Frequently Asked Questions

1) When is the park open and how much does it cost? The park is open every day, except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's days, weather and road conditions permitting. Purchase cavern tickets at the ticket counter inside the visitor center. A general admission ticket is required for anyone entering Carlsbad Cavern. Adults 16 years and older are $15, children 15 and younger are free. There are additional fees for guided tours.

2) Does the park provide senior or other discounts? A senior pass is available to United States Citizens with proof of age 62 or older for $80 (lifetime) and $20 (annual). Discounts for ranger-guided tours are available to those with a Senior or Access pass. More information is available at the National Parks and Federal Recreations Land Pass Series website.

3) When is the cavern open? From Labor Day to Memorial Day, the visitor center is open fromt 8 am to 5 pm. The cavern opens at 8:30 am, with the last hike in through the Natural Entrance at 2:30 pm and last elevator entry into the Big Room at 3:30 pm. The last entrance ticket is sold at 3:15 pm.

From Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day, the visitor center is open from 8 am to 7 pm. The cavern opens at 8:30 am, with the last hike in through the Natural Entrance at 3:30 pm and last elevator entry into the Big Room at 5 pm. The last entrance ticket is sold at 4:45 pm.

4) How do we get to the park? The turn off to enter the park is at White's City, along U.S. Highway 62/180, about 20 miles (32 km) south of Carlsbad and 142 miles (229 km) northeast of El Paso. The park entrance road starts at White's City and continues seven miles (11 km) to the visitor center. Sections of the park road are steep, narrow, and winding.

5) How can we see the cavern? You can explore two trails on your own or join ranger-guided tours of Carlsbad Cavern. A general admission ticket must be purchased for access to two trails you can enjoy on your own. For ranger-guided tours, advance reservations are required and available at 877-444-6777 or www.recreation.gov.

  • The Natural Entrance Trail is a steep 1-1/4 mile (2 km) descent, equivalent to about 79 stories, from the Natural Entrance to the Big Room. Hiking time is about one hour. This trail is not recommended for visitors with heart or respiratory conditions.
  • The Big Room Trail may be accessed from either the elevator or the bottom of the Natural Entrance Trail. Allow one-to-two hours for this 1-1/4 mile (2 km) walk. A short-cut is available that reduces the length and duration in half.
  • Audio Guide: To enhance the Big Room and Natural Entrance trails, rent a handheld audio guide for in-depth descriptions of the cavern's features, geology, and history. Audio guides are available for rent at the bookstore.

6) Are there any guided tours? Several guided tours are offered and reservations are required. For 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. Visit the Ranger-Guided Tours page for more information.

7) What should we do if we have only short time (about an hour) to spend in the park? Enter and exit the cavern by elevator and walk the Big Room Trail. To learn more as you walk, rent an audio guide at the bookstore.

8) Is the cavern wheelchair accessible? Yes, part of the Big Room Trail is wheelchair accessible with assistance. An accessibility guide brochure 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 cavern? Yes, and you may use a flash. Tripods or monopods are allowed on the Big Room and Natural Entrance trails, but are not allowed on ranger-guided tours. Cameras and other electronic equipment are not permitted during bat flight.

10) Can we take food and drinks with us into the cavern? Only plain water is permitted in the cavern. Eating and drinking anything except plain water is not allowed because food attract animals like raccoons and ringtails into the cavern. You may eat and drink in the Underground Lunchroom snack bar area only.

11) What other items are not permitted in the cavern? Recreational walking sticks (canes and walking sticks for medical purposes are permitted), baby strollers, and pets are not permitted in the cavern, except service dogs. A kennel for pets is available for a fee in the visitor center. Pets must not be left in your car if the outside temperature is projected to reach more than 70°F (21°C), as heat may cause serious injury or death.

12) What is it like in the cavern? Carlsbad Cavern is 56°F (13°C) year round and humid. A light jacket or long-sleeved shirt is recommended. The trails and cavern features are electrically lit, but bring a flashlight if you'd like. Some areas of the Big Room and Natural Entrance trails are wet from natural water drips and steep. For safety, closed-toe shoes with good traction (e.g. lug soles) are recommended.

13) What facilities are available? The visitor center includes information services, educational exhibits, a bookstore, restaurant, gift shop, and kennel. Just outside the visitor center are restrooms and drinking fountains. There are restrooms in the cavern, but only at the bottom in the Underground Lunchroom.

14) Can we camp in the park? Only backcountry camping is permitted in the park. Overnight RV parking or car camping is not allowed. Backcountry camping requires a permit and a minimum half-mile (0.8 km) hike into the desert. Free backcountry permits must be obtained at the visitor center information desk on the day of your camping trip. Commercial campgrounds are available at White's City and in the City of Carlsbad.

15) When can we see the bats? From about mid-April to late-October, thousands of bats fly out of Carlsbad Cavern in the evening, weather permitting, to eat insects. The free evening Bat Flight Program starts the last weekend in May at the Bat Flight Amphitheater. Check with a ranger for the talk time or call 575-236-1374. Electronic devices are not permitted during the bat flight.

16) Are bats safe to be around? 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. You won't see bats in the cavern, 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 cavern in about 1898.

18) How was the cavern formed? The cavern was dissolved along cracks and faults in the limestone rock by sulfuric acid. The limestone was laid down about 265 million years ago, as part of a reef complex along the edge of an inland sea. About 16–20 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, that form on the cavern floor and "grow" up, "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 cavern as calcite "decorations."

20) Are there other caves in the area we could visit? Carlsbad Cavern is the only local cave with paved walkways, handrails and lights. Park rangers also lead tours through Spider Cave and Slaughter Canyon caves. For more information, visit the Plan Your Visit part of our website. 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 U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands. Check with these agencies for access and locations.

Last updated: April 13, 2019

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Mailing Address:

3225 National Parks Highway
Carlsbad, NM 88220

Phone:

(575) 785-2232

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