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During a long weekend in May, I recently traveled to two National Parks in one weekend! (It was a long weekend, but it definitely could have been more condensed into just a few days.) Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico and Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas.
At first, when I was planning I thought I would include White Sands and Carlsbad Caverns. Due to the distance from Carlsbad Caverns to White Sands, we chose to visit Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains. It just made the most sense to plan it this way!
Let’s explore the details of staying in Carlsbad New Mexico and traveling to these two National Parks over a (long) weekend.
About Carlsbad Caverns & Guadalupe Mountains
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is located in Carlsbad, New Mexico. So, that’s where I based myself when setting out on this weekend trip with my husband.
Despite only being about 36 miles apart these two National Parks are very different. Carlsbad Caverns National Park the main attraction is below ground going into the cavern/limestone caves while Guadalupe Mountains National Park boasts the highest peak in all of Texas.
How to get to Carlsbad, New Mexico
Originally we were going to fly into Carlsbad (from Dallas Fort Worth, Texas). Airport code CNM, do not confuse it with Carlsbad, California airport! But keep in mind, Carlsbad airport is very small. So depending on where you’re coming from, it might not make sense to travel directly into Carlsbad.
Other airports you can fly into include Midland/Odessa (MAF) in Texas, which is a 144 mile drive one way. (Miles round trip would be doubled.) Albuquerque New Mexico is an over 280 mile drive to Carlsbad. (If you fly from Albequerque it would make sense to make the drive a little longer and head to White Sands National Park as well.) El Paso (ELP) Texas airport is a 158 mile drive.
Long story short, we were flying from DFW and our flight kept getting delayed to the point the car rental company office would have been closed once we arrived so we would have been stranded. Mind you, it was also a holiday weekend. So, we decided to cancel our flight and drive instead.
Many people will road trip to Carlsbad, New Mexico and do a loop of Carlsbad Caverns, White Sands National Park, and Guadalupe Mountains National Park. We went to two of the three. (White Sands is actually closer to El Paso so it would make an easy long weekend trip to fly there from DFW!)
For reference, El Paso to Guadalupe Mountains National Park is about a 115 mile drive. The drive from El Paso to White Sands National Park is around 100 miles.
Where to stay in Carlsbad, New Mexico
There are a limited amount of hotels in Carlsbad and most of them are fairly reasonably priced. We chose to stay at an IHG property and it was the perfect spot with plenty of space, clean, and even offered free breakfast.
Especially for trips that are focused on visiting National Parks, we are prepared to stay at more basic hotels and even glamping sometimes based on where the park is situated and what our overall plans are.
Carlsbad has much more to offer than just the Caverns National Park! Let’s review some great places we ate and drank while basing ourselves in Carlsbad on this National Park trip.
Where to eat & drink in Carlsbad, New Mexico
Planning ahead for the time you spend in the National Parks, there is a Walmart and several local grocery stores located in Carlsbad to grab some snacks and things to bring with you to the parks.
However, grabbing some brews and some good eats is always on the itinerary list wherever we travel! Here are the favorites while we were staying in Carlsbad and exploring Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
Blue House Coffee Shop
This cute little coffee shop is definitely a must stop! We grabbed some coffee and breakfast burritos on our first day in Carlsbad before heading to Carlsbad Caverns.
They offer many bakery items, rotating availability made fresh daily. As well as a wide variety of both cold and hot drinks made to order. Check Google for the most up-to-date hours, but generally, they’re open early (6 AM) to noon (12 PM) and closed on Sundays.
A simple Mexican eatery located in a strip mall. El Charro really impressed me with their authentic cuisine. (And I live in Texas and eat A LOT of Tex Mex so that’s saying something!)
My favorite items were the Quesabirria tacos with the consomme and the homemade horchata! My husband also ordered a burrito and one of my favorite dishes, chile rellenos. The menu was quite extensive and the portions were large. There also was a salsa bar with many different kinds of salsas and sauces to use on your meals.
Next door there’s an ice cream shop with scoops and fruit pops available (if you didn’t fill up too much from the amazing tacos!)
Guadalupe Mountain Brewing Co.
