Frequently Asked Questions
1) When is the park open and how much does it cost? The park is open every day, except December 25, weather and road conditions permitting. Purchase cave tickets at the visitor center information desk. A general admission ticket is required for anyone entering Carlsbad Cavern. Adults 16 years and older are $10, children 15 and younger are free. There are additional fees for guided tours.
2) Does the park give senior or other discounts? Discounts are available only to those with any of the National Parks and Federal Recreations Land Passes.
3) When is the cave open? During the off-season, from Labor Day to Memorial Day, the visitor center opens at 8 a.m. and closes at 5 p.m. The cave opens at 8:30 a.m., with the Natural Entrance closing at 2 p.m. and last elevator entry into the Big Room at 3:30 p.m. In the peak/summer season, the visitor center is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. The cave opens at 8:30 a.m. The Natural Entrance closes at 3:30 p.m. and last elevator entry into the Big Room at 5 p.m.
4) How do we get to the park? The turn off to enter the park is at Whites City, along US Highway 62/180, about 20 miles south of Carlsbad and 142 miles northeast of El Paso. The park entrance road starts at Whites City and continues 7 miles to the visitor center. Sections of the park road are steep, narrow, and winding.
5) How can we see the cave? Self-guided and ranger-led tours of Carlsbad Cavern are available daily. A general admission ticket must be purchased in the park for access to two self-guided trails. Ranger guided tours reservations may be made at 877-444-6777 or www.recreation.gov.
6) Are there any guided tours? Several guided tours are offered and reservations are required. For advanced reservations, call 877-444-6777 or visit www.recreation.gov. Guided tours range in difficulty from walking on paved trails to walking rough dirt trails to crawling through narrow cave passages. Consult the park newspaper, website, or a ranger for more information regarding difficulty and required equipment.
7) What should we do if we have only short time (about and hour) to spend in the park? Enter and exit the cave by elevator and walk the Big Room self-guided tour. To learn more as you walk, rent the audio guide.
8) Is the cave wheelchair accessible? Yes, part of the Big Room tour is wheelchair accessible with assistance. An accessibility guide pamphlet contains a map and can be picked up at the visitor center information desk. Turn-around points ensure you avoid steep areas. The park does not provide wheelchairs.
9) Can we take pictures in the cave? Yes, but camera stands are not allowed on guided tours. Cameras and other electronic equipment are not permitted during the bat exit flight.
10) Can we take food and drinks with us into the cave? Only plain water, please. Eating and drinking anything but water is not allowed on cave trails because food litter and smells could make a mess of trails and attract animals, like raccoons and skunks, into the cave. You may eat and drink in underground lunchroom only where you will find a snack bar, restrooms, and drinking fountains. The restaurant on the surface in the visitor center has a large menu. Picnic tables are available outdoors at the edges of the parking lots.
11) What other items are not permitted in the cave? Walking sticks, baby strollers and pets (except for service dogs) are not permitted in the cave. Backpacks for carrying babies are available for purchase in the visitor center gift shop. Also, for a small fee, pets are sheltered in a kennel in the visitor center while you visit the cave. Pets must not be left in your car if the outside temperature is more than 70°F (21°C), as heat may cause serious injury or death.
12) What is it like in the cave? Carlsbad Cavern is 56°F (13°C) year round, so a light jacket or long-sleeved shirt is recommended. The trails and cave features are electrically lit, but bring a flashlight if you like. The cave is very humid, bring your inhaler if you use one. The trails are steep, so wear sturdy, closed-toe shoes.
13) What facilities are available? The Visitor Center includes information services, educational and art exhibits, a bookstore, restaurant, gift shop, and kennel. Just outside the Visitor Center are restrooms and drinking fountains. Are there restrooms in the cave? Aside from paved trails and electric lights for touring, the only facilities in the cave are located near the elevators. There are restrooms, drinking fountains and a snack bar.
14) Can we camp in the park? There is no campground in the park. Overnight parking is not allowed. Commercial campgrounds are available at Whites City and in the city of Carlsbad. Backcountry camping requires a permit and a minimum half-mile (.8 km) hike. Backcountry permits are required and must be obtained for free at the visitor center information desk.
15) When can we see the bats? From about mid-April to late-October, thousands of bats fly out of Carlsbad Cavern every evening, weather permitting, to eat insects. The free evening Bat Flight ranger talks start in mid-May at the Bat Flight Amphitheater. Check with a ranger for talk time or call 575-785-3012. Cameras are not permitted during the bat flight.
16) Are the bats safe? Yes, bats are safe. They do NOT attack people. Usually, people hurt bats through loss of habitat, pesticide use, or fearful acts due to misunderstanding. Lights on video recorders or from camera flashes bother the bats, so cameras are not permitted during the bat flight. You won't see them in the cave, but an exhibit in the visitor center can tell you more. Bats do much good worldwide, like eating insects and pollinating flowers. Still, as with any wild animal, you should not touch a bat. If a bat is within reach and doesn't fly away, it could be hurt or sick. It is best to leave it alone since it could try to bite as a defense.
17) When was Carlsbad Cavern found? We will never know. Native Americans who lived in the area for centuries and early local residents knew about the cave. We credit Jim White for being the first "explorer" of the cave in 1898.
18) How was the cave formed? The cave was dissolved along cracks and faults in the limestone rock by sulfuric acid. The limestone was laid down about two-hundred and fifty million years ago, as part of a reef complex along the edge of an inland sea. Seventeen to twenty million years ago, the ancient reef rocks that had been buried under thousands of feet of younger rocks began to lift upwards. Tectonic forces pushed the buried rock layers up and erosion wore away softer minerals to expose the ancient reef as the Guadalupe Mountains. Deep in the basin, a brine originating from oil and gas deposits and rich in hydrogen sulfide was forced into the limestone at the edge of the basin. When this brine encountered oxygen-rich rainwater moving down through the rock, it created sulfuric acid. This acid dissolved the limestone creating cave passages. As the Guadalupe Mountains continued to lift up, the water drained out of the cave allowing fresh water to percolate through and leave minerals on the ceiling, walls, and floors that we know as cave decorations.
19) What are the formations called? Scientists call them speleothems. The carrot-like ones clinging "tight" to the ceiling are stalactites. Stalagmites "might" reach the ceiling. There are also columns, draperies, soda straws, popcorn and helictites. Rain water trickles down through the soil and picks up carbon dioxide gas, creating carbonic acid, which acid dissolves the limestone, and then re-deposits it in the cave as calcite "decorations."
20) Are there other caves in the area we could visit? Carlsbad Cavern is the only local commercial cave with paved walkways, handrails and lights. Park rangers also lead tours through Spider Cave and Slaughter Canyon Cave, for more information visit the Plan Your Visit webpage. It is also possible to visit other recreational caves (with minimal development) at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, see the Backcountry Caves brochure for more information. Various other undeveloped (wild) caves may be explored on nearby US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands, check with these agencies for access and locations.
Did You Know?
Most of the formations—or speleothems—found inside Carlsbad Cavern today were active and growing during the last ice age when instead of having a desert above the cave, there were pine forests.