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We decided to take our first road trip of 2023 over MLK weekend, since the boys and I all had Monday off. Carlsbad, NM is roughly a seven hour drive from where we live and home to a National Park that none of us had ever visited. This sounded like the perfect way to get out and explore while we had the time off. So, we hit the road and headed west. I am so excited to share about our weekend road trip and our time spent in New Mexico! We had an amazing adventure and this destination makes for the perfect getaway when you have a long weekend and an extra day off work and school!
- Saturday: Drive to Carlsbad, NM
- Stop at Monahans Sandhills State Park in Monahans, TX
- Dinner at El Jimador Restaurant in Carlsbad, NM
- Sunday: Carlsbad Caverns National Park
- Dinner at YellowBrix in Carlsbad, NM
- Monday: Drive home
If you glanced at our weekend itinerary above, you probably noticed that we only spent a day at Carlsbad Caverns. I believe a day is all that you need to experience the caves. We opted for a self-guided tour of the Big Room and it was quite the adventure! There are also several other guided caving options that you can purchase tickets for. But, what I loved the most about this National Park is that you can truly experience these amazing cave formations in just a day. Please continue reading for a more detailed itinerary for each day of our trip and general information about Carlsbad Caverns.
Day 1: Saturday
If you are familiar with road tripping with kids, then you know that it’s always best to find a fun stop along the route. We decided to stop at Monahans Sandhills State Park and check it out. It did not disappoint!
My boys absolutely loved this stop! They were sandy from head to toe, but grinning ear to ear! This State Park is truly a hidden gem. I have lived in Texas my whole life and had never heard of this place until about 2 days before we left on this trip. Not only were the sand dunes really photogenic, the facilities were top notch. There were nice restrooms and showers right on site, and you bet we had our boys rinse off before getting back on the road!
We brought along these little sleds and let the boys slide down sand hill after sand hill. This was an amazing stop after about 5.5 hours of driving! We all stretched our legs and enjoyed playing in Texas’ biggest sandbox! If you are ever in the area, be sure to check this place out. You do need to make reservations here, the price for day use is $4 per adult and kids under 13 are free. Bring towels for the showers if you just plan to visit for the day!
From here, it was about a 2 hour drive to Carlsbad, NM. We arrived in town around 5:00 pm and immediately checked into the hotel. We stayed at the Holiday Inn in Carlsbad. It wasn’t the best Holiday Inn we’ve stayed in, but it was clean and the free breakfast was actually pretty decent. After checking in, we ate dinner at El Jimador Restaurant. We got there before 6:00 pm and didn’t have to wait for a table. But within thirty minutes or so, there was a super long wait for tables. It was good Mexican food. We all had enchiladas and enjoyed our plates! Then, we called it an early night and just went back to the hotel. There’s an indoor pool and fitness center there, but we had an early bedtime to get ready for Carlsbad Caverns the next day!
Day 2: Sunday
Oh, what a wonderful day Sunday was! We finally got to visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park! From the hotel we were staying at, it took about 30 minutes to drive to the entrance at Carlsbad Caverns. Once you reach the sign, it’s about another 7 mile scenic drive through the Chihuahuan Desert to the Visitor Center. On our drive in, we saw a herd of bighorn sheep! We were already so enthralled and we hadn’t even seen the main attraction yet!
Everyone that visits needs to reserve tickets online and then pay the National Park fee at the Visitor Center upon arriving. We had reserved the 10:30-11:30 am self-guided tickets which allowed us entrance any time between 10:30-11:30, but there was no time limit on how long we stayed! We arrived at the entrance right at 10:30, but it was 10:50 by the time we made it to the Visitor Center. There was a short line we had to wait in to show our reservation and pay the fee. Luckily our America the Beautiful Pass is still valid, so we didn’t have to pay this time. While I waited in line for this, Jereme took our youngest to get the Jr. Ranger booklet to work on so that he could get his Jr. Ranger badge, which is now one of our favorite National Park activities and our boys love adding new badges to their collection.
The facilities were really nice and the Park Rangers were very helpful. Once we had the okay to enter, we headed through the museum in the Visitor Center to the natural entrance to the cave. There are two ways to go down into the cave, you can ride an elevator or walk about 1.25 miles through the natural entrance. We opted to walk in and I am so glad we did! Just seeing the cave for the first time is truly amazing! The walk is mostly all downhill, so it wasn’t too bad at all. We were just entranced the whole way down, it’s so cool! We kept saying it felt like we were on a different planet. And this was just the entrance area, we hadn’t even made it to the main attraction, The Big Room!
I honestly have no words that can adequately describe the Big Room area of the caverns. Maybe otherworldly, it was just unlike anything we have ever experienced before. I have never been inside of a cave so vast. We love exploring caves, but this adventure was different. We didn’t have a tour guide leading the way and we were able to spend as much time as we wanted inside. We ended up being there for over 3 hours and walked a total of 2.9 miles!
To the left of the Big Room is an area with snacks and restrooms. We did grab a bite to eat while there and the boys rested their legs for a bit. Then we continued on to the Big Room and when we finished, we opted to ride the elevator back up. Since we were visiting in the off-season, there wasn’t a wait at all for the elevators. But I have heard that in the summer the wait can exceed an hour. We ventured around the museum and then Jake was sworn in as a Jr. Ranger and received the Centennial Badge because Carlsbad Caverns turns 100 years old this year!
We really were pretty tired after our visit! We had planned to stop on the drive back out and hike some of the trails along the drive through the Chihuahuan Desert. But we were way too tired for this! I would’ve loved another day to explore this area, it was gorgeous and the weather was beautiful on the weekend of our visit. We will likely return to this Park, we all want to see the bat flight but the bats are only at the caves from April through November. Maybe we’ll take a guided tour on our next visit!
When we returned to the hotel, we all rested for a bit and then went to dinner at YellowBrix in Carlsbad. It’s an amazing steak and seafood restaurant! Everything we had was delicious and the restaurant and patio area was adorable! We started with shrimp, crab, and artichoke dip. I got the filet medallions and Jereme got the green chili cheeseburger. It was all so yummy!
Day 3: Monday
Monday just consisted of us driving home. We drove straight back to Texas without many stops because we had to get back in time to watch the Dallas Cowboys play! It was a quick trip, but so much fun! Again, if you have a long weekend and want to have an adventure, Carlsbad Caverns National Park is the perfect destination!
Information About Carlsbad Caverns
Carlsbad Caverns are located in Southern New Mexico. The caverns are humid, damp, and stay 56 degrees year round. I recommend wearing a sweatshirt and pants, it’s a little chilly. The hike down into the cave through the natural entrance is about 1.25 miles and it takes about an hour just to hike down. The caverns are about 750 feet below ground, which is equivalent to walking down about 70 stories. I recommend bringing a flashlight or using these cool headlamps that we brought along! Don’t miss visiting the Big Room, it truly is the most epic part of the caverns in our opinion! This area of the cave is 8.2 acres and is the largest accessible cave chamber in North America!
- Website: Carlsbad Caverns National Park
- Address: 727 Carlsbad Caverns Highway
Carlsbad, NM 88220
- Phone: 575 785-2232
- Hours: 8:00a-5:00p, 7 days a week
- Cave Entrance: Last cave entrance is at 2:30p
- Elevator: INTO Cave 8:30a -2:30p, OUT of Cave 4:45p
- Entrance Fees: Ages 16+ is $15 per person, Under 15 is FREE
- Bat Flight: April – November
I hope this information is helpful! Please reach out or leave a comment if you have any questions about our visit, I’d love to connect with you. Check back in to see what we’re up to next! Happy Travels!