This is a great brewpub located in Carlsbad, New Mexico. Closed on Sunday and Monday but open for lunch hours, and limited dinner hours (only until 9 PM the other days.) The pizza here is amazing! Offering a chill place either on the outdoor patio or indoors to enjoy some food and a few beers is always something I want to include in my weekend itinerary.
Milton’s Brewing is located in downtown Carlsbad, New Mexico. Offering their own beers on tap, guest taps as well as wine it’s a great place to hang out to have a few. This brewery is open a little later than Guadalupe, and its really convenient location near the mural and Main Street makes it an easy location to pop in for a beer or two.
What to do in Carlsbad, New Mexico
The main attraction and reason many visit Carlsbad, New Mexico is due to the National Park located here. However, we enjoyed exploring the town of Carlsbad through our mouths and also having a few tasty brews.
Aside from the National Park, there are several fun things to do located in downtown Carlsbad, New Mexico such as:
Carlsbad Main Street
Downtown Carlsbad along Main Street there are many local shops and businesses to explore. Offering antiques, boutique stores, and much more! Be sure to stroll along Main Street and check out everything that Carlsbad, New Mexico has to offer.
Everyone loves a good mural, especially one showing where you’re currently exploring. Located close to Main Street Downtown (and one of the breweries mentioned as well!) it’s really easy to add this stop to snap a few photos here to remember your weekend exploring Carlsbad, New Mexico.
Pecos River Flume
The historic flume built in the early 1900s is truly a sight to see. This innovation that is still functional today provides water irrigation as the river literally crosses over the river with this engineered structure. Go and check it out for yourself while you’re in Carlsbad!
Visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Carlsbad Caverns operated on a reservation system with timed entry slots to enter the cavern since there are only so many people at a time that can be in the cave at one time.
When you know the date you’re planning on visiting it’s really easy to select an entry spot in advance on recreation.gov. They release the reservations up to 30 days in advance. Select the self-guided tour for Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Generally, there are quite a few slots available, but I just wouldn’t gamble on showing up and snagging one the day of.
When you get to the park, be sure to have proof of your reservation time. These must be presented in the visitor center upon your arrival. Either print it out or save it on your phone. The entry times are slotted for 60 mins. However, once you enter you can explore at your own pace.
You can enter and exit by walking in and out of the cave, or an elevator is available. When you chat with the Park ranger in the visitor center upon arrival they’ll ask what your preference is. We chose to walk into the cave and then take the elevator out when we were done.
Please be aware that there is a rule to protect the health of bats in the caves. Do not wear anything you’ve ever worn in any other cave into Carlsbad Cavern. (This includes hiking boots, clothing & backpacks.)
Carlsbad Cavern Tips
Carlsbad Cavern is a very unique National Park, some general National Park tips apply but here are some specific tips for Carlsbad Caverns.
- Be courteous of others in the cave. Sound travels, do not yell!
- Dress in layers, it may be hot up out of the cave but it gets pretty cool once you’re in the cave
- Be sure to wear closed shoes with traction. There are areas with puddles and wetness and you want to remain sure-footed as you walk through the caves.
- Turn your phone on airplane mode–there isn’t service in the cave and this will preserve your battery
- Take your time! Enjoy the experience.
- Practice Leave No Trace Principles!
- Show up on time for your entry slot. If you’re outside your timeframe you may not be allowed in.
- Go to the bathroom before ascending into the cave as you won’t have access to one until you reach the Big Room (it could be over an hour when you won’t have access to use the restroom.)
Things to do in Carlsbad Cavern National Park
Keep reading to curate your Carlsbad Caverns National Park Itinerary!
The main attraction is the cave itself. Exploring the cavern at your own pace should definitely be on your to-do list.
However, there are 13 trails in Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Either before or after exploring the cave through the Natural Entrance Trail that begins behind the visitor center you can explore additional trails.
Typically it takes 1-2 hours to hike in and out of the caverns. But, if you choose to do the elevator option you may have to wait and it’s uncertain how long the wait will be. During peak times the lines can get quite long.
