The Carlsbad Caverns Natural Entrance Trail

Guide to The Carlsbad Caverns Natural Entrance Trail

Guide to The Carlsbad Caverns Natural Entrance Trail

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The Carlsbad Caverns Natural Entrance Trail

Whats the #1 Carlsbad Caverns hiking trail? If you guessed the Natural Entrance Trail, youd be correct. This popular trail is the access point to the park’s top subterranean sights. It is a truly unforgettable trail – one that delves deep into the blackness below the surface, full of stalactites,stalagmites, and many more other-worldly landmarks! Find out everything you need to know to get the most out of your hike on the Carlsbad Caverns Natural Entrance Trail!

 

Disclosure: Below are some affiliate links-these are all products I highly recommend. I wont make any recommendations on this page that I havent tested or personally used! Enjoy this guide to hiking the Carlsbad Caverns Natural Entrance Trail!

 

 

Guide to the Carlsbad Caverns Natural Entrance Trail

 

This guide covers everything you need to know to make the most of your visit to the Carlsbad Caverns Natural Entrance Trail, including:

  • What to Know Before You Go
  • Location of the Natural Entrance Trail
  • What to Expect on the Natural Entrance Trail
  • Tips for Hiking the Natural Entrance Trail
  • Other Top Attractions at Carlsbad Caverns National Park
  • Other Top Hiking Trails Near Carlsbad Caverns National Park

 

The Natural Entrance Trail at Carlsbad Caverns National Park
The Carlsbad Caverns Natural Entrance Trail

 

 

Know Before You Go

 

ENTRANCE FEES: $12 per person (advance / timed reservations required)

HOURS: Carlsbad Caverns National Park is open daily (except for Thanksgiving and Christmas Days)

PET POLICY: pets are NOT allowed on the Natural Entrance Trail

PARKING/FACILITIES: there is plenty of parking and bathroom facilities before starting on the Natural Entrance Trail, and there are bathrooms located underground as well.

BEST TIME OF YEAR TO VISIT: you can hike the Natural Entrance Trail year round – it stays a consistent 56 degrees underground all year, so consider bringing a light jacket!

PERMITS/RESERVATIONS: timed / advance reservations are required for hiking the Natural Entrance Trail. You can make these reservations HERE.

 

 

Location of the Carlsbad Caverns Natural Entrance Trail

 

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is located in southeastern New Mexico, 30 minutes from the town of Carlsbad. The Natural Entrance Trail is the main highlight of the park, and the entrance is located immediately outside of the Visitor Center, down a short path.

 

Location of the Carlsbad Caverns Natural Entrance Trail

 

Insider Tip: you can take an elevator, located in the Visitor Center, instead of hiking up and down the beginning of the trail and its steep switchbacks

 

CHECK OUT: Guide to White Sands National Park, New Mexico

 

 

What to Expect from the Carlsbad Caverns Natural Entrance Trail

 

Length: The Carlsbad Caverns Natural Entrance Trail is 1.25 miles roundtrip.

Elevation Gain: 750 feet – which occurs largely on the beginning switchbacks at the entrance to the cavern opening.

Rating: the Natural Entrance Trail is rated moderate due to the steep switchbacks and elevation gain.

Estimated Time to Complete: 1.5 – 2 hours

The Trailhead: begins near the Visitor Center of Carlsbad Caverns National Park. From the Visitor Center, follow a short path to the Ranger Check Point and the entrance to the Natural Entrance Trail. Just look for the gaping hole and steep switchbacks descending down.

*Trailhead Location on Google Maps

 

The Descent: the Natural Entrance Trail begins with a steep descent into the main caverns, via a series of switchbacks. The trail is paved and contains handrails. It is accessible to most visitors, but can be extremely strenuous due to the steepness.

The descent is one of the most fascinating parts of the entire trail, as you make the transition from daylight to the pure subterranean darkness. Not only that, but the scenery morphs from the above ground Chihuahuan Desert, to the other worldly caverns with their intricate rock formations, including stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and drapes.

