Carlsbad Caverns National Park is really one of the crown jewels of the National Park system. Even though I have seen it many, many times I never fail to be enthralled. Plus I love the Bat Flight. There are two ways to get inside, one is the Natural Cave entrance, which is a steep but worth it walk, and the other is the elevator. I much prefer the Natural entrance but we arrived late after stopping in Roswell for lunch AND because one of the main objectives for us was to see the Bat Flight. It turned out to be a good thing though, because dark caverns are terrible for finishing Junior Ranger books AND our one year old probably would have given up on life if we had walked down.
Carlsbad is one of the pricey sites to visit where it really pays off to have the Annual Pass. The visitor center is nice and quite large, there are some hands-on exhibits which I highly recommend visiting before heading down. Firstly you can touch all the things in the exhibit, secondly it gives some free time for kids to dart around before heading into the caves. Though the caves are quite large and well, cavernous, you are restricted to a path with guard rails AND the caves can be quite crowded. Plus the time in the exhibit allows you to say “Remember you will destroy the caves by touching them,” at least 157 times. There is also a very large gift shop which I did my best to steer clear for the sake of our trip finances, but it has really cool minerals and things. The Junior Ranger booklet was actually quite difficult to complete. Lots of geology, chemistry and Chihuahuan desert facts. This was the closest we have come to failing to complete a badge, and I totally helped with some of the facts because I knew them since I went to high school 70 miles away.
Before descending into the caverns you will be asked if you have visited any other caves in the shoes that you are wearing. If you are shoe impaired like my husband you will say “Yes” because he loves a single pair of shoes. Then a ranger will take your shoes away from you and wash them, despite you swearing that you followed ALL WHITE NOSE SYNDROME (WNS) procedures. He will then return your shoes to you as dry as he can get them and they will still squelch. Moral of the story: Don’t wear the same shoes you wore to Mammoth Cave last week. WNS is no joke though, please take all caution to protect the bats. The Caverns themselves are amazing. The kids were dumbfounded, especially with their expectations from Mammoth Caves which is vastly different as it is a granite cave. Carlsbad’s extensive limestone caves are really undersold by the name of the basic tour “The Big Room.” That being said with young kids that is a great fit, it can be self guided and allow time to appreciate or rush as your children need. If your children are older there are some pretty spectacular tours that require hard hats, head lamps and crawling, Adventure tours!
The cave is well lit for walking and is an easy hike in most places. You can see one of the more famous rock formations “Breast of Venus” in the right hand picture. We were having a little bit of fun with our still nursing 1 year old and his shadow! Fairyland has always been one of my favorite formations as well, though all my photos of it are terrible. There is a cafe at the base of the elevator that you can eat in if your heart desires a subterranean meal, but I have never tried it.
Be prepared to stand online to exit the caves. The elevator takes quite awhile but it gives ample time to whip out our Junior Ranger book and finish up. Ditto for the elevator ride up, as you can see us furiously working to finish! Carlsbad also has a Senior Ranger program, which has only been offered to us at 2 parks so far. I didn’t get a chance to do it but a friend of ours did and got a cool park patch.
Carlsbad has a large population of Brazilian free-tail bats that exit the caves at dusk each night. It is spectacular as they take flight in cyclone of bats. The bats do migrate though so there is not a bat flight program year round (haha, ask me how I know!) The bat flight is held in a stone amphitheater which is as comfortable as it sounds, but is picturesque. Be advised that the Rangers ask for absolute silence as dusk approaches, thankfully our youngest had already passed out. I love this program and I would consider driving up for it even if you miss the Cavern hours, it is free of charge. Also of note is the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) placard which points out the remaining structures built during their tenure. There is a lot of good CCC history with this park. My daughter is a huge fan of American Girl Kit Kittredge, and LOVES The Great Depression, so this was a bonus.