Carlsbad Caverns National Park

We recently started tracking national parks and national forests the two of us have visited together. It’s not necessarily a goal to check them all off, at least not in any particular time frame. Since we hit four national forests and a national park on the drive south though, we thought it might be fun to see how many we end up visiting.

With or without a checklist to complete, Carlsbad Caverns National Park has been on my list of places to visit for a while. Matt hadn’t heard of it until his parents asked if we were going to check it out while we were in the area; he was all for it once he looked it up. We knew it would be incredible, but even so we were completely blown away. 

The tickets for the main cave are valid for three days. When we clarified the details of this with the person at the information desk (the tickets are for a certain time slot, we weren’t sure if we had to go back at that same time every day or if there was some flexibility) they laughed and told us most people don’t take advantage of the multiple entries. Well, we may not have gone in each of those three days, but we did go back twice more within a week. We bought our annual national parks pass there and already it’s paid for itself from our Carlsbad visits alone. I guess you could say we enjoy the caves!

Each visit to the main cave we went in during the week after work (a benefit of the two hour time difference), so it wasn’t crowded at all. Covid precautions aside, this also made it a more peaceful stroll through since sound carries like crazy throughout the entire walk down, and especially in the Big Room (such a clever name, I know). There are elevators between the visitor center next to the Big Room and the visitor center above ground, though we opted to walk in through the natural entrance. As long as your knees can handle so much downhill walking, it’s an incredible experience to go this way.

The natural entrance

The Natural Entrance Trail switchbacks down 75 stories into the cave, winding through various passages and awe-inspiring formations. There are numerous signs along the trail with info on the cave’s formation, history of the exploration of the cave, some of the animals that live there, etc.

“Whale Mouth”
One of the formations on the walk down

On our first trip in a park ranger caught up to us and asked if we had any questions about the cave. Despite being only maybe halfway down the entrance trail, our (mostly Matt’s) answer was an enthusiastic “yes.” The ranger, Dave, ended up walking with us for a little while to answer our seemingly endless questions and to show us a bit about the cave we would not have noticed otherwise. Initially, I felt a little bad that we took up so much of his time, but we’ve run into Dave every trip in and have since learned he has a 5 year old child, so he’s used to a lot of questions. I won’t go into much more on this now, but remember that name; you’ll hear more about Ranger Dave another time.

Getting deeper into the cave

I just realized I should point out that it’s actually much darker in the cave than it appears in these pictures. The cave is lit well enough to showcase the formations and not require any personal light to safely follow the path, but it is much dimmer than it looks here. My phone has a setting specifically for low light pictures, which is what most of these were taken with.

If you noticed in the picture of the sign at the natural entrance, the trail into the cave is 1.25 miles long. Once you reach the end of that trail you come to an intersection and the beginning of another 1.25 mile trail, this one around the perimeter of the Big Room. Now that might be a pretty unoriginal name, but it’s certainly accurate.

The best way I can think of to describe our experience walking through the Big Room, and really the entire cave overall, is simply surreal. We haven’t gone back three times because we were underwhelmed, that’s for sure.

It’s safe to say we’ll be back again. We’d both love to have the opportunity to take other people for their first visit. I’m sure we’ll be just as excited and awestruck as we have been each walk through thus far, and it’s an excitement we want to share. Even if that doesn’t happen though, we want to hear how any of you enjoy it if/when you make the trip. It truly is an incredible place!

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