High ancient sea ledges, deep rocky canyons, flowering cactus and desert wildlife - treasures above the ground in the Chihuahuan Desert. Hidden beneath the surface are more than 119 caves - formed when sulfuric acid dissolved limestone leaving behind caverns of all sizes.
definitely more of a nature experience than the other camping options I'm aware of in the area. Permits are free and can be obtained at the visitor center. There are not designated sites, you can camp anywhere that's far enough off the trail (rangers will brief you on how far you have to be). Feb was definitely really cold. We were huddling in a shiver bivvy. Will be back for sure but will bring the zero degree sleeping bag next time. The caverns are absolutely amazing and we consider this the best nature camping around.
While Carlsbad Caverns generally serves a one-day visitor, there is much more to see as the sun goes down.
Unfortunately, there are no developed campgrounds or lodging inside the park, but the park does offer easy backcountry options for those willing to hike a bit.
Permits are required for camping along the Rattlesnake Canyon Trail, but those are easily acquired at the visitor center. As the ranger shakes the dust off the backcountry binder, it’s easy to tell just how few people use this option to camp inside the park.
The Rattlesnake Canyon Trail is located along the Walnut Canyon Desert Drive, inside the park, and you are almost guaranteed to be all alone. All you have to do is walk at least a half mile from the trailhead along the trail, then at least 100 feet off the trail, then try not to set up your tent on a prickly pear.
This campsite was beautiful, with great views of the desert, and also offered a much different above-ground perspective than the usual visitor receives here at Carlsbad Caverns.
To explore the rest of the park, we’d recommend taking the Natural Entrance into the park (winding Switchbacks that lead into the main chamber). If you get too tired to hike out, there is an elevator back up to the Visitor Center! The Big Room is self-guided, but be sure to add on a special ranger tour for access to restricted areas of the park.
You can read much more about our two days in the park on our blog: Switchback Kids (Carlsbad Caverns)