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5 Reasons to Avoid Carlsbad Caverns

In 1923, President Coolidge created Carlsbad Cave National Monument. A few years later, in 1930, Congress redesignated the area as Carlsbad Caverns National Park. However, the first public tours didn’t start until 1973, although self-guided tours began a year prior.

If you ever take a road trip through New Mexico or western Texas, you’ll probably decide that Carlsbad Caverns National Park should make your destination list.

However, there may be reasons to avoid this area. Let’s learn more before you put it on your bucket list.

Where Is Carlsbad Caverns? 

Take a trip to southwestern New Mexico to find this massive cave system. Carlsbad Caverns National Park features more than 100 caves hidden beneath the Chihuahuan Desert in the Guadalupe Mountains. It covers over 46,000 acres.

The largest cave, Lechuguilla Cave, is approximately 140 miles long and over 1,600 feet deep. However, only researchers and scientists are allowed here. Carlsbad Cavern is the largest public cavern at 30 miles long. The Big Room is North America’s largest, readily-accessible cave chamber at over 8 acres.

Each year, about 500,000 people visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park. One reason is the wildlife; people love to see bats. Seventeen species live in the park, and three roost inside the caverns. Every evening, you can view a mass exodus of bats from the Bat Flight Amphitheater from Memorial Day weekend to October.

Additionally, the sheer size of the Big Room is spectacular. The trail inside travels 1.25 miles and features stunning cave formations of all shapes and sizes. Adventurers may find a tour of Spider Cave and Slaughter Canyon Cave thrilling. There’s nothing like the breathtaking beauty of these geological wonders at Carlsbad Caverns.

You can also traverse numerous surface-level trails through the Guadalupe Mountains and the Chihuahuan Desert. Hiking and backpacking are very popular activities. So even people who don’t want to venture underground will enjoy the beautiful scenery of southeastern New Mexico.

Pro Tip: Use our guide on How to Spend a Day at Carlsbad Caverns National Park to make planning your trip easier!

Entrance down into Carlsbad Caverns
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is a cool site, but not for people who are claustrophobic!

5 Reasons to Avoid Carlsbad Caverns

But even with the beauty and awe of Carlsbad Caverns, we have a few reasons not to visit. Although the bats draw crowds, they’re also reasons to stay away. Additionally, the steep and wet trails, especially when crowded, add to the danger. People with claustrophobia may struggle in tight, underground spaces. We’ll explore these and other reasons to avoid Carlsbad Caverns.

1. Bats Live in the Caverns

Although it’s cool to watch the mass exodus of bats every night, it’s also dangerous. Bats can carry disease, and since three species roost inside the caverns, you may get sick.

Their droppings, called guano, can contaminate the soil and cause Histoplasmosis. Plus, bats commonly carry rabies.

2. Steep and Wet Trails

The Nature Entrance Trail is extremely steep. This 1.2-mile path descends 750 feet very quickly. As a result, rangers don’t recommend it for people with respiratory or heart conditions.

Because this trail and the Big Room Trail are mostly underground, they’re constantly wet, which can cause slippery conditions. Caverns stay moist, and this can lead to slips and falls.

3. Not Easy for Those With Claustrophobia

Even though Carlsbad Caverns is huge, it’s still quite a difficult experience for people with claustrophobia. Especially for these types of visitors, fear and anxiety may start to creep in as they journey deeper and deeper. This can create strenuous situations.

Another option is taking the elevator down instead of hiking the hour or longer trail to the Big Room. But for people with claustrophobia, that’s not always a better alternative.

Inside Carlsbad Caverns
Be prepared for steep and wet trails while walking among the famous caverns.

4. The Crowds

Because so many people visit Carlsbad Caverns, it’s hard to take in the sights without feeling rushed. The lines of people going in and out can make you feel like you don’t have time to stop and take a photo or read a description on a sign.

Even if you try to stop and read something, you may not get a chance due to the people surrounding the site. As with any national park experience, crowds can deter many visitors or cause a less enjoyable experience.

5. Radon Found in Park

From 2014 to 2016, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found elevated levels of radon gas in some areas of Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Radon is a naturally-occurring radioactive gas typically found in caves and mines.

Although none of the levels in the visitor center, main caverns, or administrative areas were above the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) permissible exposure limit, it’s still concerning that high levels were present in other parts of the park. Any radon exposure can lead to lung cancer.

Pro Tip: If you still want to visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park, spend the night at one of these 7 Best RV Parks in Carlsbad, New Mexico.

Two boys reading sign in the Big Room in Carlsbad Cavern
Beware of bats when exploring Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

How Long Does It Take to Walk Through Carlsbad Caverns?

Depending on how quickly you move through the caves, a visit to Carlsbad Caverns can take anywhere from one to three hours. If you take the elevator, the time shortens because you’ll avoid the hour or so hike down to the Big Room.

The very steep 1.2-mile Natural Entrance Trail takes about an hour to complete. You can complete the 1.2-mile Big Room Trail in about 90 minutes.

Is Carlsbad Caverns Worth the Trip? 

There are certainly reasons to avoid Carlsbad Caverns. However, in the end, visiting these magnificent caves is worth it. If you can visit in the off-season, you’ll avoid the crowds and can take your time exploring the beauty of the caverns. Even visitors with claustrophobia have shared that they had a memorable experience because of the openness of the Big Room and the large size and well-lit elevators.

So if you want to visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park, it’s worth weighing the pros and cons. It has some risks, but it also has great rewards.

Will you choose to visit or pass up this experience? Tell us in the comments!

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