General Trip Planning Information
Campfires are not allowed anywhere in Carlsbad Caverns National Park, including any of the Carlsbad Caverns Wilderness.
Besides backpacking and recreational caving, a primary use of the park’s wilderness is wildlife watching. Checklists of the park’s known flora and fauna are available at: http://www.nps.gov/cave/planyourvisit/brochures.htm
Along with backpacking and recreational caving, technical climbing is allowed only with a special permit.
Saddle and pack stock are permitted only under special regulations. The user must provide all feed (certified weed-free) and water, and animals may not be tied to native vegetation or features.
Various guided cave tours are offered for off-trail areas in Carlsbad Cavern and with three other park caves. Rattlesnake Springs, a detached unit of the park with a short forested wetland, contains no wilderness but is one of the premier bird watching areas in New Mexico. In addition to the Natural Entrance of Carlsbad Cavern, it has been declared an Audubon Important Bird Area. At the entrance to Carlsbad Cavern, visitors can also enjoy formal evening Bat Flight programs from mid-May through mid-October.
Climate and Special Equipment Needs
The park lies at the northeast edge of the Chihuahuan Desert, the largest warm desert in North America. It is subject to all the heat and harsh hiking conditions of desert summers, plus has the potential for long, cold snowstorms in fall, winter, and spring. Dense fog is also a common component of many winter mornings, making navigation more difficult.
Caving and technical climbing require special equipment and permits. Be sure to dress warmly before venturing into the chilly underground caves. Rubber-soled shoes are recommended for walking on the slick surfaces of the paved trail in Carlsbad Cavern. Sturdy boots with non-marking soles, knee pads, helmets and lights, and other important clothing and gear are necessary for safely entering guided off-trail areas of Carlsbad Cavern and other park caves and the unguided recreational caves in the park.
There are no reliable water sources in the park. Be sure to carry at least a gallon per person per day.
Safety and Current Conditions
Hiking in the desert is a very rewarding experience. It can also be dangerous for the unprepared or careless. Remember that there is no reliable water source in the park’s backcountry areas. Pack plenty of water, at least a gallon per person per day. Check the weather forecast. Expect temperature changes and storms, possibly even thunderstorms, in any season. If lightning is nearby, avoid open areas and cave entrances. Wear clothes appropriate for rough trails, weather conditions, sun exposure, and spiny plants. Consider that many things in the desert stick, sting, or bite. Give cacti and rattlesnakes plenty of space and do not harass them – they are protected like all other plants and wildlife in the park. Be aware that cell phone signal strength is rare and variable.
During the first half of 2010, please use caution and plan extra time for visits to the park’s developed area and visitor center. Rehabilitation of the entrance road and parking lots is underway.
U.S. Hwy. 62/180 leading to the park is also under construction, so plan extra time.