When driving through the Guadalupe Mountains in the Chihuahuan Desert of southeastern New Mexico, one would never imagine that there are well over a hundred ornate limestone caverns hidden below the desolate landscape. The Carlsbad Caverns National Park protects these fragile treasures, but also provides access for our education and enjoyment.
The 8.2-acre “Big Room” cavern is 754 feet (75 stories!) beneath the Visitor Center on the surface, but an elevator makes the descent in about one minute. This magnificent cavern full of astounding limestone formations is partially accessible for people using wheelchairs who can take a self-guided tour (admission fee, access passes accepted). An audio tour guide is available at the Visitor Center (additional fee).
The incredible Big Room is the largest single cave chamber in North America, and can be explored on 1.25 miles of paved trails that are relatively level and well-lit. Allow about two hours for the tour. For those short on time or stamina, a shortcut is available that reduces the distance by half. The non-slip surface of the trail consists of emery chips and epoxy, with the look of textured concrete and a slightly rough/bumpy feel. All paths are bordered by steel pipe hand-rails. Some sections of the trail are too steep or narrow to allow passage by wheelchair, however the accessible route is well-marked and NPS provides a map and detailed access guide. It is strongly recommended that wheelchair users be accompanied by someone who can provide assistance.
Visitor Center: Designated parking, entrance ramps, power doors, restrooms. Exhibits, theater, gift shop and restaurant are all on one level. A self-guided nature trail that begins at the east parking lot is partially accessible.
Underground “Big Room” Cavern: Paved self-guided tour trail (via elevator from Visitor Center). Restrooms, benches, drinking fountain, small snack bar.
Bat Flight Program: (Memorial Day to mid-October, free) Starting time varies with sunset time; verify with NPS at 575-785-3012. Outdoor amphitheater with reserved seating for wheelchairs and accessible restroom. Designated parking in the lower lot near cavern entrance.
Picnic Areas: Accessible tables available near the Visitor Center, at the far end of south parking lot, and west and north of the restaurant. A few tables are also located along Walnut Canyon Drive. Rattlesnake Springs Picnic Area located on Rt. 418 off US Hwy. 62/180 (about 15 miles from Visitor Center) has one accessible table and restrooms.
Scenic Drives: Interpretative exhibits located at pullouts along the 7-mile park entrance road are mostly readable from private vehicles. A 9.5 mile gravel road that starts near the Visitor Center and loops through the Chihuahuan Desert is suitable for most passenger cars (guide brochure available at bookstore).
Planning A Visit
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is located on New Mexico Highway 7 off US Highway 62/180 at White’s City. The Visitor Center is about 30 miles southwest of the town of Carlsbad. Commercial air service is available at El Paso, Texas, about 150 miles west of the park via US Highway 62/180.
The park is open everyday except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. The Visitor Center opens at 8:00am year-round. It closes at 7:00pm Memorial day through Labor Day and 5:00pm the remainder of the year. The cave opens at 8:30am. The last elevator entry into the Big Room is at 3:30pm in winter and 5:00pm in summer. The best times to visit are spring and fall; summer is extremely hot and winter can be chilly with inclement weather. The temperature inside the caverns is a constant 56 degrees so bring a sweater or jacket.
Hotels and camping are available within 30 minutes of the park at the towns of White’s City and Carlsbad. Food is available at the restaurant in the Visitor Center and at the snack bar in the cavern. Additional restaurants are available at White’s City and Carlsbad.
Bring your own wheelchair as they do not have any available for loan. Cameras with flash and personal flashlights are permitted. Plain bottled water is allowed in the cave but no other outside food, drink, gum or candies. Pets are not permitted in the caverns but a kennel is available (fee).