Once you’re in the Big Room Cave (the main cavern) you can plan on spending around an hour down there (or more if you’re really wanting to take your time!)
Beyond the caves, some other points of interest in the park include: Walnut Canyon Desert Drive. Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail, Guadalupe Ridge Trail, and Rattlesnake Canyon Trail.
Beyond Carlsbad Caverns National Park
After leaving Carlsbad Caverns National Park, another really popular destination to add to your Carlsbad itinerary is Sitting Bull Falls. A less than one mile out and back hike with minimal elevation gain makes this hike approachable for the whole family.
Visiting Guadalupe Mountains National Park
When visiting Guadalupe Mountains National Park spend at least one day there. Located close to Carlsbad, New Mexico it’s a quick drive to explore not only one National Park but two over the course of a weekend. Here are some of the main things to do in this West Texas National Park.
Things to do in Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Keep reading to curate your Guadalupe Mountains National Park Itinerary!
Hike Guadalupe Peak
The most famous hike in Guadalupe Mountains is Guadalupe Peak. This is a very strenuous hike and if you choose to do it, be prepared! It clocks in at 8.4 miles (from the trailhead) but if you have to park at the visitor center it’s closer to 10 miles with 3,000 feet of elevation gain.
Once you reach the top, you have hiked to the highest point in all of the large state of Texas! It’s definitely a great accomplishment. Some hikers will even add on Devil’s Hall Trail to Guadalupe Peak. But, if Guadalupe Peak sounds too challenging there are shorter and more approachable hiking trails in the park.
Other Hiking Trails
If Guadalupe Peak is a bit much, there are also other hiking trails within Guadalupe Mountains National Park such as:
- Smith Spring Trail (2.3 miles)
- Devil’s Hall Trail (4.3 miles)
- McKittrick Canyon Trail (5-7 miles ). (McKittrick Canyon trail is very colorful during the fall.)
- Manzanita Spring Trail (0.5 mile) The trail begins adjacent to the Frijole Ranch
Pine Springs Visitor Center
Be sure to stop by the visitor center where you’ll pay your daily fee if you don’t have a pass. You can also visit the museum located here. There are other visitor centers within the park (McKittrick Canyon) and Dog Canyon Ranger Station, but Pine Springs Visitor Center is the main one for this National Park.
Take in views of El Capitan
El Capitan is a stunning rugged limestone peak located in the Guadalupe Mountains. Be sure to stop to snap some pictures with this iconic landscape behind you. There isn’t a trail to El Capitan, but you can see it if you hike Guadalupe Peak. But, you should look at El Capitan from both vantage points.
The Guadalupe Mountains National Park offers camping. Pine Springs Campground is located near the Pine Springs Visitor Center and the trailhead for Guadalupe Peak. There are also back-country camping permits available if you’d like a multiple-day remote adventure. Reservation rules exist, be sure to check out the details of that on recreation.gov.
Go Horseback Riding
This is only an option if you have your own horse. You must bring it with you as there aren’t horses you can hire for a day or weekend. But, Guadalupe Mountains National Park does allow horses in the park and there are designated trails in which you can ride them.
Guadalupe Mountains Tips
Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a unique park. Some general National Park tips apply but here are some specific recommendations for having a great time at Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
- Come prepared with food & drink
- Practice Leave No Trace Principles!
- Fall is a great time to visit due to the foliage
- Dress appropriately for the weather
- The National Park Service has communicated to visitors to be aware of high winds & possible rain in the park. Do not hike if there is possible inclement weather!
- Visitor Center hours close earlier than other National Parks, be sure to check!
Carlsbad Caverns & Guadalupe Mountains FAQs:
How many days for Guadalupe Mountains National Park?
One to two days is the optimal amount of time in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. If you’re planning on hiking to Guadalupe Peak that will take a majority of one day. Then you’ll have another day to explore the rest of the park more leisurely and make time to go to the visitor center.
Can you do Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains National Park in one day?
Yes. The drive will take 35 minutes between the two parks. But, it depends on what your plans are in each park. Carlsbad Caverns you can easily go into the cavern and spend 2-3 hours so that is at least a half day. While the Guadalupe Mountains are more of a time commitment if you plan to hike Guadalupe Peak.
