Lose the crowds swarming larger national parks when you explore the spectacular Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains national parks. Use the town of Carlsbad, N.M., as your base to explore Carlsbad Caverns just 18 miles away, as well as Guadalupe Mountains National Park, 40 miles across the New Mexico-Texas border.
In 1898, when 16-year-old cowhand Jim White first entered what would become Carlsbad Caverns National Park, the Texas-born teen discovered another world.
Once part of a reef in an inland sea, Carlsbad Caverns has more than 119 limestone caves, including the Big Room, which is as large as six football fields. While its disputed whether White was the first Anglo to enter the caves, one thing is clear: this national park is stunning. And the good news is unlike White’s days where people were lowered into the caves in guano buckets, there are elevators and stairs to access the caves today.
At Guadalupe Mountains National Park, you’ll find a rich palette of landscapes from pink blooming desert cacti to striking peaks, including the highest four peaks in Texas. Head to Pine Springs Visitor Center before choosing a trail to hike. For a challenge, gain 3,000 feet of elevation on the 8.5-mile, round-trip hike to the top of the 8,751-feet-high Guadalupe Peak.
Or take Devil’s Hall Trail for a moderate 3.8-mile out-and-back path through steep canyon walls and past towering trees. For something short and easy-to-moderate, take the 2.3-mile Smith Spring Loop, which leads you to the verdant oasis of Smith Spring.
The adventurous will want to venture out to Sitting Bull Falls Recreation Area an hour outside Carlsbad. Here, a majestic 150-foot waterfall plummets into natural pools, creating the perfect swimming holes in the middle of the desert. The scenic 100-mile Guadalupe Ridge Trail goes through Sitting Bull Falls Recreation Area, providing the perfect opportunity for day hiking or longer backpacking trips. This desert trail takes you through both Guadalupe Mountains National Park and Carlsbad Caverns National Park on the full 100-mile excursion.
Today, frolic in the calm water of the Pecos River when you rent kayaks or stand-up paddleboards and paddle up and down. Or, stroll along nearly five-miles of paved trails along the beautiful shores.
Then head to the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park. In addition to feeding a giraffe, you can learn about more than 40 species of animals and hundreds of species of plants native to the Chihuahuan Desert at the state park.
Come Hungry to Carlsbad
Pecos River Cafe
Start the day off with the best breakfast in town at Pecos River Cafe; pecosrivercafe.com
Enjoy fine dining at YellowBrix Restaurant with the best patio in town; yellowbrixrestaurant.com
Sip wine and enjoy specialty dinners at Balzano Vineyard; balzanovineyard.com
Enjoy hand-crafted beer, food trucks and live music at Milton’s Brewing; miltonsbrewing.com
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