Visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
A couple of weekends ago I took my wife and daughter to Carlsbad, New Mexico to visit the Caverns. I'll start by saying that the caverns are a natural wonder that I completely underestimated, going into this trip. Much like standing over a high cliff overlooking a breathtaking view, the feeling you get while trying to take the caverns in through your senses is overwhelming. In short, they are a lot bigger than you can fathom before actually going in.
Unfortunately, I don't have many pictures of the inside of the caverns, because the light from my phone's flash wasn't quite enough to capture a clear shot. If you intend to take pictures, do make sure you've got the right equipment.
My purpose here is to recount a few details of my experience, in hopes of helping you be prepared to also have a good experience.
I brought my 4-month-old in a wearable infant carrier.
Strollers aren't allowed in the caverns. Since she is under 3 years old, we weren't allowed to take any of the guided tours. We were only able to do the self-guided tour, and went through the Natural Entrance. She weights 12 pounds, and did not make the hike down any more difficult for me. Mind you, I am not exactly "in shape" in terms of cardio and endurance training, so I'm no extraordinary case. Also, it helped that at the end of the hike, you take an elevator back up to the surface, so there are no inclines to worry about.
The baby was quiet and observant almost the entire time. She only started to fuss a bit toward the end of our time in the cavern, so we stopped to give her some milk for about 15 minutes. She slept the rest of the way. If she was extremely noisy, I would have been a bit uncomfortable bringing her, because voice level is advised to be kept very low while inside due to the echo. Of course, on the self-guided tour people bring their kids, and those parents who don't control their kids (or don't have any control over their own voices) do spoil a few moments of the hike while they are near you. If they bother you, just let them pass or speed up.
The temperature stays around 50 degrees Fahrenheit at all times, and does not change with the seasons.
If that's too cold for you, I'd suggest bringing a sweater and wearing pants, as did my wife. I was fine in shorts and a t-shirt; I could feel the cold on my skin, but my body kept warm while hiking down. Once you get to the Big Room, there isn't much change in elevation and it did get a bit chilly for me. The baby had pants, socks, and a warm jacket.
We brought two bottles of water and no food, and did fine.
We spent maybe two and a half hours in the cavern, so consider that and how often you get hungry. Although, I am actually not sure if they allow food inside the caverns. I remember at least a caution not to leave food inside to prevent animals from being attracted. That being said, I doubt animals get very far inside the caverns. At the front of the Natural Entrance, there is a strong urine odor and scat along the path, which my wife identified as being left by coyotes (my wife is a wildlife biologist). Fun fact: according to her, they like to leave their business right in the middle of trails in a bold effort to tell you it's their territory. That only lasts the first 10 minutes or so of entering the cavern, and is completely absent after that.
I brought a headlamp, because it gets really dark inside.
There are lights set up inside to show some of the cavern features, which are awesome, because otherwise it would be completely dark inside. However, there are some areas along the path that are almost too dark to see where you are going. There aren't unexpected steps where you could trip and fall (the steps that are there have light pointed near them), but it is still nice to have some light to see where you are going.
Wear a hat, or something to cover your head.
As you may know, inside the caverns is a ton of moisture, which helps create the magnificent formations. To do this, the water has to drip! That means there will be water dripping from above on some parts of the path, and if you don't have something to cover your head, you may get wet. It isn't much, but could be a potential nuisance to some. I wore a baseball hat.
The cost, like all national parks in the US (I believe) is $10 per adult.
I know that doesn't matter to some, but I personally like to know costs up front before doing something.
We stayed in the Hilton in Midland, Texas.
It shortened our drive back to Dallas to 5 hours instead of 7-8, had we stayed in Carlsbad. That being said, I would not have stayed in Carlsbad even if the drive back didn't matter. The hotels are way overpriced (decent ones were in the $200+ range), and extremely unimpressive. The pictures I saw on TripAdvisor were in no way a true reflection of what some of the hotels actually looked like. My advice is to stick with a big name brand, for which you'll definitely pay the money - or better yet, drive 2 hours to El Paso and stay there or in a surrounding city instead. Carlsbad is one of those towns I wouldn't spend much time in unless I knew a local to take me around.
There is food for sale in the visitor's center, before or after you see the caverns.
Don't worry too much about bringing enough food. I can't tell you how the food is because we didn't eat there, but I did see things like sandwiches, at the very least, for sale near the elevator at the end of the tour.
I wish we had spent more time in the area to visit nearby points of interest.
After coming back home, friends told me about the White Sands National Monument, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and El Paso, all of which I have not yet visited. If you've got the time, I'd suggest setting aside another day to go to one of these nearby places and turn an awesome trip into an epic one.