Visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico has forever been on my bucket list. In fact I re-routed off of our Route 66 road trip JUST to detour down to Carlsbad! Since I went by myself with my 3 kids (ages 12, 10, & 4) you can read below about going to Carlsbad Caverns National Park with kids!
You guys KNOW I am pretty obsessed with caves, so it’s only expected that visiting Carlsbad Caverns was pretty high on my list. When we started putting together our itinerary for our 9000 mile road trip (yes – 9000 miles!) I right away googled to see how far of Route 66 I would have to go to include Carlsbad Caverns on the trip.
We headed south once we got out of Amarillo, Texas and stopped in Roswell, New Mexico then cut across to Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands National Monument, then headed north to jump back on Route 66 near Albuquerque New Mexico.
When we first drove into the Carlsbad Caverns we spotted tarantulas and sheep running across the road! It’s a long windy road to get back there so be VERY mindful of the posted speed limits as there is plenty of wildlife that can be blocking the trails. One night we even spotted the elusive ring tailed raccoon as we were driving out of the park – it was AWESOME!
Camping near Carlsbad Caverns:
Because I really wanted to also see the Bat Flight program at Carlsbad Caverns we decided to spend the night nearby at Carlsbad RV Park. I definitely recommend this campgrounds! We were the only tent campers surprisingly and found our oasis near the bathrooms and a wonderful indoor pool! It was a great spot for us to pop in for the night!
DO NOT MISS the Bat Flight program every afternoon at sunset!
More About the Bat Flight Program:
At the VERY least I recommend “adopting” a bat for your kids, but you can also do this for $10 at the Bat Flight program. Every afternoon at sunset around 7pm between late May – October everyone gathers quietly in the amphitheater in front of the cave entrance to wait for the bats to fly out. OR if you’re an early riser you can go there at sunrise, usually around 5am for “Dawn of the Bats” to watch the bats return to the cave.
It’s not QUITE as spectacular as the bats don’t all come back at the same time and tend to trickle in as opposed to flooding out of the cave all at once.
It’s an AMAZING experience to see literally millions of bats swooping out of the cave entrance to feed at night. The park rangers were fabulous – we learned SO much about bats. These bats are specifically the Brazilian free-tailed bats.
They do not allow photos or videos during the Bat Flight program so I have no epic pictures to show you but I guarantee you that it is still worth going to! All three of my kids loved it as much as I did and my little one still talks about it all the time! The only other place in the country that I’ve visited even remotely similar would be the Congress Bridge Bats in Austin, Texas.
Visiting Carlsbad Caverns:
Just follow the signs to get down to the entrance of the cave. You can pay for the tour but you can absolutely do a self guided tour through Carlsbad Caverns. FREE! I was ecstatic! There are bathrooms just before you take the steep turn down into the caves so if you realized you needed to go after you left the visitor’s center you still have a chance!
Typically show caves are not self guided (or free!) so we were SO happy to be able to explore the cave on our own timing. But I’m not going to lie – these switchbacks to get down into the cave were pretty steep as you can see! I kept my daughter with me so there were no accidents but my older boys were just fine doing their own thing.
There are two sections of the cave – the Big Room Trail which is about 1.25 miles in distance to walk OR you can take the shortcut out of the Big Room Trail which is clearly marked and cuts down your walking to about .6 miles. Just depends what you have the time (and energy!) for!
We are used to hiking in caves but I found that some of the steep elevation really wore us out more than expected! However my 4 year old was able to walk the entire time on her own. There are also benches every so often that you can sit for a break at!
As you can see it’s very open and vast – it was everything I’d always dreamed that Carlsbad Caverns would be! I’m SO thankful we re-routed off of Route 66 to visit Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands National Monument.
Depending on what time of year you go not only can you visit the Bat Flight Program but the National Park Service also has star walks, star parties and moon hikes too! Occasionally you can even see the International Space Station from the parking lot!
Tips for Taking Photos in Carlsbad Caverns:
As you can imagine, taking photos in caves can be extremely difficult. Especially if you’re hiking with children! Unfortunately I did not have the opportunity to get my normal glamorous cave photos since I had the 3 kids with me but a quick glance around the caves we have explored can give you a good idea of the kind of photos one can get with a decent camera. Many phones are not equipped for decent cave photos, but if your phone has a “Pro” or “Low Light” feature that’s going to be your best bet at getting a decent phone picture!
Always try to get your photos without flash if you can and near a light source in the cave. That will help with some of the blur and grainy images like mine are above! Using a flash will change the look of the cave and can potentially bother others hiking in such a dark area.
If you’ve got a DSLR camera this is going to be your best chance for a good cave photo! You will need to be absolutely still to capture a good image – and by this I mean STILL! You will need to prop your camera up along a railing or bench (please don’t touch the cave walls or formations themselves as it will damage them!) so that there is no movement with your camera. Thankfully in Carlsbad Caverns there are plenty of places you can stop and take some time for photos.