|Distance||1.25 miles roundtrip|
- Experiencing the transition from the above-ground world to the caverns
- Less crowded than the Big Room Loop
While the Big Room Loop certainly has more formations and is subjectively more beautiful, the Natural Entrance Trail can provide you the rare experience of standing alone in a dimly-lit cave in dead silence (if that idea scares you, bring a buddy!). Rather than diving straight into the eccentric beauty of the Big Room by taking the elevators, this route allows you to ease into the cave experience, giving your eyes a chance to adjust to the darkness and teasing you with increasingly pretty cave formations. This is also one of the only hikes you'll ever do that is entirely downhill without requiring you to climb back up -- you can just take the elevator to the surface!
Your cave adventure will begin by purchasing tickets at the visitor center and following the signs outside to the Natural Entrance. A ranger will check your ticket and give you the standard precautionary cave talk before letting you proceed. You'll descend the steps of the amphitheater used for viewing the evening bat flight and pass through a metal gate where you'll see the dark opening pictured below. Thus your descent on a never-ending set of switchbacks will begin.
The Natural Entrance Trail is the best way to enter Carlsbad Caverns. You'll experience the transition from the light of outside to the darkness of the underground while seeing a taste of the amazing cave formations to come. Enjoy the cave without the crowds for a moment before entering the echoing Big Room. Let me know what you think in the comments section below and be sure to use #nocoastbestcoast on 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.
The trail is steep and descends 800 feet, but since it's all downhill it should be doable for most. If you're also planning on doing the Big Room Loop, the two might be more hiking than smaller children can handle.
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.
Although it's not as popular as the Big Room, this trail can still become crowded. Arriving earlier is always better 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.