A trip to New Mexico would be incomplete without stopping at one of the area’s most remarkable landmarks, Carlsbad Caverns. You’ll find this cavern, and others, within a national park founded to protect the area.
Frequent travelers know how busy high-traffic national parks can be during the peak season and how prices increase during this time. This guide highlights all the information you’ll need, whether you’re looking for the cheapest trip or the best overall time to visit.
The best time to visit Carlsbad Caverns varies depending on what you want out of a trip. Check out these suggestions to plan a trip at the right time for you!
Why You Should Visit Carlsbad Caverns
The biggest draw to Carlsbad is right in the name: the caverns. You can explore the massive Carlsbad Cavern, the most well-known cave in the park, or explore other underground areas through ranger-led hikes.
There’s plenty to do above ground too. At certain times of the year, you can witness thousands of bats leaving the Carlsbad Cavern at sundown. You can also hike the rugged trails across the park, taking you through the Guadalupe Mountains and the Chihuahuan Desert.
Views of the night sky also draw visitors to Carlsbad. The park’s isolated location offers stargazing without as much light pollution so that you can see constellations and sometimes the International Space Station!
Overall Best Time to Visit Carlsbad Caverns
The months between April and October mark the overall best time to visit Carlsbad Caverns. One major factor that draws visitors during this time is the massive population of bats that migrate to the park.
In addition to watching these fascinating creatures leave the cave in the evening, early risers can also witness the bats returning to the cave in the morning. Not all bats roost in caves like the migrating Brazilian free-tailed bat, so you may also glimpse other species of bats around the park.
While most facilities stay open year-round, certain activities in the park are only available between early spring and mid-fall, including ranger-led stargazing and night hikes. The park offers these programs when more people visit, so expect fewer opportunities as attendance declines.
Though April through October is the best time to visit the park, weather conditions during this time can be extreme, especially during the summer. Come prepared to deal with hot temperatures of up to 100°.
Cheapest Time to Visit Carlsbad Caverns
The cheapest time to visit Carlsbad Caverns is during the low season for travel, mid-January through February. This time falls in line with travel trends in the United States and applies in particular to airfare if it is required for you to reach the national park.
One of the best aspects of visiting national parks is the consistent pricing throughout the year. Entrance fees remain the same low price year-round, and amenities within the park stay at the same rates.
Unlike other national parks, Carlsbad Caverns only offers backcountry camping. Visitors camp outside the park or find lodging in nearby Carlsbad. These prices vary depending on the time of year.
You can still save money visiting Carlsbad during higher traffic times by avoiding holidays when people are more likely to travel, and prices increase. Camping, rather than staying in other lodgings, also saves people money.
Least Busy Time to Visit Carlsbad Caverns
The least busy time to visit Carlsbad Caverns spans from January through February after many folks have already traveled for the holiday season.
However, since many of the park’s best features aren’t available during this time, you may want to consider other options. September and October fall during the peak season but also experience a decline in attendance as fewer families travel while kids are in school.
Visit during this time to catch the tail end of bats’ stay in the park and experience some stellar stargazing, especially if you plan your trip around the Draconids Meteor Shower.
April and May also have fewer visitors than other parts of the peak season if you avoid holidays and typical spring break times.
Bats begin to return to the area during these months, and while programs about these creatures won’t resume until Memorial Day weekend, you can still spot them in the park.
Worst Time to Visit Carlsbad Caverns
Unfortunately, the least busy and cheapest time to visit Carlsbad Caverns, January through February, also happens to be the worst. The park sometimes experiences icy and snowy conditions in addition to cold weather during this time.
Though weather sometimes causes closures in the park, these aren’t as extreme as other national parks where large areas become inaccessible due to snow. The visitor center remains open all year, providing water bottle filling stations, a restaurant, a gift shop, and restrooms.
If you’re looking for a quiet trip and don’t mind missing the bats, this worst time to visit might be one of the best! You can still check out Carlsbad Caverns and hike the numerous trails in the desert landscape while enjoying a great deal of what the park offers.
Things to Consider
Before heading to Carlsbad Caverns, deciding what kind of activities you’d like to try and if they match your skill level is essential. Reviewing this information about two of the park’s most popular activities will be beneficial regardless of where you’re exploring.
Caving: What You Need to Know
Before exploring the caves, you’ll have to make several preparations. Some help protect you as you navigate through the dimly lit passages of the caves, while others are in place to preserve the delicate ecosystem you’ll be visiting.
- Clothing & Shoes: Temperatures underground remain at 56° all year, so you might need a light jacket. The park requires closed-toe shoes for exploring caves.
