Did you know that Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains National Park and are only 30 minutes away from each other? Despite being in two different states (new Mexico and Texas) they are right across the border from each other. It’s easy to see them both in just a few days!
As an avid traveler and national park enthusiast, I was very excited to visit these unique parks. I have visited most of the national parks in the US, so I’ve learned how to craft a national park itinerary. Below you can find my suggestions for a weekend itinerary to see both of these spectacular places!
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Your Comprehensive Guide to Guadalupe & Carlsbad
Things to Know
- Carlsbad Caverns & Guadalupe Mountains are located 30 minutes away from each other.
- The closest town to either park is Carlsbad in New Mexico, so it’s a great place to base yourself for the weekend. There are also campgrounds that you can book in advance at Guadalupe National Park.
- Each park has an entrance fee: Carlsbad is $20 to go into the lower cave and Guadalupe is $10 per person. I highly suggest you get an America the Beautiful pass to get into all the National Parks for the year!
- The parks are open all year long, but the best time to go are in the Spring and Fall when colors are bright and the temperatures are mild.
Things to Do in Carlsbad Caverns
Explore the Visitor Center
I highly recommend that you stop in a visitor center when visiting any National Park. There are great exhibits on the caverns and you can get advice from park rangers on how to spend your time in the park. You will have to go to the Visitor Center if you are doing a cave tour, so that you can check in for your time anyways.
Go on a Self Guided Cave Tour
Carlsbad Caverns was made to preserve the wondrous caverns underground. In this park, you will find the largest cavern room in the entire US. It is called the Big Room, because it is more than 200 feet high and longer than 6 football fields. Most people go to Carlsbad to see this room alone.
How to Take the Big Room Tour
- In order to see this room, you’ll need to book a reservation for a self-guided tour on recreation.gov.
- You can choose when you get there to walk 1.25 miles down the caverns to the Big Room or simply take the elevators down. Once you get to the Big Room, you can take another 1.25 mile walk around the room itself looking at the exhibits and rock features located throughout.
- This tour can take anywhere from 1-2 hours, but it is the highlight of any Carlsbad Cavern trip.
Take the Scenic Drive
Once you have seen the cave, you can head back up to the surface and go on a drive. The drive is 9 miles along a gravel road and takes you through the Guadalupe Mountains Note: RVs and trailers are not allowed. Along the way, you’ll see gorgeous canyon views and backcountry trails, which you can take with more time!
Watch the Bats Fly
This only applies if you are visiting the park from the months of May through October. Every evening the bats fly out of the caves and you can watch from the amphitheater above the caverns. The amphitheater is walking distance from the visitor center.
The show is free and seating is first-come first-served. You’ll also be able to listen to a ranger talk about the bats and their migration before the bats fly. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to take pictures or videos of the bats, to protect the bats.
Explore Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Visit Pine Springs Visitor Center
Again, you will not want to miss out on the visitor center. The rangers can give great information about the park and you can view the exhibits on the Guadalupe Mountains. The Pine Springs area is home to both the Devil’s Hall and Guadalupe Peak trail, as well as a campground area. You can book reservations for this campground on recreation.gov.
Hike up the Mountain
- Devil’s Hall is a strenuous 4 miles over rock scrambles and cliff edges to see this fantastic rock formation. You can do both of these hikes in one day and combine them, but they are pretty strenuous, so we did them on separate days. The hike can take anywhere from 2-4 hours to complete, so prepare yourself with water, snacks, and layers.
- Guadalupe Peak is an incredible day hike, where you will make your way to the highest point in all of Texas. The trail itself is 8.4 miles and climbs up 3,000 feet! It is a very hard hike, so make sure that you are prepared. Bring plenty of food and water to make it through this challenging climb. I am a seasoned hiker and I was struggling through this entire hike. I recommend using hiking poles for this hike as you will be climbing up and down a steep mountain. This hike can take anywhere from 4-8 hours, so you will need to ensure you have enough time to complete it. In the summer months, you will want to bring lots of extra water.
Walk Through the Canyon
If hiking up the mountain isn’t your thing, then why not hike through the canyon below? The McKittrick Canyon Trail is 20 miles long from start to finish, but you can choose to do as little or as much of it as you want.
Along the way you’ll get astounding views of the canyon walls and you’ll get up close to some beautiful natural features. We chose to hike 3.5 miles to the Grotto and then turn around for a total of 7 miles. We enjoyed being in the canyon as it was a unique experience.
Drive to El Capitan Lookout
This is technically located outside of the park, but it is something that you should not miss on your visit. Drive past the Pine Springs Visitor center area going South and you’ll eventually get to a pull off with picnic tables. There, you’ll be able to observe the glorious El Capitan mountain. It was one of my favorite parts of our visit and you will be blown away by the magnificence of this mountain.
These two parks are both incredible and they will blow you away. Even though they are hard to get to, you’ll realize they were worth the journey. I hope this weekend guide to visiting Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains National Park inspires you!
Ready for your Carlsbad & Guadalupe Mountains National Park trip? Let me know if you use my guide in the comments!