We’re studying science on the road and headed to Carlsbad Caverns, NM. Carlsbad Caverns is not just a cave but a great place to learn history and science. It has enough programs and tours to keep you busy for 2 days if you are able to tolerate being underground that long.
I recommend you get to Carlsbad Caverns Visitor Center before sunset so you can watch the tornado of bats wing their way out and into the evening sky. Come prepared with information on bat habits, including when they sleep, where they live, and what they eat. Please be advised that you may not take pictures of this as the flash from cameras hurts the bats’ eyes. There is a ranger talk at this point that will have great information to encourage learning.
Arriving at Carlsbad Caverns in the evening and then coming back in the morning is also a great opportunity to talk about sunrise and sunset, and directions.
When you go to Carlsbad Caverns they have several different tours. Make sure to check them out ahead of time to see what tour is right for your family as some are designed for different ages and abilities.
As a teenager I was part of a group that took the Natural Entrance Tour. It was quite steep but was a completely different experience than the Big Room Tour we took this time. You can take self-guided or guided tours. We chose to take a self-guided tour so we could move at our own pace, taking the elevator down to the beginning of it.
You can rent audio wands that tell you about different spots along the way. I recommend renting a few of them. They are well worth the $5. I also recommend renting at least 1 child’s wand and 1 adult’s wand if you have younger children.
Also make sure you stop at the Visitor’s Center Information Desk to get Junior Ranger booklets for the kids to fill out on the tour. There are 2 different booklets – 1 for ages 7+ and 1 for 6 and under. The kids had fun filling them out and learning more about Carlsbad Caverns and the importance of caring for our natural landmarks. At the end they each received a badge.
The cave maintains a steady temperature of 56 degrees Fahrenheit and you may wish to have a light jacket. My husband and boys were fine without them. My daughter and I appreciated them. Make sure to wear comfortable closed toe shoes as the path is not flat and there can be spots of moisture. The path is well marked, has railings, and is lit enough to see your way through it easily.
You will see many stalagmites, stalactites, curtains and drops, and learn the history of Jim White, the explorer who first “discovered” and brought Carlsbad Caverns into the public’s view. I recommend you look at whatever curriculum you use at home before you go so you can knock out a whole unit on cave studies in one great adventurous trip to Carlsbad Caverns.
Our family found that exploring Carlsbad Caverns was a fun way to learn about caves without just being stuck reading facts from a book.
Learn about Caves Study Guide
Science: Bats – habitat, habits, diet
Science: Caves – formations, types of rocks that form the caverns, ecosystem
History: How Carlsbad Caverns was discovered, how they made the caverns a public attraction
Physical Education: 1.5-5 hours of hiking, depending on what tours you take and amount of time you spend
Where to Stay
Carlsbad is about 20 miles away from Carlsbad Caverns but it is an easy drive and has quite a few hotels to choose from. There is an inn and RV and tent camping located at White’s City, which is right outside the entrance to Carlsbad Caverns. Just a note of warning, it gets quite windy here and you just might feel like you are going to pull a Dorothy and blow away to Oz, tent posts and all. The coyotes also create an eerie sound that makes sleep a little difficult. White’s City looks a bit like an abandoned town street but the people are friendly and the facilities were clean with flush toilets, showers, and fresh water.
Where to Eat
There are several restaurants to choose from and you can cook over a campfire. There is also a grocery store and Walmart Super Center.0