Lava Tubes and Caving

Download the monument's Caving Brochure

Lava tube caves, with their fascinating geology and hidden ice formations, await your careful exploration. With a free caving permit and the proper equipment, you can experience these magnificent underworlds. For more information, such as which caves are available for entry, permitting requirements, recommended equipment, maps to caves, etc., please download a copy of our caving brochure.

Cave Permits

A free caving permit may be obtained in person at the El Malpais Visitor Center and seasonally at the El Malpais Information Center. Please check the visitor centers' hours of operation at visitor centers. Individual and group caving permits are only VALID with a cave permit number obtained from a park ranger at a visitor center.

An individual permit application may be completed in advance of your trip and brought to a park ranger at a visitor center to obtain a cave permit number.

Groups of eleven or more need to call 505-876-2783 to reserve a date and time thirty days in advance. Two adult chaperones are required for every eight children in order to obtain a group caving permit. After making a reservation, a group permit application may be completed in advance of a trip and brought to a park ranger at a visitor center to obtain a valid cave permit number.

If you are an experienced caver or group, be sure to read the cave decomtamination section below.

A new permit is required if visitors go to caves outside the monument and then return to re-enter caves in El Malpais.

The Caves

Map of caves with closures listed.
A map showing the locations of caves open for recreational caving with a free mandatory permit.
Bat with White-Nose Syndrome
White-nose Syndrome (WNS)
White-nose syndrome WNS is a devasting wildlife disease that has killed millions of hibernating bats since it first appeared in the United States a decade ago. WNS is caused by a fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans (formerly Geomyces destructans) that thrives in the cold environments where bats hibernate. Hibernating bats affected with white-nose syndrome often display the white fungus on their muzzles. However, this fungus can also be present on their face, ears, and wings.This disease causes bats to wake more often during their hibernation period. As a result of this increased activity, they will be buring calories and depleting their fat reserves. This will eventually lead them to starve to death. Afflicted bats may also lose water through wings membranes that have been damaged by the fungus, and they eventually die from dehydration.

WNS has killed over 6 million bats as it moves west across the United States and has driven two species to be listed as endangered. While WNS is not harmful to humans, this loss of bats has substantial ecological impacts. Bats are a vital source of organic materials used as food to cave dwellings micro-organisms and invertebrates. Above ground, bats are the primary predators of night flying insects, including those that cause damage to crops.

WNS Protocol: Preventative measures are in effect to stop the human spread of the fungus that causes WNS in bats. As a result, any cave gear used in WNS-affected state may not be used in any cave in New Mexico.

If gear has been used in a cave or mine outside of El Malpais NM, but not in a WNS-affected state, it is the responsibility of the Trip Leader to make sure that ALL members are using gear new to caving or have decontaminated their gear according to the regulations put in place by United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
Decontaminate your caving gear
Decontamination Protocol for Cavers
Each cave system has its own unique ecosystem. The invertebrates and microorganisms in each cave have evolved separately from those in other systems. It is impossible to know how bacteria and fungus from one cave system will affect any other cave system. What is beneficial in one cave may be detrimental to another.

This is the reason we require you to decontaminate all of your cave gear between cave systems. Procedures for decontamination. We would appreciate you decontaminating your caving gear prior to validating a free cave permit.

REMEMBER: There is no decontamination procedure effective enough to allow gear from a White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) affected state to be used in a non-WNS affected state.
El Calderon Area
Junction150x150

(c) Kenneth Ingham

Junction Cave

The easiest cave to access, Junction is a great "first cave."

Cave Map

Xenolith Cave

(c) Kenneth Ingham

Xenolith Cave

Some of the most challenging, and rewarding, cave exploration in the park.

Map & Guide

Big Tubes Area

Big Skylight Cave

(c) Kenneth Ingham

Big Skylight Cave

After a rugged hike into the lava flow wilderness, this grand cave must be seen to be believed.

Map & Guide

The entrance to Giant Ice Cave after a late winter snowfall.

Giant Ice Cave

A small floor of ice lasts year-round at the back of this cave; a cool retreat on warm summer days.

Map & Guide

Last updated: June 15, 2017

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

1900 E. Santa Fe Ave.
Grants, NM 87020

Phone:

(505) 876-2783

Contact Us