Permits and Reservations


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Two cavers stand on rubble in the light from a giant hole in the ceiling of the surrounding lava tube.
Lava tube caving at El Malpais offers a challenging experience for well prepared cavers. A free caving permit is required to visit any lava tube cave at El Malpais, and not all lava tube caves are open to visit to protect sensitive natural and cultural resources.

NPS Photo

Individual Caving Permits

A free caving permit is required to visit any lava tube cave at El Malpais National Monument. Individual caving permits are issued for a minimum of 2 people and a maximum of 10 people. Cave permits can be picked up at the El Malpais Visitor Center at Exit 85 on I-40 in Grants, NM or at the El Morro National Monument Visitor Center.

Not all lava tube caves are open to visit. Visit the caving page for information on open caves and how to prepare for caving at El Malpais.

Group, Educational, and Research Caving Permits

Group, Educational, and Research Caving Permits require a Special Use Permit. 6 weeks advance notice is required to process a group cave permit. For information about group, educational, and research caving permits, please contact the park Special Use Permit Coordinator by email or phone at 505-285-4641 ext. 218.


Special Use Permits

Individuals or groups who wish to use El Malpais National Monument for a special purpose or event require a Special Use Permit. A Special Use Permit must be applied for and approved by the Superintendent. Special Use Permits include, but are not limited to, weddings, large group picnics, sporting events, church services, public spectator attractions, entertainment, ceremonies, 1st Amendment activities (fee is waived), group caving, or anyone wishing to use a public address system. Permit applications require a $100 non-refundable processing fee and must be received by the park at least 6 weeks prior to proposed activity. Your submission of an application DOES NOT guarantee approval of a permit. Special use permit applications are available in both a long and a short version. If you have questions or are interested in these permits, please contact the Special Use Permits Coordinator by email.


Research Permits

Anyone wishing to conduct research at El Malpais National Monument must first submit an application. Contact the Research Permit Coordinator at 505-285-4641 ext. 227 or email us for more information.


Permit Requirements for Commercial Filming & Still Photography

A Special Use Permit is required in some instances for commercial filming and still photography. Use the information provided in the drop-down panels below to determine whether a permit is needed for your activity or email the Special Use Permit Coordinator.


Commercial Filming & Still Photography

Changes to Commercial Filming Permits on Park Land

On January 22, 2021, the US District Court for the District of Columbia issued a decision in Price v. Barr determining the permit and fee requirements applying to commercial filming under 54 USC 100905, 43 CFR Part 5, and 36 CFR Part 5.5 are unconstitutional. The National Park Service has issued interim guidance as of February 22, 2021, to manage filming activities. Under the interim guidance, filming activities may require a permit if they pose a threat to park resources or the visitor experience. The National Park Service intends to update regulations addressing filming activities that are consistent with the outcome of Price v. Barr. Once effective, those regulations will replace and supersede the interim guidance.

As regulations regarding commercial filming permits are being reassessed, those interested in commercial filming activities on land managed by the National Park Service are encouraged to contact the park directly for more information about filming in the park and to discuss how to minimize potential impacts to visitors and sensitive park resources.

Do I need a permit to film?

Under the interim guidance, the National Park Service is not distinguishing between types of filming, such as commercial, non-commercial, or news gathering. Low-impact filming activities will not require a special use permit, but non-low-impact filming may require a permit to consider its potential impacts on park resources and visitor activities.

Low-Impact Filming

“Low-impact filming’ is defined as outdoor filming activities in areas open to the public, except areas managed as wilderness, involving five people or less and equipment that will be carried at all times, except for small tripods used to hold cameras. Those participating in low-impact filming activities do not need a permit and are not required to contact the park in advance. If low-impact filmers have questions about areas where they want to film, they should contact the park directly.

All applicable laws and regulations governing activities and public use in parks still apply, including park hours and areas open and closed to the public. Videographers, filmers, producers, directors, news and other staff associated with filming are reminded that rules and regulations that apply to all park visitors still apply to filming activities even if no permit is needed for their activity. Check with the park staff for more information on closures, sensitive resources, and other safety tips.

Non-Low-Impact Filming

Filming activities that do not meet the description of low-impact filming requires at least ten days advance notice to the National Park Service by contacting the park directly in writing. The park’s superintendent will determine whether the filming activity will require a special use permit for filming Based on the information provided, a permit may be required to:

  • maintain public health and safety;

  • protect environmental or scenic values;

  • protect natural or cultural resources;

  • allow for equitable allocation or use of facilities; or

  • avoid conflict among visitor use activities.

Some requests that may require permits: entering a sensitive resource area, filming in areas that require tickets to enter, or filming in visitor centers, campgrounds, or other visitor areas. The decision to require a permit rests with the park superintendent based on the threat to park resources, values or the visitor experience.

Contact the park directly if unsure whether or not a filming activity is considered low-impact or will require a permit.

Filming in Wilderness Areas

The National Park Service manages and protects more than 44 million acres of Congressionally-designated wilderness areas under the Wilderness Act of 1964. These areas have additional laws and policies to preserve their wilderness character for future generations. Filming activities in wilderness areas must follow all applicable laws and regulations that govern wilderness areas in the park, including prohibitions on structures, installations, motor vehicles, mechanical transport, motorized equipment, motorboats, or landing aircrafts.

Special use Permits for filming are required for all filming activities in wilderness areas, except casual filming by visitors, no matter the group size or equipment used.

Are filmers still required to pay fees to film in parks?

As of January 22, 2021, and under the interim guidance the National Park Service is not collecting application or location fees, or cost recovery for filming activities.

When is a permit needed?

Price v. Barr had no impact on how the National Park Service regulates still photography, so there are no changes in how the National Park Service regulates that activity. Still photographers require a permit only when:

  1. the activity takes place at location(s) where or when members of the public are generally not allowed; or
  2. the activity uses model(s), sets(s), or prop(s) that are not a part of the location's natural or cultural resources or administrative facilities; or
  3. a park would incur additional administrative costs to monitor the activity.

How do I apply for a permit?

To apply for a still photography permit, use the Special Use Permit for Still Photography - long application for complex projects or the Special Use Permit for Still Photography - short application for simpler projects. Please allow one month for permit processing. Contact the park permit coordinator via email or by phone at 505-285-4641 ext. 218 with questions.


Last updated: July 6, 2022

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