Desert Hiking Trails

Two hikers in warm clothes hike in the backcountry
Hikers in the backcountry.


“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” – John Muir

Surface hiking at Carlsbad Caverns National Park is a great and rewarding way to experience the environs of the Guadalupe Mountains and Chihuahuan Desert. Stop by the visitor center and ask a park ranger about the current and forecasted park conditions before heading out.

Be prepared! Understand that mental attitude and adequate water and food consumption are absolutely essential to the success of any hike. The day hiker and the overnight backpacker must be equally prepared for the lack of water, extreme temperatures, and isolation in the backcountry. Safety is your responsibility. Planning is important, but also knowing how to be self-sufficient in case you encounter an unexpected hazard or an emergency occurs.

Hiking essentials such as food, first aid kit, water, and sun protection
The ten hiking essentials.

NPS / Lauren Miller

Bring the 10 Essentials

  1. First aid kit

  2. Layers of clothing

  3. Flashlight or headlamp

  4. Pocket knife or multi-tool

  5. Sun protection (for eyes and skin)

  6. Food (hiking drains energy quickly)

  7. Water (2 quarts (1.9 L) per two hiking hours)

  8. Sturdy shoes or boots (to protect against desert plants)

  9. Navigation (topographical map and compass)

  10. Emergency shelter (for rapidly changing weather)


Safety and Protecting the Desert Environment

  • Help protect the fragile desert environment by staying on established trails, avoid stepping on biological soil crusts, and do not shortcut switchbacks. Trails are typically marked by signs or rock cairns.
  • Let the slowest hiker set the pace, and always stay together.
  • Pets are not permitted on trails or anywhere in the backcountry.
  • Take breaks often and know your limits. If you can talk while walking, you are at a good speed.
  • Try to keep a distance of at least 100 yards (91 m) from all wildlife encountered during your hike.
  • Remember that all park resources—fossils, plants, animals, artifacts, and rocks—are to remain as you find them.
  • There is no reliable water source in the park’s backcountry. Pack plenty of water—at least one gallon (3.8 L) per person per day.
  • Remember that your hike time includes the time to your destination and back. Set a turnaround time if your trip is taking longer than planned.
  • Do not rely on your phone for assistance; reception is limited. Have a backup way of signaling for help if needed such as a whistle or signal mirror.
  • Try to plan your day to not hiking between 10 am and 4 pm, when high temperatures and direct overhead sun are more prevalent.
  • If there is lightning, go to low-lying areas away from cliff edges, lone trees, poles, or metal objects. Do not seek shelter in caves or alcoves. Become a smaller target by squatting low on the ground. Place hands on knees or back of neck with head between knees. Minimize contact with the ground and nearby rocks. Be mindful that the area is prone to flash flooding.

Last updated: April 5, 2024

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3225 National Parks Highway
Carlsbad, NM 88220


575 785-2232

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