Happy Birthday, National Park Service! 100 years young and going strong. If you haven’t visted a National Park recently, you might be missing out on some of the most beautiful natural experiences that the USA offers. We try to visit a park every year, even if it’s a bit out of the way. This summer we hit up the Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico. Was it worth the detour and additional gripping from the kids? Well, let me tell you…
Road Trip Detour: Carlsbad Caverns
Upfront I’ll say that my kids are pretty good about my road trip obsession. They’ve learned that if they want to see anything other than their neighborhood we are going to do it by car if at all possible. That’s what happens when you have a family of six! If we were going to see Carlsbad Caverns, it would be during a road trip.
Late in the summer, we jumped in the car to visit family in Texas. That’s a reallllly long time to be trapped in the minivan. Especially on the way home when the excitement of travel has worn off.
To break things up a little, I decided to swing a bit out of the way and visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park. How far out of the way? About 2 hours (each way!), which is a decent amount of time to commit to with a detour.
Since Carlsbad isn’t just a quick stop off I-10, we had to put in additional planning for this trip.
CARLSBAD CAVERNS PLANNING
If you need to find a hotel in the area, book early! We ended up staying about an hour away in Artesia because the Carlsbad options were booked up (or way too expensive for my comfort). There are a lot of options in the area to meet your needs, but as you can suspect, summers are the busy season.
Plan an off-season trip for lower crowds and more affordable hotel choices.
Before you go: be sure to check the website to verify the hours and tours available. In our case, I had a small panic attack when I saw that the elevator down wasn’t in service.
Walking down into the cavern: not a problem. Dragging four kids a mile plus back up? Um, that may not be a lot of fun.
Thankfully the elevators were working by mid-June, and we were good to go.
TAKE A TOUR
I have found that wandering around a place and having the kids point and ask, “What’s that?” 80,000 times isn’t the best use of our time. If there’s a tour to book, I try to make it happen. Why try to become an expert when I have one at my disposal?
We bought tickets to the King’s Palace tour. This tour will sell out in the summer months, so be sure to book early. You will also pay for the tour as well as regular cave entry.
Oh, I know, pay for both? Bah!
Luckily there are some free entry days that Carlsbad Caverns offers every year.
Important to note: you must be 4-years-old or older to go on the Carlsbad Caverns tours. No strollers are allowed.
ARRIVE EARLY TO EXPLORE THE VISITORS CENTER
After we had picked up our tickets at the visitors center, we had some time to explore.
There were a lot of fun hands-on exhibits for the kids to check out. You could spend a good hour in there if you are super nerdy and like to read all the details of this geological wonder.
Seth couldn’t believe it when I explained what guano meant. He gave the same face when he heard the stories of people scooping and hauling bags of it out of the cave years ago.
Yep. Bat poop is a fantastic fertilizer!
THE CARLSBAD CAVERNS TOUR
We got in line and took a short trip down into the cave via the elevator. It covered a lot of distance in a short period and was a little creepy to think about.
If you have any issues with claustrophobia, just don’t think about it as you travel down! I don’t fall into the category of someone with a phobia, but I don’t care much for small spaces. I need to follow my own advice. Or maybe walk in next time. That’s always an option.
Thankfully, our cave tour had no tight spots or areas that gave me any concerns. It’s a well-maintained trail with plenty of light and space.
As we waited to start, I looked over, and three of the four kids were hooded and bundled up in their jackets.
Clearly, we are from Arizona. The cave was “freezing” for us. The folks from Boston had a good laugh over that.
Tip: bring a light jacket. It gets chilly down there!
My kids loved the time in the cave. Our tour lasted about 90 minutes, and our tour guide was great! She told a lot of animated stories about how the cave was discovered and gave details on the formations.
Claire was particularly in love with all she saw. Here she is giving me the “What, Mom?” look as she stopped to take some pictures.
You are welcome to take photos, and there is lighting. but as you can tell from my iPhone photos it’s not great for the far away structures.
We took all the pictures anyway!
Twice along the route, we stopped as a group with instructions to take a seat on the rock railings.
As part of the tour, we experienced complete darkness for a few minutes, with only the tour guide’s voice as stimulation.
I was concerned that Lucy might freak out a bit because she’s 5 and hadn’t had a nap. And sometimes I have no idea how she will react to unknown situations. But no worries: the caves were magical to her, and she didn’t mind the darkness at all!
She was delightful. She answered the tour guide’s questions (was even right a few times!).
I think the 4-year-old age rule is spot on. Any younger and it could be a very long tour for some folks!
After the tour, we were encouraged to look around on our own in the public self-guided areas. We made a right when we meant to make a left, and ended up with an extra hour in the caves.
That’s what happens when you let the teen lead the way!
Carlsbad Caverns: Worth the Detour?
Happy 100th Birthday, NPS! My family adores the parks, rangers, and stories. We leaves with lots of memories and facts to discuss every time we hit up a new park. We’re going to check out this list for our next adventure.
In case you couldn’t tell, YES! The extra time off I-10 was completely worth the detour to Carlsbad Caverns.