Is Carlsbad Caverns in the Guadalupe Mountains?
Yes. Technically Carlsbad Caverns National Park is a part of the Guadalupe Mountain range. This mountain range is located in remote West Texas and the Southeastern part of New Mexico. The highest point in Texas is Guadalupe Peak in Guadalupe Mountains National Park located in the Chihuahuan desert. This mountain range is the largest exposed fossil reef on Earth.
How far is Guadalupe Mountains National Park from Carlsbad Caverns?
Guadalupe Mountains National Park and Carlsbad Caverns National Park are only 36 miles apart! Making it a unique instance where you can if you wanted to visit both within a day or over a weekend. Base yourself in Carlsbad and explore there while checking two more National Parks off your list!
How long does it take to walk through the Carlsbad Caverns?
Two to three hours. It takes about one hour to descend into the caverns, then you’re free to explore the main Big Room cave area which could take you 1-2 hours. Then, you either ascend back up by walking (this will take another hour) or take the elevator up to the visitor center.
What is the best time of year to visit Carlsbad Caverns?
The best time to visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park is between April and October. Almost everything you want to do will be available and if you’re planning on seeing the flight of the bats, this is when there will be the most bats present. Be sure to book a reservation in advance for the cavern admittance.
Where should I stay when visiting Carlsbad Caverns?
The nearest city to stay in is Carlsbad, New Mexico. There are many hotel and lodging options in Carlsbad. There aren’t any overnight lodging options (RV camping or lodges) that are located inside the National Park. Unless you’re interested in backcountry primitive camping or backpacking. You will need to secure a permit in advance to do this.
How many floors down is Carlsbad Caverns?
The main caverns are located 750 feet below the surface. This is the equivalent of a 75 story building! There is a winding path (1.25 miles long) to descend and ascend from the caverns. However, you can also choose to get to the caverns via the elevator located in the visitor center.
What city is closest to the Guadalupe Mountains?
Dell City, Texas is technically the closest city to Guadalupe Mountains National Park. However, other close cities include Carlsbad, New Mexico; El Paso, Texas; Pecos, Texas; and Midland/Odessa, Texas. You could choose to stay in any of these areas and even visit Monahans State Park in Texas between Pecos and Odessa.
Does it snow in the Guadalupe Mountains?
It can snow in the Guadalupe Mountains. In December and January, snow and freezing fog or ice can occur. Due to the windy conditions of this National Park, it can be a very dangerous time to hike especially to Guadalupe Peak. If you plan to do this, be prepared with safety gear, food, and check with the visitor center.
What is the best time to visit Guadalupe Mountains National Park?
You’ll want to visit in the spring and fall months. During this time, the weather is mild and not too hot. November through March is the windiest time of year at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. This park can get really windy so be sure to check the weather and wind conditions!
Do I need reservations for Guadalupe Mountains National Park?
Reservations for entry to the park aren’t required in advance. You just need a National Parks pass or admission for day use to the park. Parking at the main trailhead for Guadalupe Peak is minimal and can add a significant amount of time to an already long and strenuous hike.
Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains Final Thoughts
Carlsbad Caverns National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park are so close it’s definitely an attainable goal to visit both of them over the course of a weekend. Depending on where you’re coming from and the mode of transportation to get there will logistically determine what makes the most sense.
Staying in Carlsbad, we were able to explore the area which was a lot of fun. You can definitely add on a stop to Texas’ Monahans State Park (between Pecos and Odessa) as you head back to DFW or even El Paso if you chose to fly from there.
I hope this helped and you’re able to visit these two National Parks over a weekend soon!
For more Texas travel inspiration from the Texas Panhandle, Amarillo, and Palo Duro Canyon, to a West Texas Road Trip consisting of West Texas State Parks and National Parks, I’ve got you covered! Even a staycation in all of the bustling cities in the DFW Area such as Irving, Texas. Texas is a huge state with a lot to explore and many diverse landscapes and things to do, see, and eat to keep things interesting!
Check out all of my Texas Travel Resources!