Travel: Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

After spending the day in San Antonio, Texas, we headed to Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico staying over in Fort Stockton, Texas, on the way.  We arrived just outside the entrance to the national park around lunch time, so we looked for somewhere to pick up lunch.  Let me tell you, that was no easy task.  Or actually, maybe it was.  There was only one open restaurant in White’s City.  I guess that’s what happens when you visit during “off season” or maybe if you’re townies who expect there to always be somewhere to eat.  Perhaps that could be added to a list of cons for traveling off season, but there are so many pros it’s easy to ignore.  Two big pluses? All the random touristy traps are closed and the crowds are gone. For those two pluses, we’ll eat at the one open restaurant with tasty food, but no fresh veggies on the menu…at least for one meal!  But, I digress, just consider it a friendly heads up when traveling off-season.

We entered Carlsbad Caverns National Park visitor center and purchased a National Park annual pass for $80.  With the annual pass, you can enter any national park at no additional cost.  Generally, children under age 15 are free anyway, but prices for adult entrance vary.  Because we knew we were visiting other national parks on this trip (and hopefully more throughout the year), it seemed to make the most financial sense.   We had viewed our tour options on the website in advance and decided on the self-guided cave tour, Big Room Route.  We also checked out an audio tour wand for $5.00 from the bookstore.  We thought it would be self-explanatory and therefore didn’t think to ask for directions on its use.  We eventually figured it out, but it would’ve been better if we knew what we were doing with it from the beginning of our time in the cave.

You enter the cave by going down into it via elevator from the visitor center.  There are bathrooms and a snack shop with tables when you first enter the cave.  They are the only bathrooms in the cave, so we considered it wise to use them before we started on our tour.  A few more things to consider: 1. Wear comfortable shoes, because there is a lot of walking and it is on rock, which is also sometimes wet and could be slippery.  2. Wear layers.  While the temperature outside the cave was hot, it dropped significantly once entering the cave, so we were glad to have our sweatshirts.  3. If you have a toddler or pre-schooler with you, plan to carry them for part of the tour.  We selected the shorter self-guided tour (as opposed to the Natural Entrance Tour) and our daughter, who is two years old, still needed to be carried for portions of the trip.  We brought our ergo carrier, which worked great, because it’s not too bulky to continue wearing when she’s out of it.  At our leisurely pace, the one mile trail took us three hours.

Now for the real excitement!  I only wish our photographs could capture the true beauty of the caverns.  I share ours above to give a sense of the scale of the cave. Although I doubt any photographs could capture the magnificence we viewed that day, the National Park Service’s photos far exceed ours in quality, so I’ll share two of theirs here.

Doll’s Theater
Totem Pole
We were in awe of the views around us the entire time, full of many different colors, textures, and shapes.  Along the route, there were helpful placards, which provided more information about the cave’s features.  Any time I enter a cave, I’m struck by the adventurous and courageous spirit of the first explorers who discovered the cave.  While w
e walked around with limited light, but clearly designed paths and guard rails, they simply went into darkness with no idea what they would find. There were points that the depth of the cave could not be seen from our vantage point, but it was measured, because some brave explorer had repelled into its unknown places.  Wow! I’m grateful for their discoveries, because by them, I am able to see and know more about my creator’s marvelous works. 

After exiting the cave, the boys completed their junior ranger activity guides and were sworn in by the on-duty park ranger as official junior rangers for Carlsbad Caverns.  They received patches and badges with the Carlsbad Caverns National Park insignia.  If you’re considering having your littles become junior park rangers, just know the activity guides require a pretty intensive amount of work (especially for my younger guys) and at some parks (which we later learned) require ranger-led programs.  We rarely scheduled our visits around ranger-led programs, so the junior ranger applications often didn’t work out for us.  But, in this case, they did! And my little junior park rangers were content to remain only Carlsbad Caverns Junior Rangers for the remainder of our trip.  I should note, the rangers will typically give you the activity guides to complete on your own time also, which we often took them up on.  We’d bring the guides into the car to look through, discuss, and sometimes complete after our visit.      

If you have the chance to visit New Mexico, definitely add this to your list of can’t miss places.  You won’t regret it!


  1. Penny says

    Love your blog. I just checked it out for the CC cycle 3 book list you gave. Notice you and your littles have gorgeous red hair. Curious if your husband does too. My husband and I both have red hair, although it turns more brown as we get older 🙁 But we have 5 littles (9,7,5,3,1) with red hair as well. So we are constantly barraged with redheaded comments, as I’m sure you are! Just wanted to say: cute kids, keep up the good work, and I’ll be checking in here and there to your blog. P.S. love the 50 state idea.

    • Beth Watson says

      No way, Penny! My husband does have red hair! The questions and comments are endless & usually very sweet. The term ginger we used to only hear from British folks, but seems to have crossed the pond and become part of the vernacular here now too! 🙂 Our littles are almost the same age as yours — 8, 7, 5, 3, and new! 🙂 Thanks for checking in & telling me about your family! Love it!

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