 

Rest Areas: there are spots along the trail to sit, take a break, or just admire the scenery. There are also educational exhibits and interpretive signage along the trail which offer more information on the caverns history and formations.

 

Exiting: keep in mind you will have to ascend the switchbacks up at the end of the trail, after exploring the Big Room, which is the largest chamber in the cavern, and home to most popular underground sights and formations. You can also choose to take the elevator back up to the surface.

 

The entrance to Carlsbad Caverns Natural Entrance Trail
The entrance to the Carlsbad Caverns Natural Entrance Trail

 

 

Tips for Hiking the Carlsbad Caverns Natural Entrance Trail

 

  • BRING A JACKET! Even in summer, the caverns stay a consistent 56 degrees Fahrenheit year round
  • LEAVE THE PETS AT HOME (or in the on site kennel – but never leave them unattended in vehicles!)
  • WEAR STURDY SHOES WITH GOOD TRACTION – the Natural Entrance Trail can get slick
  • STAY ON DESIGNATED TRAILS – do not cross railings, watch your step, and follow all posted safety guidelines
  • BE PHYSICALLY PREPARED – both hiking down and up the entrance of the Natural Entrance Trail is steep and strenuous (there is an optional elevator)
  • STROLLERS ARE NOT ALLOWED – (child front pack carriers are ideal and allowed)
  • ADVANCE / TIMED RESERVATIONS ARE REQUIRED
  • BRING A HEADLAMP (OR FLASHLIGHT) IF PREFERRED – Lighting is somewhat dim in some areas of the caverns.
  • OUTSIDE FOOD AND DRINK ARE NOT ALLOWED IN THE CAVERNS – (there is an Underground Snack Bar located below ground on the Natural Entrance Trail)
  • THERE ARE RESTROOMS LOCATED UNDERGROUND – (adjacent to the elevators)
  • CAMERAS AND FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY ARE ALLOWED
  • THERE IS LIMITED TO NO CELL COVERAGE UNDERGROUND ON THE NATURAL ENTRANCE TRAIL
  • HIKING THE NATURAL ENTRANCE TRAIL IS NOT RECOMMENDED FOR GUESTS WITH HEART OR RESPIRATORY CONDITIONS

 

 

Full Trail Report on the Carlsbad Caverns Natural Entrance Trail

 

The Natural Entrance Trail at Carlsbad Caverns National Park is not your typical hiking trail. For starters, it is largely located underground. It is also largely barricaded with railings, making route finding obsolete. It is pretty much impossible to lose the trail.

 

It is also heavily trafficked compared to other wilderness hikes, as the majority of foot traffic in the park is congregated on this one trail. The purpose of this trail is almost exclusively for leisurely viewing, so you wont find trail runners or people hiking at an aggressive pace.

 

That being said, the Carlsbad Caverns Natural Entrance Trail is one of the most unforgettable trails in the entire country. Heres exactly what to expect during your trek.

 

The Carlsbad Caverns Natural Entrance Trail
Sights along the Natural Entrance Trail in Carlsbad Caverns

 

 

The Trailhead of the Carlsbad Caverns Natural Entrance Trail

 

The start of the Natural Entrance Trail is located immediately outside the Visitor Center, down a short path. Just look for the gaping hole leading underground, via a series of steep switchbacks, its hard to miss. Be sure to arrive at your designated time on your timed reservation. There will be a Ranger Check Point before starting the trail, where the ranger will give a brief overview.

 

***Note that you can use provided elevators in the Visitor Center to descend and ascend, instead of the Natural Entrance Trail.

 

The descent down the Natural Entrance Trail is quick and steep. There are handrails to help guide you down. The trail here can often be slick.

