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Recently my son and I took a trip to New Mexico and West Texas.  The centerpiece of our trip was a hike to the highest point in Texas – Guadalupe Peak.  I spent the whole day we were hiking lying to my son over and over, but after we successfully made it to the top, it was time to continue our adventures with a trip to Carlsbad Caverns.  Because we also wanted to go dune sledding at White Sands National Monument, I wondered how long does it take to tour Carlsbad Caverns.

I know that I am a “fast” traveler – meaning that generally I prefer to see a lot of things for a short period of time instead of spending a lot of time on any one thing.  But I also didn’t want to just blow off a world heritage site!

Where is Carlsbad Caverns New Mexico?

Carlsbad Caverns is located right off of US 62/180 about 10 miles southwest of the town of Carlsbad, New Mexico.  It’s about a 2 hour drive northeast of El Paso, Texas


Carlsbad Caverns tour hours, times and cost

Carlsbad Caverns is open all year except for Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.  They have 2 different seasons – the “main” season between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and the “off” season between Labor Day and Memorial Day.  The Carlsbad Caverns tour hours are listed on the official NPS park website.  During the off season, the last time to walk into the cave is 2:30 p.m. and the last elevator down is 5pm.  In summer, the Carlsbad Caverns tour hours are 3:30 for the last walk in and 5 p.m. for the last elevator down.  Note that there are not scheduled elevator times – so you don’t have to worry about being there on the hour or on the half hour

Carlsbad Caverns tour cost is $10 for adults, and children under 16 are free.  Also this isn’t one of those “fake” parks where it’s free to enter the park but they charge other fairly mandatory fees for parking or other things.  So if you have a National Parks pass or Every Kid in a Park pass or something like that, the Carlsbad Caverns tour cost will be free.  You can also pay extra for ranger led or other Carlsbad Caverns guided tours

Remember that these Carlsbad Caverns hours of operation are in the MOUNTAIN time zone, like the rest of New Mexico (and El Paso, TX).

How long does it take to tour Carlsbad Caverns – our report

Here was our report on how long does it take to tour Carlsbad Caverns.  We got there about 2 p.m. on a February day (so the off season) and got our passes ($10 for me and free for my under 16 son).  We had the option to hike down (it supposedly takes another hour) or just take the elevator – we opted for the elevator down.  The Carlsbad Caverns elevator goes 750 feet below the surface in about a minute.

Is a half day enough to tour Carlsbad Caverns?

In my opinion a half day is more than enough to tour Carlsbad Caverns.  Unless you’re a serious hiker or VERY interested in caves / geology, you’ll be through in 2-3 hours.


We took the elevator down and took the self-guided Carlsbad Caverns tour through the Big Room.  We stopped and read every informational side, took tons of pictures and were back to the surface in about 75 minutes.  If you wanted, you can hike down, but I’d imagine you’re seeing more of the same kind of thing.  I don’t want to downplay the beauty of nature (it WAS truly majestic and awe-inspiring down there) but there’s definitely a little bit of when you see one stalactite, you’ve seen them all :-). If you do plan on doing a Carlsbad Caverns tour in half a day, I’d recommend going in the afternoon so that you can see the bat flight around sunset (they are not there in the winter and weren’t there in February when we were there)

Unless you’re doing a Carlsbad Caverns guided tour, the Big Room self guided tour (and the optional hike down / up) are the only areas that are open to the public.

Here are 3 tips if you're visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico on a tight schedule - is a half day worth the visit or not enough time?

Have you been to Carlsbad Caverns National Park?  How long would you say it takes to tour Carlsbad Caverns?

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