Even claustrophobic visitors should be able to enjoy a tour of Carlsbad Caverns National Park‘s Big Room, which is larger than 10 football fields. More than 120 caves can be found within the New Mexico park’s borders, but only a handful are open to the public. Advance reservations for timed entry are required to enter the caves and can be purchased online or over the phone; most ranger tours are currently suspended.
Stretching more than a mile deep underground, the Big Room is filled with fascinating rock formations and stalactites. Spotlights illuminate the most visually interesting spots, making for terrific photos. The park entrance fee (or an America the Beautiful Pass) allows you to tour the Big Room at no additional cost, but you do have to pay extra for guided tours elsewhere in the cave.
The caverns might be the big draw for this park, but there are more than 50 miles of hiking trails on the surface. The steep 1-mile (round-trip) Slaughter Cave Trail takes visitors to the gates of that particular cave, although you won’t be able to enter. The 6-mile Rattlesnake Canyon Upper Loop offers some great views but is poorly marked.
Bat fans will enjoy the free sunset bat flight programs from late May to early October. Thousands of bats take to the sky above the amphitheater, searching for their next meal.
How to Get There by RV
U.S. Highway 62/180 is the primary gateway into the park, traversing its eastern side. It connects the park to Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas.
Where to Camp
Carlsbad Caverns doesn’t have on-site RV camping, but luckily there are plenty of options just outside the park, including neighboring Guadalupe Mountains. Pine Springs has 20 tent and 20 RV sites. There are no hookups, but water is available. Sites are well laid out and are first come, first served.
The Bureau of Land Management’s Chosa Campground is basically a large dirt parking lot, but has great views and is completely free.