What You Need to See at Carlsbad Caverns National Park

A view of the stalactites in the Carlsbad Caverns of Carlsbad, Utah.
A view of the stalactites in the Carlsbad Caverns of Carlsbad, New Mexico. Photo credit: Martin Str

While the Big Room of the Carlsbad Caverns is more than 750 ft. underground, it is well paved and well lit. If you want to see parts of the caves that most visitors can’t access and have the physical ability to do so, try your luck in Spider Cave. Only one tour is offered a week, and they fill up fast, so be sure to call in advance. The tour of Spider Cave begins with a 20 ft. descent down a ladder.

Spider Cave

A sign at the entrance to Carlsbad Caverns national Park.
A sign at the entrance to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Photo credit: Vicki Lynn

When you get to the bottom, you may be wondering where the cave is. It turns out that the cave is about 40 ft. away from you, and you’re going to have to crawl commando-style through a narrow tunnel with only the light of your helmet to guide you. Once you get off your belly, the hike through the cave isn’t too taxing—although there are some small but very deep pits you need to maneuver around and the floor can be slippery.

Spider Cave is much smaller than the main cavern, and as such it lacks the enormous pillars of the Big Room. However, it has its own unique features, such as a mace room, where one spectacular stalagmite has grown to resemble a medieval mace. About halfway through your 4hr. hike, the ranger leading the tour asks everyone to turn off their headlamps and be quiet. It’s ultimate darkness and silence (as well as the ultimate opportunity to scare your more jittery companions). Off to one side of the Big Room is the so-called “bottomless pit,” which may appear never-ending from the paved path.

The Lower Cave

A glimpse of the caves at Carlsbad Caverns.
A glimpse of the caves at Carlsbad Caverns. Photo credit: Leeroy

The Lower Cave tour begins with a brief walk to a big gate marked “Do Not Enter” along the main path. After the ranger unlocks this gate, cavers must descend backward down a steep slope with the aid of a rope. Following the rope is a series of three twisting and turning ladders, which are attached to the cave wall but can be wet and slippery. At the bottom of these ladders lies an easy walk underneath the Big Room in an area known as Lower Cave. The floor in Lower Cave is extremely slippery because the cave is still active, so bring good hiking shoes.

Your tour guide will guide you past rare “cave pearls” and through many spectacular limestone and crystal formations that are not as damaged as than those in the Big Room. Over the course of the trip, you will also learn about the very first explorers of the cave, who, 100 years ago, dared to venture down this far in small buckets.

At the very end of the 3hr. tour, there is an optional crawling section for those who want a more rough-and-tumble experience. There is something spectacular about caves when they’re illuminated with a single headlamp instead of a plethora of fluorescent lights and signs. For anyone truly interested in seeing Carlsbad Caverns, Lower Cave, Spider Cave, and the Hall of the White Giant are must-sees.

Want to know what else this area has in store for you? Check out our post on Texas’ Big Bend National Park!

Ready to explore some caves yourself? Book your ticket through PlacePass.



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