|Distance||1.25 miles roundtrip|
|Terrain||A few hills|
- Unparalleled cave formations
- Educational signs explaining how various features are formed
- Largest cave room in North America
Without a doubt, the Big Room is the attraction at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Despite being 800 feet underground, this cave hike is anything but claustrophobic. In fact, this is largest cave room in North America with ceilings up to 300 feet high! I've visited 4 other caves in the U.S., and none of those compare to the decadent grandeur of cave formations you'll see here. And unlike those other caves, you can walk the looping path in the Big Room at your own pace, without a ranger guiding you or a tour group of 20 other strangers. Take your time to enjoy this beautiful place, famously referred to as the "Grand Canyon with a roof" by Will Rogers.
Your cave adventure will begin by purchasing tickets at the visitor center. Depending on your level of fitness and group's needs, you can either enter the cave using the elevators near the ticket counter or by following signs outside for the Natural Entrance Trail. If you can handle an extra mile on a steep downhill trail, I highly recommend the Natural Entrance Trail, especially because it's less crowded than the Big Room and allows your eyes to gradually adjust to the darkness.
Should you choose the elevator route, you're in for a wonderful surprise almost immediately after stepping into the cave. Even along the path from the elevators to the Big Room, fantastic formations line the walls with some particularly good cave popcorn (similar to the picture below) on the right side as you go right from the elevators. You'll know it once you've entered the Big Room -- the passage opens wide into a vast jungle of rocky spires and hanging spikes. As indicated by the "wrong way" signs on one end of the loop, the trail is one-way only, completed counter-clockwise.
One of the final named places on the loop is the Painted Grotto. Unlike the rest of the cave, the stalactites and stalagmites here were stained orange and pink by iron oxide (aka rust) present in the dripping water. Twitter and Instagram!
Dogs are not allowed inside the cavern, but a kennel service is available at the visitor center (at a very reasonable $10/day rate). Dogs may not be left unattended in vehicles, and if temperatures rise above 70 degrees, law enforcement will remove them from the vehicle.
Most of the Big Room Loop is wheelchair accessible except for a few parts with steep grades -- read the accessibility brochure for more information and a map of the accessible route.
This is an excellent experience for kids; as opposed to a ranger-led tour, this self-guided cave route provides flexibility (like being able to take a child to the bathroom at any point or choosing the shorter 0.6 mile route if the kids are tired). Note that strollers are not permitted in the cave.
The cavern is open all year with the exception of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's days. No matter the temperature outside, the interior of the cave is at a constant 56 degrees -- wear a sweater or jacket! If you've visited any caves in the past 10 years, make sure to wear different clothing and footwear to prevent the spread of the bat-killing White-Nose Syndrome. No food or drink are allowed in the cave except for plain water.
As the main attraction in the park, this trail can become crowded. Plan to arrive as soon as the park opens at 8 to beat the crowds.
From El Paso, take U.S. Highway 180/62 east towards Carlsbad. After about two hours, turn left onto New Mexico Highway 7 signed for Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Park in the lot for the visitor center.
Google Maps Directions
Parking, Fees, and Facilities
Unlike other national parks, there is no vehicle entrance fee for the park; rather you pay for tickets to enter the cavern. Tickets are $15 per adult age 16 and older and free for ages 15 and under. Interagency and other annual pass holders can receive up to 4 free adult tickets. The visitor center has information, educational exhibits, a gift shop, a cafe, flush toilets, and drinking water.