Tag Archives: cave

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Overview

Carlsbad Caverns in southeastern New Mexico is the most spectacular cave in the United States (and #1 on our Top 10 List).  Exploring the Big Room at your own pace is a great option, but you can add to your experience with guided tours of off-limits sections.  The King’s Palace Tour is short but scenic; and Left Hand Tunnel was historically used for movies.  Lower Cave Tour requires the use of ropes and ladders to access unlit portions of the cave.  Slaughter Canyon Cave tour requires an extra hour drive, but visits some astonishing formations.  “Wild caving” tours include Spider Cave and the Hall of the White Giant. 

Highlights

Big Room, Walnut Canyon Desert Drive, Rattlesnake Springs Picnic Area, Bat Flight Program

Must-Do Activity

To enjoy the evening Bat Flight Program (where cameras are prohibited) you must come during the warmer months.  Brazilian free-tailed bats migrate to the cave from the south and around sunset exit from the Natural Entrance in clockwise circling swarms.  You will swear there are like a “Brazilian” of them, but the actual number is closer to 500,000.  For an experience you will hear more than see, come back before sunrise as the bats zip by your head down into the cave for their day’s rest.

Best Trail

For your first visit, we recommend taking the self-guided trail from the Natural Entrance down a steep, paved passage into the heart of the cave, since you can always ride the elevators back up to the surface.  After being surrounded by the natural cave formations, it was a bit jarring to come upon a modern restroom and cafeteria 775 feet underground. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

Nothing can prepare you for the immensity of the Big Room, which is big enough to fit eight football fields with a ceiling that rises up to 255 feet.  It defies belief that this cavity could have formed naturally.  Perhaps the best part of this section of cave is that you can take as much time as you like admiring the formations.  For the best photographs, we recommend using a tripod.

Peak Season

Summer, though it can be hot outside the 56°F cave.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/cave/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

No entrance fee, but there is a charge for each guided cave tour.

Road Conditions

Main entrance road is paved, but Walnut Canyon Desert Drive and much of the route to Slaughter Canyon Cave are not.

Camping

There are no campgrounds within the park, but there is a private campground near the park entrance in Whites City, New Mexico.  Just down the highway in Texas, the National Park Service offers camping at Pine Springs within Guadalupe Mountains National Park.  Free permits are required for backcountry camping, with Rattlesnake Canyon off Walnut Canyon Desert Drive being a popular destination.

This design we created to celebrate Carlsbad Caverns National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – Historically, what was mined from the Natural Entrance and Slaughter Canyon Cave?

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Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

Overview

If you seek an otherworldly experience right here on Earth, look no further than Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in southeastern Idaho.  In the 1800s, this massive lava flow proved an obstacle to avoid for immigrants on the Oregon Trail.  In 1969 it truly earned its lunar label by serving as a field school on volcanic geology for NASA Apollo astronauts. 

Highlights

Boy Scout Cave, Indian Tunnel, cinder cones, tree molds

Must-Do Activity

The 7-mile loop road is paved and provides parking at several trailheads, including the wheelchair-accessible Devils Orchard Nature Trail.  Cinder cones, lava tubes, and tree molds are some of the unique volcanic features seen from the trails.  If you come here in the winter the loop road closes due to the amount of snow they receive at 6,000 feet elevation, but you can still explore on snowshoes and cross-country skis.

Best Trail

If you cannot make it to the incomparable Lava Beds National Monument in northern California, you can explore a couple of short lava tube caves here.  To explore Indian Tunnel you will need a free permit, but you do not even need a flashlight.  That is not the case inside the pitch black Boy Scout Cave.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Unlike the moon, there is life here despite its blackened, rocky appearance.  Hearty syringa bushes and limber pine trees sprout from cracks in the lava providing food and cover for sage grouse, pika, and other animals. 

Peak Season

Summer, but it can get very hot on the black rocks without any shade.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/crmo/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$20 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The 7-mile loop road is paved, but other all roads into the monument require a heavy-duty 4×4 with excellent tires.

Camping

There is a first-come, first-served campground near the visitor center off Highway 93 that provides water, but no RV hookups.  Backpacking is allowed in the wilderness area.

Explore More – In what year did the nearby town of Arco, Idaho became the first community in the world to utilize nuclear power?

Coronado National Memorial

Overview

There was no international border in 1540, but this valley in southern Arizona is where Francisco Vasquez de Coronado’s expedition crossed into the U.S.A.  His Spanish army marched north in search of the Seven Cities of Cibola, discovering multiple pueblos (including Pecos) and establishing a route for missionaries to follow. 

