Our 2017 road trip begins with Carlsbad Caverns as our first stop! Hubs and I loved exploring here years ago, and we are excited to bring the kids along. We decide to leave in the middle of the night. Nothing screams road trip failure like sleeping for a few hours, then waking all the little kids to make them sleep in unbearable, upright car seats while we drive after no sleep. 🙂 Surprisingly, this is many people’s primary mode for kicking off and ending trips. Who knew we were in with what is trending?!?!
Our departure is timed well. We pull out of our driveway at 4 am with three very wide awake and excited kids. Thankfully, not even an hour into the drive and all are back sleep. We stop for coffee and a stretch in Clyde at 7am, and again in Andrews for gas at 10. Our goal was to leave at 3 and get in at about 10:30. We arrived at 12:30, and that timing ending up being great. Moving in to New Mexico gained us an hour. 🙂
At Carlsbad Caverns we stop at the Welcome Center, which is massive and even has it’s own restaurant. This is actually helpful as there is maybe one place to eat in White City, the “town” at the foot of the park. (I use the word town lightly. Their population was SEVEN in the 2010 census. 🙂 ) It takes about 20 minutes or so to wind the 7 miles into the park and is a pretty drive. Since the day is half over by the time we arrive, we quickly pick up Junior Ranger books. (For more on the Junior Ranger program at this park, scroll down.)
Natural Entrance Tour
Our first course of action is to immediately start out on the self-guided Natural Entrance Tour. The hubs and I took this path when we visited back in 2009, and it is so fun to experience it through the eyes of our kids. The trail weaves back and forth, at times with a steep decline, until you are totally inside the cave.
It is 1.25 miles and descends over 750 feet into the ground. Looking back at that last patch of daylight before you are in the depths is a cool feature. Make sure you grab a picture of it!As you descend lower you can feel the temperature drop and experience the cave. Our kids loved the walk, the darkness, the fact that they were actually “in a cave”.
Pro Tip: Wear great walking/hiking shoes. The paths are at times steep, and often slippery. Bring a jacket and/or some layering pieces. The cave will get colder as you descend, into the 50s, which is awfully cold for these Texans.
The path ends once you are fully at the the base of the cave, where you can start the Big Room Tour, use the restroom, or grab a bite to eat and regroup.
Pro Tip: You cannot bring in food or drink, except bottled water, from the outside. We recommend bringing a packed lunch to eat on the grounds of the Visitor Center before you start the hike if you want to save money. You can also eat in the restaurant at ground level in the Visitor Center or eat down in the cave which has a tiny snack shop, featuring small sandwiches at a high price point.
Big Room Tour
The Big Room is an incredible big room, go figure! The path is a self-guided 1.25 miles and is fairly level, and an easy walk. However, while the walk is easy, taking in the views and sites takes a good bit of time. It is impossible for my novice self to capture an amazing photo in the depths and darkness of the cave (although it is lit as well as can be with artificial lighting). But I took pictures by the bucketful. The sights are beyond breath-taking, and the kids want to pose at every single stop! 🙂 After walking the Big Room, we take the Elevator up and out.
Pro Tip: If you have littles, strollers are prohibited even though the Big Room is fairly level and paved. If you are mama with a toddler, or a preschooler who tires easily I highly recommend bringing a baby carrier.
Bat Flight Program
We cannot highly recommend enough watching the Bats fly, and taking in the Bat Flight Program. This program does not run year round; it officially runs from Memorial Day through October. However, just because there is no ranger-led program in early doesn’t mean the bats won’t fly. 😉 The bats return back to Carlsbad Caverns for the summer sometime in late April, which means you can still watch them fly out of the cave at night in search of food and water. It is the perfect way to end a perfect day. Easily THOUSANDS of bats exited the cave that night in early May!!
Pro Tip: You cannot take any video, or camera recordings/pictures at the program. However, if you walk back to your car you can still see them fairly well and get pretty amazing pictures.
Since we already discussed lunch options, I’ll clue you in on a great restaurant for dinner. Carlsbad is a small town, but the Yellow Brix Restaurant is a fantastic, yummy spot to grab a relaxing dinner. As visitors, we enjoyed the southwestern flare to the dishes; and as a family with kiddos we loved the kids’ menus and the ease with which our servers accommodated our littles.
The Junior Ranger Program & Passport Stamps
I so love the Junior Ranger programs the NPS offers to kids. Here is a couple pages from the Carlsbad Caverns Junior Ranger program book that is for ages 6 and under. We appreciated that to earn this badge, doing two of our planned hikes counted as the activities! Here is a free download of the book if you want to have it in your hands before you get to the park.
In our quest to conquer all the NPS parks, monuments, etc. before our kids leave our home, we thought it would be fun to collect a momento at each stop and thankfully the NPS was smart enough to create a system for us with their Passport Books. 😉 We have so much fun collecting the stamps at every stop.
1 Day Schedule
Drive all night from Texas (ROFL)
Arrive Carlsbad Caverns 12:30p
We stayed at the Towne Place Suites in Carlsbad and are checked in by 9pm 🙂
And this is how we spent May 6, 2017 🙂
- Your Guide to the National Parks: This book highly recommends the King’s Palace tour, which we were not able to do because everyone in the party must be over the age of 4. There are so many paid cave tours that look amazing, but we have to wait until our crew ages up a little.
- National Geographic Guide to the National Parks of the USA: We relied on this book to help us plan successful one day visits to the parks. This book seemed to hone in on the best of each park and how to maximize your visit.
Map of Park
Reading for Fun
Have you ever been to Carlsbad Caverns? I adore this place. There is so much to explore here. I’m fascinated by how much remains closed to the public and protected lands. What do you love about Carlsbad Caverns?
Read all about our next at Guadalupe Mountains.