Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe National Park are relatively hard to reach for most people. Therefore, we had to work quite a bit to build a plan which included these two destinations. For us, this meant a one-way road trip renting a car in town; driving to Carlsbad and Arizona and then flying back home out of Phoenix. Of course, you could pick up any of these destinations and combine them with other areas for your trip (Albuquerque, South Texas, Roswell, etc.)
Our plan began with an all day drive across West Texas. And from our direction there is nothing to see other than to appreciate the vast emptiness of West Texas. The only stop along the way we really wanted to make was Big Boy’s Bar-B-Que in Sweetwater, TX. As I mentioned in a previous post, my husband keeps a link to Texas Monthly’s Top 50 BBQ restaurants (see post for Long Drive Home under Grand Canyon) and Big Boy’s was on the list. Unfortunately, it was closed the one day we were heading through so we had to detour for burgers in Abilene instead on our trip.
Upon arriving in Carlsbad, you realize it is a much smaller town than you might expect. The best and most unique lodging in town is the Trinity Hotel. A historic hotel which was once the town bank (where Pat Garrett was a customer and rumor has it that a room he stayed in still has bullet holes). But if you are traveling with children, be sure to reserve the Safe Room. This is the room which housed the walk-in safe of the bank which has now been converted to a small sitting room/bedroom with a pull out sofa bed and TV. Dining in Carlsbad is limited so we walked down to the Yellowbrix restaurant for dinner. The food there was okay and it has a nice patio, but we would have eaten at the hotel restaurant both nights looking back – so it is really a matter of whether you want to go out in town for a meal or not.
After your day of travel, you can’t go wrong with breakfast at the Blue House Bakery Cafe with coffee and pastries – a favorite with locals. We also wanted to get to the Caverns at the opening to avoid the crowds which we recommend. Talking to some friends in Carlsbad, it is recommended to hike down into the cave to experience the rapid decent, as well as to see the bats flying out in the early morning above your head – and then to take the elevator back up once you are done. However, the elevator was broken when we visited (and you should check as it will not be fixed for a very long time) so we knew we would have to hike both in and out. It is not an easy hike but it did cut down on the crowds considerably.
Once in the caverns, you can walk and enjoy the views on your own; take a guided tour; or an audio tour. However, the lack of an elevator meant we only had time to walk the cavern including the Big Room. If you are visiting during the Summer, there are also bat viewing tours at dusk to watch millions of bats fly out for the evening. For lunch, the cafeteria at the top in the gift shop was surprisingly good for pre-made sandwiches and snacks. Or maybe, we were just so hungry from the walk back out of the cavern, it tasted that good.
After a morning at the caverns, we headed quickly to Guadalupe National Park about a half hour down the road. The most popular hikes are McCittrick Canyon and Devil’s Hall. We chose Devil’s Hall as it is a hike up a creek bed over white washed rock (scrambling over boulders at times which kids love) to the very unique rock hallway. If you wanted to spend a full day, you could visit both areas. Or for the most adventurous, you can do the full-day hike up Guadalupe Mountain to the highest point in Texas – where you can sign a ledger as one of the few who have made the trek. But even a three-hour hike in and out of Devil’s Hall provides some amazing views of the surrounding mountains, red branches against white rocks and lighting-struck trees.
For photographers and those who want to see absolutely everything they can, you can drive another half hour down the road to the Texas Salt Flats. The salt flats are a desolate sight with white dust devils (small dust tornadoes) popping up in the distance. And even a a stop at the Salt Flat Cafe (if it is open) for a water or photo of the single building in the middle of nothing.
Afterwards, it was our last night in Carlsbad so we had a long dinner at the Trinity Hotel Restaurant. We highly recommend a meal here to try the Caliente Goat Cheese appetizer with goat cheese, pecans and a habanero/blackberry sauce. We also enjoyed the Chicken Bolloco and Lasagna Bolloco which combines Italian dishes with green hatch chiles and Alfredo sauce. And the hotel is owned by a family with nearby vineyards so you can try local New Mexico wines with your meal.
The next morning we had breakfast at the hotel again (which is included as it is designated as a B&B) where we enjoyed their omelet with green chiles, bacon and cheese before heading out towards White Sands Monument.
And for more details on surrounding areas see our full itinerary for New Mexico/Arizona or Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce or destination notes for White Sands, Tucson, Phoenix, Sedona, Grand Canyon, Zion/Bryce Canyon and Albuquerque.
LINKS – Carlsbad Caverns, Guadalupe Park