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Carlsbad Caverns Cave Tours

The National Park Service offers several tours within the caverns of various lengths and difficulties. Most are available only with a ranger as guide at specific times, but two very scenic routes are self-guided; these are described first. The National Park Service sometimes adds or removes certain tours, or runs some only part of the year. Advance reservations and schedules for all guided tours are available online, and links are given in the listings below. Distances given below are total, roundtrip distances unless otherwise stated. Difficulties are only a general guideline, for an adult in good condition, and do not take into account tour length.

Big Room (self guided)

  • Length: 1.2 miles
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Traffic: Very Heavy
  • Reservations: No

The Tour: This is the most commonly taken tour in the park, for good reason. It is easy (an elevator can be taken down to the tour level) and flat, it requires no reservations or guide, and it tours some of the most decorated cave areas publicly accessible anywhere. The Big Room is well-named; it covers 357,480 square feet or 8.2 acres. When most people think of caves, and Carlsbad Caverns in particular, they are likely thinking of formations seen on this tour.

Natural Entrance (self guided)

  • Length: 1.3 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Traffic: Moderate
  • Reservations: No

The Tour: Anyone able should bypass the elevator ride down to the Big Room and take this route instead. It steeply descends on a paved surface almost the entire distance, so it can be rather hard on the legs, especially the knees. It is a unique experience to drop into the cave, the sun’s light dimming gradually, bats (harmless) often entering and exiting the massive opening far overhead. While not as massively decorated as the Big Room, there are plenty of amazing formations to view on the way down.

Kings Palace (ranger guided)

  • Length: 0.75 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderately Easy
  • Traffic: Maximum of 40 people per tour
  • Reservations: Reserve Online

The Tour: This tour is flat and easy other than the short area of steps at the beginning and end. It visits four highly decorated rooms that used to be part of the self guided tours, but was closed off after clueless visitors damaged over 10,000 formations. This is the easiest and most purely scenic of the guided tours and is highly recommended.

Kings Palace Tour in Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico

Left Hand Tunnel (ranger guided)

  • Length: 0.5 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Traffic: Maximum of 10 people per tour
  • Reservations: Reserve Online

The Tour: We have not yet taken this tour, so from the NPS: “On this lantern-lit tour, your guide will highlight Carlsbad Cavern history, formations, cave pools and Permian-age fossils. This is the easiest of the adventure tours on unpaved trails. Be aware that the dirt trail winds over uneven or slippery slopes and careful footing is required to avoid cavern pools and fragile formations. Lanterns are provided.”

Lower Cave (ranger guided)

  • Length: 1.2 miles
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Traffic: Maximum of 12 people per tour
  • Reservations: Reserve Online

The Tour: We have not yet taken this tour, so from the NPS: “On this lantern-lit tour, your guide will highlight Carlsbad Cavern history, formations, cave pools and Permian-age fossils. This is the easiest of the adventure tours on unpaved trails. Be aware that the dirt trail winds over uneven or slippery slopes and careful footing is required to avoid cavern pools and fragile formations. Lanterns are provided.”

Hall of the White Giant (ranger guided)

  • Length: 0.5 miles
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Traffic: Maximum of 8 people per tour
  • Reservations: Reserve Online

The Tour: We have not yet taken this tour, so from the NPS: “If you don’t mind getting dirty, crawling through tight passageways, and climbing some slippery flowstone, you might want to try the Hall of the White Giant tour. Ladder climbing, slippery surfaces, and free climbing will be encountered on this trip. Highlights include tight, narrow passages including Matlock’s Pinch, and the White Giant formation.”

Slaughter Canyon Cave (ranger guided)

  • Length: 2.25 miles
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Traffic: Maximum of 16 people per tour
  • Reservations: Reserve Online

The Tour: We have not yet taken this tour, so from the NPS: “In this wild cave, darkness is broken only by the flashlights and headlamps of rangers and tour members. Highlights of the two hour, 1¼-mile tour may include the 89-foot high Monarch, one of the world’s tallest columns; the Christmas Tree, a sparkling, crystal-decorated column; and the Chinese Wall, a delicate, ankle-high rimstone dam.”

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