through the caves there are not.
The caves are cool, but humid. You may want a light jacket or sweater and although it’s not a long or hot hike, water is always refreshing. It is also the only beverage allowed in the caves. Kids love having headlamps or flashlights to better explore and the visitor center’s handheld audio devices ($5 each) lend a more in-depth experience. Our family shared two devices easily.
Strollers are not allowed so head in with your most comfortable baby carrier.
What Not To Miss
Ideally, you’ll want to visit Carlsbad Caverns between late May and October. In those months the Bat Flight Program is underway! You can watch the bats at sunset the rest of the year, but there will be no ranger talk. This session is free and you learn so much prior to seeing the flight. And no worries, bats don’t actually come near you.
We also loved hiking the half mile Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail. The entrance is very close to the visitor center and along the way all the cacti and various flora of the region are marked. My kids love being able to identify the cacti we see out and about now. They remember the names better than I do!
What Not To Forget
If you have a 4th grader, don’t forget to get their free national park pass! It’s good for the whole family! Educators can also get a pass.
Before or after your time in the caves be sure to grab a Junior Ranger book for your kids. Once complete they’ll be sworn in and awarded a park pin. We love collecting these freebies to commemorate our national park adventures.
Max, my self-proclaimed earth ranger and all around animal lover, would also like you to know that you can adopt a bat from the gift shop and purchase a bat plush which is fun to have for photos and snuggling. Ours (which I happened to find at a garage sale!) is aptly named “Carl”.
As a sweet memory of our trip I did purchase the book Nightsong, a story about a darling little bat. The boys all lovingly refer to it as our Carlsbad book.
If you plan to hike outside of the caves, snag this guide for insight on various trails throughout the park. Carlsbad Caverns isn’t just the caves!
What To Do Next
After you explore Carlsbad Caverns stop at El Charro on S Canal for some delicious Mexican fare. We especially loved their quesadillas.
In less than an hour you can hop over to Guadalupe Mountains National Park – there is lots to explore there too so consider adding a day onto your trip so you can see that area as well.
Have you been to Carlsbad Caverns National Park or the surrounding area before? I’d love to hear what you enjoyed most!