- Health Concerns: People with respiratory or heart problems, mobility issues, or conditions like claustrophobia and vertigo should consider their physical ability before deciding to tour the caves.
- Food and Drink: Only plain water is allowed in caves. No other snacks or beverages are allowed.
- Ranger-led & Self-led: Amateurs can sign up for ranger-led hikes through many of the park’s caves. Self-led tours are available in Carlsbad Cavern and other caves after consulting rangers.
- Reservations & Permits: Whether you navigate these caves with the help of a ranger or are skilled enough to explore the caves on your own, you’ll need a permit or reservation.
- Strollers: Strollers are not allowed in the caves. Children under four are also not permitted in many of the park’s caves.
Desert Hiking & Safety
Being properly outfitted is the best way to stay safe whenever you visit the park. Check out this list of the 10 Essentials you need from the NPS:
- Emergency Shelter: Rapidly changing weather conditions can lead to the need to take shelter from the elements in this park.
- First Aid Kit: Carry a basic medical kit to treat injuries on the trail.
- Food: Hiking these trails strains the body, and eating snacks helps restore energy.
- Footwear: Boots or sturdy shoes help you navigate the park while protecting your feet.
- Layered Clothing: Desert climates experience extreme temperature changes, and wearing layers allows you to adjust as needed.
- Lightsource: Even if you plan on returning before nightfall, bring a flashlight or headlight to see in the dark in case you get lost or take more time than intended.
- Map & Compass: You cannot rely on your phone’s navigation to guide you here. Bringing other ways to find your way is highly recommended.
- Pocket Knife: A pocket knife or similar tool proves helpful in many situations along the trail.
- Sun Protection: Protect your skin and eyes from the harsh sun by wearing sunglasses, hats, sunscreen, or other sun protection.
- Water: The desert landscape of Carlsbad is harsh, and carrying water to stay hydrated is a must. Two quarts per person for every two hiking hours should suffice.
White Nose Syndrome
In addition to choosing the right gear to explore the caves while protecting yourself, you should also consider the needs of the animals that live inside these vast features.
Bats are some of the park’s most prominent cave-dwellers; unfortunately, their population has declined in recent years. White Nose Syndrome, a fungal disease that spreads rapidly through bat colonies, has already killed millions of bats across the United States.
The disease affects hibernating bats causing physical changes, forcing the bats to use more energy to live frequently, leading to starvation. Though White Nose Syndrome doesn’t affect humans, they can help stop the spread of the disease.
Before entering any of Carlsbad’s caves, you will be asked to disinfect your shoes, as contaminated clothing items can carry the fungus from one place to another.
Consider not wearing any shoes or clothing previously worn in a cave. Wash anything you wore in a cave, including your shoes, if you plan on visiting Carlsbad’s caves in the same outfit. Rangers can answer any questions about this procedure at the park.
Frequently Asked Questions
These are some of the best frequently asked questions from travelers, and the answers!
Do you need a reservation for Carlsbad Caverns?
While a reservation isn’t required to enter the national park, you will need a reservation to explore the cavern. If you already hold a National Park pass, the park waives the entrance fee, but you still need a reservation to enter the cave.
Is Carlsbad Caverns hard to walk?
The self-guided trails through the cavern rate at a moderate challenge level. The trails total two and a half miles, but some steep areas are more strenuous than others.
Using the visitor center’s elevator, you can bypass some of the trail’s more demanding parts. The elevator takes you to the Big Room trail, most of which is also accessible by wheelchair.
What months are the bats at Carlsbad Caverns?
The park’s most famous residents, Brazilian free-tailed bats, migrate and return to the Carlsbad Caverns to give birth to their young starting around mid-April. The bats are most prevalent from May through October when they leave the caves seeking warmer weather in the south.
What time do the bats leave the cave at Carlsbad Caverns?
The time the bats leave the cave varies depending on the sunset. Rangers post these times daily and offer a Bat Flight Program for folks to watch thousands of bats take flight.
How many days do you need to visit Carlsbad Caverns?
How many days you will need depends on what you want to see in the park. If you just want to check out the actual caverns, you shouldn’t need more than a day. However, there are plenty of above-ground trails to hike in the park, so you could spend two to three days exploring.
So, What’s the Best Time to Visit Carlsbad Caverns?
Overall the best time to visit Carlsbad Caverns falls between April and October when most programs are available and spectacular numbers of bats fill the air. However, visiting during other times of the year can be just as exciting, depending on how you want to explore the park. Happy travels!