Cave touring has been popular at Carlsbad Caverns ever since the days when Jim White lowered local tourists down in an old guano bucket. Fortunately, visitors these days can either walk down the natural entrance, or take an elevator into the heart of the cavern. Ranger-led and self-guided tours of the caverns are available.
The easiest guided tour is of Left Hand Tunnel, where a mild, unpaved walk by lantern light leads visitors past a plethora of cave pools and rock formations to ancient, Permian-era fossils. Reservations are highly recommended for ranger-led tours, especially for popular excursions to the magnificent Hall of the White Giant and the rigorous, cramped Spider Cave.
The two basic routes for self-guided tours are the Big Room Route and the Natural Entrance Route. Visitors must pay an entry fee for self-guided tours, which are good for three days.
Adventurous types might enjoy exploring the wild backcountry caves in Carlsbad Caverns. These underground sojourns require the use of vertical caving equipment, which each spelunker must provide and know how to use. In addition to vertical drops, some routes require cavers to squeeze through some very tight spots. Age restrictions apply: one must be 16 years old to participate in backcountry caving, and 18 to lead an expedition.
Ogle, Lake and Goat caves are all currently closed for bat protection. In recent years, a little-understood fungal infection known as White Nose Syndrome has wiped out bat populations across North America. Cave closures are part of measures being taken by the National Park Service to halt the spread of the lethal disease.
Bat outflights are the most popular wildlife-viewing program at Carlsbad Cavern. These free, ranger-led events take place on evenings at sunset from Memorial Day through mid-October. The program teaches visitors about bat life, migration habits and the animals’ place in the park’s ecosystem. Peak times for outflights are in July and August, when baby bats born in early summer and bats migrating colonies from northern locations join the display. An estimated 400,000 bats call the caves home during this time. Early risers are also welcome to come watch the bats fly back into the cave at dawn.
Because of its remote location away from the disruptive pollution of city lights, Carlsbad Caverns National Park is an ideal place to view the night sky, either with a telescope or the naked eye. To encourage visitors to come check out the cosmos, the park hosts a program of Star Parties on select dates during the summer and autumn, weather permitting.
Telescopes are provided to aid guests in their exploration during peak periods of celestial activity, like the Perseid Meteor Shower. Guests can participate in ranger-led talks about folklore, nocturnal creatures and astronomy. The program is free and does not require advanced reservations, but neither the caves nor the visitor center are open during the events.