 

 

The Natural Entrance Trail and the “Big Room”

 

Once at the bottom of the descent, now enveloped in complete darkness, the Natural Entrance Trail levels out and you can enjoy the fascinating sights at an easy, leisurely pace on this well maintained trail. Just be sure to stay on the designated trail at all times, and do not touch the off limits formations or cross beyond railings. This trail is self guided, though there are other ranger guided tours that explore other areas of Carlsbad Caverns that are not on the self guided Natural Entrance Trail.

 

What makes the Natural Entrance Trail so intriguing? It offers the chance to see sights you cant see anywhere else in the world. These include stalagmites, stalactites, and natural formations like the Hall of Giants, Sword of Damocles, Whales Mouth, Devils Spring, Iceberg Rock, and Bottomless Pit. These are all found in what is referred to as the Big Room, the largest chamber in the cavern. In fact, it is so massive it could house 6 football fields!

 

The entire length of the Natural Entrance Trail is 1.25 miles long roundtrip. There is a shortcut offered below ground, which reduces the Natural Entrance Trail down to about 0.6 miles long. Signage for the Natural Entrance Trail, including the offered shortcut, is well marked once you are below ground.

 

Inside Carlsbad Caverns
The Big Room on the Natural Entrance Trail

 

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

 

 

Ascending the Natural Entrance Trail

 

The most difficult part of hiking the Carlsbad Caverns Natural Entrance Trail is the ascent back up those initial switchbacks. This is where almost all of the elevation gain along the Natural Entrance Trail occurs. Give yourself plenty of time to pace, or you can always use the elevators provided. Elevator lines can get quite long during peak days and times.

 

 

Other Attractions at Carlsbad Caverns National Park

 

While the Natural Entrance Trail is the most visited trail in this park, there are plenty of other things to do and see during your visit, including ranger guided tours to remote parts of the caverns, park programs, and above ground hiking trails!

Popular ranger guided tours include:

  • Kings Palace Tour
  • Hall of the White Giant
  • Slaughter Canyon Cave
  • Left Hand Tunnel
  • Lower Cave

 

Popular park programs include:

  • Bat Flight Program
  • Night Sky Program
  • Dawn of the Bats Program.

You can find out more about the additional things to do in this Carlsbad Caverns National Park guide.

 

 

Other Hiking Trails at Carlsbad Caverns National Park

 

There are several above ground hiking trails at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. The top ones include:

  • Walnut Canyon Trail
  • Slaughter Canyon Trail
  • Rattlesnake Canyon Trail
  • Juniper Ridge Trail

You can find out more about these above ground hiking trails in this Carlsbad Caverns National Park guide.

 

Above ground hiking at Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Above ground hiking at Carlsbad Caverns National Park

 

 

Top Hiking Trails Near Carlsbad Caverns National Park

 

Looking to add on some more hikes nearby? Luckily there are a handful of great choices, including some hiking trails in nearby National Parks! Be sure to check out the top 8 hiking trails in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, located only a short 35 minutes away from Carlsbad Caverns. This mountainous park is home to the highest mountains in Texas, including the state high point at Guadalupe Peak!

 

The Guadalupe Peak Trail in Guadalupe Mountains National Park
The Guadalupe Peak Trail in Guadalupe Mountains National Park

 

 

Then theres the top 6 hiking trails at White Sands National Park, New Mexicos other National Park, located only 3.5 hours from Carlsbad Caverns. These dune filled trails include the remote backcountry Alkali Flat Trail.

 

For a complete change of scenery, check out the nearby mountain town of Ruidoso, with its top 3 local hiking trails. And dont forget the state high point of the entire state of New Mexico at Wheeler Peak, located in beautiful Taos!

 

CHECK OUT: the 50 State High Points of the U.S.

 

 

Keep Track of ALL Your National Park Visits with this National Parks CHECKLIST!

 

 

 

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The Carlsbad Caverns Natural Entrance Trail

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Hi, I’m Steven, a Florida native, who left my career in corporate wealth management six years ago to embark on a summer of soul searching that would change the course of my life forever.

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