Highlights

Coronado Cave, Montezuma Pass, Coronado Peak

Must-Do Activity

The park does not actually contain a statue or large memorial to Coronado.  It does have a steep three-quarter mile trail to a 600-foot long limestone cave bearing his name, which visitors can explore on their own with flashlights.

Best Trail

From the parking area at Montezuma Pass it is half a mile to Coronado Peak.  This “sky island” at 6,864 feet in elevation offers excellent views north towards the Huachuca Mountains in the surrounding Coronado National Forest and south into Mexico.  From there, Joe’s Canyon Trail leads 3 miles down to the visitor center and works great with a car shuttle. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

The small but educational visitor center provides information on trails, the history of the Coronado expedition, wildlife, and the “I Hike for Health” program.  Plus, you can dress up in replica Spanish Conquistador armor, which is very heavy.

Peak Season

Winter

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/coro/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Paved to the visitor center and a good gravel road the final 2 miles up to Montezuma Pass.

Camping

Coronado National Forest surrounds the memorial’s 4,750 acres, offering both campgrounds and free dispersed camping.

Explore More – Disillusioned by not finding the Seven Cities of Cibola, in which present-day state did the Coronado expedition turn around in 1541?

Sequoia National Park

Overview

In 1890, Sequoia became the second National Park in the United States in order to protect its famous groves of giant sequoia trees, not to be mistaken for California’s coast redwoods.  The park’s hub in the Giant Forest contains the General Sherman tree, the largest by volume in the world.  Most of the park is in the High Sierra and includes Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous U.S. at 14,505 feet. 

Highlights

General Sherman Tree, Moro Rock, Crystal Cave, Mt. Whitney

Must-Do Activity

The remarkable giant sequoia tree can live over 2,000 years, reach three hundred feet in height, and grow the largest wood volume of any single-stemmed tree on the planet.  They are only found in 75 protected groves scattered throughout California’s Sierra Nevadas.  Bring your whole family to see how many people it takes arms linked to reach around the base of one of these massive trees.  With circumferences reaching over 100 feet, you are going to need a big family! 

Best Trail

Crescent Trail starts near the General Sherman tree, winds up the hill, and then connects with the Trail of the Sequoias, which passes the dense clusters of the Senate and House Groups.  It is especially nice when there is snow on the ground.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Any time of year is great to visit, but the winter is perhaps the prettiest as the snow contrasts nicely with the orange bark of the giant sequoia trees.

Peak Season

Summer due to the high elevation

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/seki/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$35 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Roads are paved, but steep, winding, and narrow.  The rough Mineral King Road is closed in winter.

Camping

There are several large campgrounds near the Giant Forest, as well as two on the rough road to the remote Mineral King section of the park.  All backcountry camping requires a permit and is on a quota system during the summer.


This design we created to celebrate Sequoia National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – Why do park rangers recommend you wrap your car with chicken wire when you visit Mineral King?

Russell Cave National Monument

Overview

Humans have been visiting Russell Cave in northeast Alabama since about the time its limestone roof collapsed creating an entrance around 10,000 years ago.  A timeline of human invention was preserved in the floor of this hunting camp for millennia, from atlatls to bows, pottery to pump drills.  The park rangers were the friendliest we encountered during Pretirement and often offer demonstrations of prehistoric tools and weapons.

Highlights

Museum with American Indian artifacts, boardwalk to cave entrance, nature trails

Must-Do Activity

There are a select few artifacts displayed on site in the National Park Service (NPS) visitor center.  From there a short boardwalk leads through the forest to an overlook of the archaeological digs at the cave entrance, which you cannot enter. 

Best Trail

Two nature trails (0.6 and 1.2 miles long) split off from the boardwalk to explore the surrounding hills.

Instagram-worthy Photo

This cave is not famous for its pretty cave formations, but for its incredible archaeological record.  If you want to see beautiful stalactites and stalagmites, I recommend you head west to the impressive Cathedral Caverns State Park.

Peak Season

Summer, when it can be muggy and buggy.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/ruca/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved, but RVs are not recommended on Highway 156 if entering from the north.

Camping

DeSoto State Park has a campground and primitive camping is allowed at three sites in nearby Little River Canyon National Preserve.

Explore More – How far down into the cave floor did archaeologists dig in the 1950s?